Lower the Handicap
THE COMBINING OF sport and science is not a new trend, but it is a pairing that has been strengthening. Just a few years ago, it would seem like science fiction to hear a professional athlete had injected himself with his own previously withdrawn blood platelets in order to speed along the healing of an injured knee. In this year’s Super Bowl XLIII, however, Hines Ward did just that.
Extending well past injury recovery, science has now touched every corner of sports. Its reach spans from nutrition to training to even the best way to hit a home run, and is also becoming deeply entwined with athletic apparel.
Athletes like Michael Phelps use high-tech performance apparel to shave seconds off lap times, and the concept of clothing improving ability is gaining more and more currency in the golf world.
A sport pinched uniquely between demands for high performance, comfort and style, golf is host to an interesting array of technical fabric innovations. James DeHoff, national sales manager for Hebron, Ohio-based Heritage Sportswear, explained some of these advancements.
One of the larger areas of performance fabrics, moisture wicking is especially important in golf apparel. Besides keeping the wearer free from heavy, sweat-bogged clothes that may impede swing technique or concentration, it also helps to keep a clean appearance—beneficial to any business deals that may be happening on the course.
As for how such fabrics are created, DeHoff said some synthetic fabrics, like polyester and nylon, have natural wicking properties, while other materials can have it built into the yarn. “Yarn [can be] produced with channels on the thread to move moisture away,” he said, adding that yarn made with hollow inner filaments and special weaving patterns can also be used to move moisture to the surface.
Chemical treatments can also be used for moisture wicking. DeHoff said a chemically treated fabric achieves the same result as a wicking one, but at a lower cost. The catch, however, is the coating will eventually wash out. “The number of washings a garment can undergo depends on the chemicals used,” he noted. “Some treatments last a dozen washings while others are designed to last 50 or more launderings.”
Although actual wicking fabrics will last much longer than their chemical-coated counterparts, they also can be affected by washings. “The use of bleach or fabric softener may coat the yarn and clog up the wicking channels, while bleach may degrade the yarn itself,” said DeHoff.
UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor)
It’s understandable that players worry over sun damage, considering golf is an outdoor sport played in long stretches. It may not be a game-enhancer per se, but someone who spends enough time on the course will appreciate sun protection all the same. DeHoff explained, “There is an increasing interest in this type of added performance to apparel products for children, outdoor apparel, activewear (tennis, golf and running apparel) and swimwear.”
He said UPF works similarly to the sun protection factor (SPF) of sunscreens, sharing the same rating scale (meaning UPF 30 blocks more UV rays than UPF 15, etc.), though UPF is a descriptor reserved for fabrics. Much like moisture wicking, DeHoff said, “UV protection in fabrics can be incorporated into the yarn or it can be applied to the surface of the fabric as a finish.”
Golf may not seem like it requires much mobility from its players, seeing as automated carts are often used to move around the course, but flexibility in arm and shoulder movement can be critical. A few millimeters off on a swing or putt is all it takes to ruin an under-par round. Hence, more and more items are popping up with stretching properties.
“We are seeing more sewn-in panels in the construction to promote freedom of movement,” explained DeHoff. “For example, [our] IZOD Performance Piqué features a pieced sleeve and shoulder for extra room and movement.” He added that in higher price-point golf wear, spandex is sometimes mixed into polyester fabrics to increase flexibility and shape-retention.
Growth and Style
“[The] continual evolution of ‘smart fabrics’ is an ongoing trend,” said DeHoff. “Apparel that promotes maximum performance continues to feed the evolution of activewear and golf apparel.” As golf apparel advances, technical innovations are blending more with style and comfort, an important consideration for a sport that is sometimes as much about style as it is skill. “Manufacturers are adding design features at the time the textile is made, such as perforations, subtle mesh patterns and color blocking, which often double as performance functions,” he concluded.