Insider info on the golf industry. Golfwear buyers reveal what every garment decorator needs to know before breaking into the golf market

More than 3 million people play golf in the UK according to the latest report from Sports Marketing Surveys. That number is set to grow as the current Get into Golf campaign from England Golf and the PGA is ramped up another level this spring, meaning the game should continue to prove profitable for garment decorators – especially if they know what the golf pros, clubs and promotions companies want from their clothing.

At Duddingston Golf Course in Edinburgh, unlike at the big name courses such as Gleneagles, visitors don’t tend to buy clothes with the club’s logo on: lower priced items such as towels, branded caps or ball markers are more likely to be picked up by those wanting to mark their visit. Members tend to be the ones buying club-branded clothing, explains the head professional at Duddingston’s pro shop, Alistair McLean. “You get to know what the members like, and some people like the traditional stuff. So, our embroidered items tend to be the safe ones like Glenmuir.”

Tastes are changing though, with people often asking for clothes that are not specifically for golf but are more of a lifestyle brand. “Under Armour has become a massive company in that respect because they have clothes that are ideal for playing golf in but equally, if you were out on a Saturday night, you wouldn’t look out of place either.” The combination of golf-only brands such as FootJoy and Glenmuir with the more fashionable brands that have a wider audience such as Nike, Adidas and Under Armour is one that works well at Duddingston.

Alistair decides in advance which clothes are to be embroidered for the beginning of the golf season in April. Traditional golf lambswool jumpers and shirts from Glenmuir are fairly steady sellers, he reports, adding: “The biggest thing in golf fashion now is zipped tops. Instead of getting a V-neck or a crew pullover, you get these things you pull over your head with a quarter zip on them. At the last Ryder Cup the Europeans wore a zip top rather than a traditional top.”

The shop tends to get its accessories such as towels and ball markers from Sandy Davidson, a company in Livingston that specialises in customised products, which Alistair says is very good at doing one-off embroidered goods for them if needed on occasion. For garment decorators wanting to break into this market, Alistair advises while the priority is decent quality, cost is what will swing it: “It comes down to price, at the end of the day.”

Gullane is a very different golf course to Duddingston. Located in East Lothian with a view of the sea, it was voted one of the most picturesque golf spots in the world, and as such is one that attracts overseas visitors. It also has permission to sell clothes featuring the logo from the world famous Muirfield as, unusually, Muirfield doesn’t have its own pro shop.

Gullane’s pro shop stocks established, market leading brands that they get embroidered with the clubs’ logos rather than creating their own labels, explains the head professional Alasdair Good: “I appreciate we could go down the route of a private label, but it does seem to be that customers are looking for the brand name: they’ve got the combination of the brand and our logo and it works for them.” He uses Slick Stitch in Wolverhampton and Middlemiss Embroidery in Jedburgh, although some brands such as Gortex insist that the embroidery is done by an embroiderer that they have approved. With regard to choosing an embroidery company, Alasdair says it is important to meet delivery timetables and to understand the peaks and troughs of the season. “The big difficulty at the beginning of the season is getting everything in and back out to us on time. They need to be able to manage that.”

When choosing brands to stock in North Berwick Golf Club’s pro shop, head pro Martyn Huish follows an established routine: “We look at the price points that we want to sell at and once we’ve chosen them, we go to trade shows and look at all the manufacturers that fulfil that price point and look at the quality and how easy it is to make profit on those garments.

“We embroider nearly everything. We use a lot of the top brands: Adidas, Under Armour, a golf one called Galvin Green, Bobby Jones and we also try to go for some niche brands and products. This year, for example, we’re using a company called Kjus, which is a brand new company.” Knitwear brands include Glenmuir, Glenbrae and Oscar Jacobson.

From left: Beechfield’s B185 Pro Style Ball Mark Golf Cap includes a detachable magnetic ball marker on the peak, David Rose in his plus fours, James Tobia is sponsored by Henbury and models the H473 Cooltouch Textured Stripe Polo Shirt

The embroidery companies they use include Slick Stitch, Elite Embroidery and Murray Golf, and Martyn estimates that 70% of their embroidered goods are bought by tourists. The club has a standard visitor’s logo, then the same logo in a reduced size on women’s garments, and there are two members’ logos that are embroidered on to clothes as well.

David Rose, owner of VIP Golf Wholesale, has been selling clothes to golf pros and clubs for more than 25 years and knows the industry well, and is himself a bit of a dapper dresser – he can often be spotted sporting plus fours and attention-grabbing golf shoes. He also runs VIP Golf Management, looking after a number of tournament golf pros, one of whom, James Tobia, is sponsored by Henbury.

VIP products and sponsorship

David not only sells the clothes but also organises the embroidery when necessary, and has this advice for embroiderers looking to break into the market: “Number one is attention to detail. Golf crests are very important to the members and the golf club, so you’ve got to get it right first time.” Being able to turn things around in a consistent manner is also important, but price, he believes, doesn’t come into it. “Everyone charges the same for logos. It’s a case of attention to detail, continuity and reliability. Also, the ability to meet some tight deadlines and, if needed, pulling out the stops for a few special orders every now and again.”

For caps he uses Beechfield because of their value for money and number of colours, although another important factor in his choice is that Beechfield offers a junior version of its caps. “I kit out quite a lot of junior golfing academies,” David explains.

On the clothing side, he sells a lot of Henbury products. “The quality of the products is absolutely second to none,” he says. “They’re not the cheapest, they’re not the dearest, but they’re sensibly priced, they’re absolutely spot on. I use all three different materials that Henbury offer: they have a shirt called the H400, and the ladies’ equivalent is called the H401, that’s a 65% polyester/35% cotton mix. That’s a nice lightweight shirt for the summer. The next one up is the H100 for the men and H121 for the ladies’ equivalent – that’s a more heavyweight shirt, which is 100% cotton – and then the other one I use is called the H475 for the men and H476 for the ladies, which is made from Coolplus performance fabric.”

Smart materials are growing in popularity, confirms David: “It’s getting really popular now – a few years back it used to be just the youngsters who liked it, but now all the age groups like it. It’s what I call an industry standard now. It’s definitely the way forward, and it’s what the guys that play in the big tournaments, like the European tour, wear – I would say 99% of them are probably wearing performance fabrics.”

Another factor in the clothes he chooses is the colour range. Henbury’s H100 is available in more than 30 colours and because there are women’s equivalents for all the brand’s shirts, it makes it easy to kit out mixed teams.

Size is another issue that those looking at this market need to be aware of, especially when wanting to kit out teams in matching shirts. “If you’ve got 11 guys that all look like athletes and they’re all mediums and larges, but you’ve got this really talented 18 stone guy that hits it 3 1/2 miles off the tee – he’s still got to get kitted out,” says David. “I sell more 3XL than I do smalls, put it that way.”

David adds that the golf industry offers plenty of sales potential for any garment decorator who understands that, for this market, quality is a key factor in most buying decisions. He concludes: “People expect a lot from their golf shirts, without a doubt.”

GOLF PROMOTIONS

Whether it’s corporate days out, award dos or promotional events, golf is a popular choice. Gemma Richards, marketing manager at promotional merchandise company Fluid Branding, reports that caps, as seen on all golfers, are their clients’ favourite golfing garment. “They’re good for keeping the sun out of your eyes and off your head, and for protecting you from light showers,” she explains. “They have a large branding area and are highly visible, meaning lots of brand recognition.”

For those organising golf events, a key buying factor is the time frame, whereas with gifts and awards, buying decisions are affected by materials, the type of audience and the cost. Golf balls are the company’s overall golf product bestseller thanks to being practical and low cost along with having a good branding area, although she notes that the big growth area in golf promotions is course dressings, pop-up banners, displays and marquees, printed pin flags and sponsored cup inserts.