During the pandemic, it seemed like everyone in the home quarantine was discovering a new hobby – baking sourdough bread, spraying foaming mirrors, playing tennis, and hosting fashion shows at Animal Crossing. But the most viral activity that caught my attention was a newfound obsession with golf – an interest that trickled among coworkers I never expected to be interested in the sport: skaters, rappers, sneakerheads. Seemingly overnight, my Instagram feed turned into a virtual golf course littered with videos of men on the driving ranges. Of course, they were all dressed up to play the part too. (This viral video is one of the clips that felt especially inevitable.)
What I wasn’t aware of was that this change in perception in golf has been a long time coming. The ideal spokesperson for a golf-focused brand doesn’t necessarily have to be a professional golfer. The aesthetic itself has been dubbed “golf core,” but with a new wave of golf apparel hit the market like Quiet Golf, Macklemore’s Bogey Boys, and Drake’s NOCTA Golf collection with Nike, it’s evident that this moment is so much bigger is considered a pandemic trend.
For centuries, the stereotypical golfer has been an old white man with polo, fine shoes and ill-fitting trousers. Troy Mullins, a long drive golf champion, cites players like Ben Hogan and Gary Player as the original archetypes and points out that Tiger Woods was an anomaly “not only because of his race, but also because of his physical strength and power Game ”.
Images courtesy of NOCTA and Nike
Mullins recalls how when she first became interested in golf she felt discouraged because she had not invested in women’s golf specifically. “I’ve even been told by some companies that they don’t pay their female golf ambassadors like it’s something to be proud of,” she says. The growing attention, however, has been promising – the Women’s World Long Drive first aired on television in 2017. With so many different styles and players, Mullins doesn’t believe there is a single archetype of golfer.
Still, the golf community still has a lot to do to make people feel comfortable in the scene. Golf apparel brand founders like Will Gisel and Colin Heaberg from Whim Golf, Erik Anders Lang from Random Golf Club, and athletes like Jarrell English (aka Rory Blaklroy) and Mullins all struggle to feel welcome at one point or another, be it due their gender, their race or with a more “alternative” appearance compared to the image associated with the golfer stereotype.
But in mainstream popular culture, the narrative of who can be an ambassador for sport has actually shifted for decades. The founders of Whim Golf both have vivid memories of Michael Jordan’s golf collaboration with Wilson in the 1990s. They didn’t have the patience for sport as children, but they got into it as adults. Fast forward to 2020 when the documentary series The Last Dance debuted and viewers could see Jordan’s golf obsession in full length. Heaberg cites this as a prime example of a pivotal moment in pop culture when something finally clicked – the generations who grew up with Jordan on television as the NBA champion are now at an age where “they have a disposable income and do not do sports ”. more ”, and when they see someone like him playing sports, they realize that“ you don’t have to be that stereotypical golfer ”.
When the “golfcore” aesthetic exploded last summer, Whim Golf was automatically associated with the trend – although the brand became popular with seemingly unexpected people, including Daniel Fang of the band Turnstile. Gisel does not hesitate to denounce the Golfcore connection, arguing that while golf may be part of their name, Whim is primarily a men’s clothing brand driven by “the mission to present golf in a way that people can Rethinking could bring about whether or not they like it.
“That idea of golfcore makes us really uncomfortable and almost shudder,” adds Gisel.
Image courtesy Whim Golf
Heaberg agrees, insisting that “the most golf-centric thing we do as a brand is to build free city mini golf courses”. (In an effort to make the game bigger, Whim regularly offers free pop-up golf putting classes in places like New York City and Los Angeles.) He believes it is her other interests that set her apart as a brand ‘Because they do’ don’t just focus on the sport. “We were athletes before we were designers, and golf was an opportunity to make clothing that was real and sporty at the same time,” says Heaberg.
English, a golf influencer who has become a huge hit on Instagram and TikTok, says authenticity should be paramount for golf brands. He had no initial plans to become an ambassador for the sport – he came to the game in his senior year at Texas Lutheran University, where he played college basketball. Over the past three years, English has turned his passion into a source of income through brand partnerships, but as a black, the challenge of playing the role and mimicking a sense of sophistication was the biggest challenge. The last thing English ever wanted was to get noticed in a room where he wasn’t always welcome. (For the record, he says he’s had “a lot more positive experiences” overall.) These days, English is less concerned about dividing his life on and off the course – braids and all. “I love to show that it’s just skin,” he says. “It doesn’t show where my heart is or where my skills are.”
What the Englishman and his 20,000 follower audience represent is the demand for new faces on the golf scene. He also pays particular attention to whether clothing companies will try to replicate something “without involving the people who made it.” He adds, noting that he is eager for more BIPOC to migrate to the courses for fun. “I definitely have my interpretation of how the course should correspond to the culture.”
Even for those who meet the requirements of a “stereotypical golfer”, the golf world has not always been the most welcoming. Before Lang founding Random Golf Club, he found it difficult to blend in with the crowd presented to him as a white cisgender man and didn’t settle for the sport until he was thirty. “This game had such a massive PR problem that a potential benefactor of the game itself was put off by a social definition of golf – which, unfortunately, is mostly correct,” he says.
When Lang joined a private Los Angeles country club, the vibe felt extreme: he found himself in this community of breakthroughs nonchalantly tossing around sexist and racist comments. “My problem was that I didn’t have a club I wanted to be a member of,” he adds. “I didn’t have a club that represented itself on the basis of the needs of humanity, which is as diverse as everyone on the planet.” He wanted to find more players like him, whom he called “people with tattoos, people in shirts Didn’t like collars, people who only played nine holes and weren’t interested in the TV version of the game, ”describes. (To this day he still does not identify himself as a textbook “golfer”.)
After that country club experience left a bad taste in your mouth, Lang made it a life’s work to create spaces where everyone is welcome to play golf, in a format that doesn’t fit into an outlandish shape. Making equipment and clothing affordable is a small part of the larger mission of building a roaming community and taking back the game. (The Random Golf Club is currently building a hybrid space in Austin, Texas for the public to congregate for free.)
Haley Wineman, community manager at Random Golf Club, says she felt too intimidated to pick up a golf club in her teens, but now she’s one of the many voices pushing the room in a more progressive direction. “I never thought of myself as someone who would play golf. I did more traditional women’s sports like dancing and cheerleading, ”she says. “[When] When I got into golf, I knew this was going to be something people would look at me strangely. ”As Wineman explains, the goal of hosting nationwide meetups for their 140 chapters is to dispel expectations and provide a supportive space where people can explore the game of golf in an unbiased manner. “Nobody cares about your score, nobody cares what you wear or what clubs you use,” she adds. “Everyone is only there to hang out and make friends.”
Mullins notes that more feminine apparel brands have also sprung up in the women’s golf scene in recent years. “In the beginning I definitely struggled to find the only clothes that would suit my style, but also my more athletic body type,” she explains. “I had to look outside of golf apparel to find things that worked in the golf world but also appealed to my fashion sense.”
Golf is still considered a status symbol for the most elitist social class, so financial commitment is usually the most important entry barrier. (The equipment alone is expensive, but when you add the long list of restrictions, the cost adds up even more.) Upgrading the dress code for golfers is a small step in paving the way for leveling the playing field. The next action item on the agenda should be to provide access outside the country club model through affordable indoor spaces, driving ranges and simulators.
“You don’t need that much space to build a microcosm of a golf course; so that people can start playing a bit to get interested and then move on to the next, ”says Gisel. “We try to package golf in such a way that you can touch it.”
As Heaberg puts it, “Golf has been taken hostage because there are people who don’t want new players to play.” While there will always be those who fight change to preserve outdated traditions, the next generation doesn’t seek after their approval for the next big cultural restart.