SBJ/May 4 - 10, 1998/No Topic Name

Knickers are out, hip golfwear is in

Payne Stewart’s traditional knickers aside, golfwear is getting almost hip, drawing a glut of retailers to what used to be considered an old man’s market.

Just look around the office on the ever popular casual Friday and you’re apt to find middle managers wearing what the pros do on Sunday.

Further proof? Hawking its wares for the first time at this year’s 45th PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., was designer brand Hugo Boss, joining such other stylish brand names as Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. Some1,400 other companies participated in the annual show, a far cry from 1954 when sales representatives displayed their wares out of their cars at the PGA Senior Championship in Dunedin, Fla.

Today, consumers spend more than $15 billion on golf - $10 billion of that on playing fees, $2 billion on equipment and $3 billion on apparel and other merchandise, according to the National Golf Foundation. In the past decade, overall golf spending has doubled. Since 1992, that spending has shot up 64 percent.

Fueling the growth of the golf apparel business is the rise of casual wear in the workplace, increased marketing efforts targeting junior and female golfers, and yes, the ubiquitous Tiger Woods.

Sniffing increased market share and profits, hundreds of mainstream retailers have flocked to the golfwear apparel industry, flooding the industry and creating fierce competition. Apparel that was once available only at pricey golf shops is now on the racks of department stores, cutting into the business of the local golf professional.

"Hugo Boss comes into the golf industry and now, all of a sudden, golfers see the branding and it legitimizes golf retail offerings," said Ann Marquardt, president of the Arizona-based Association of Golf Merchandisers.

According to Marquardt, there are more than 300 apparel companies now competing for the same dollar.

Leading apparel companies like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger are joining established golf apparel companies like Izod, Ashworth and Nike.

"We have spent nearly $15 million alone in advertising in the golf industry in the past decade," said Paul Wold, general manager of Hugo Boss Golf. "We believe there’s a positive growth curve in the golf business and that curve is now worldwide."

But industry experts say the golf apparel market is so flooded with vendors that the smaller, less capitalized companies will be driven out of the business.

"The number of people involved far exceeds the number of golfing consumers," Marquardt said. "What is happening is that the big are getting bigger, with the lion’s share of the market owned by the top 10 companies. Companies like Nike have the marketing dollars to make an impact. There are simply too many vendors and not enough people to consume all the products that are out there."

One of the largest growth niches in the golf apparel business is in the youth apparel line. But with a younger, more stylish consumer, cost becomes more of a factor – not so much apparel cost, but the expense of actually playing the game. That, in turn, has a trickle-down effect on the sport’s potential youth apparel market.

"There’s been an explosion of growth in the youth apparel business and, yes, golf is getting hip, but golf is expensive,:" Marquardt said. "It’s great to have youth oriented merchandise, but the problem is that 16 year olds can’t afford to play golf."

A backlash against the flooded mainstream golf apparel market already may be under way. Fairways & Greene Ltd., Connecticut-based golf apparel company, began as a specialty mail-order company in 1995. Today, the privately held company is a retailer, but it sells products designed after traditional golfwear styles to private clubs and resort golf shops only.

"A lot of big companies are now into the golf apparel market, said Todd Martin, Fairway & Greene marketing vice president. "And there’s been a lot attrition, so we went back and revisited a lot of old styles. There’s already enough Friday wear out there."

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