Golf does not require its players to wear uniforms: the extent of most courses’ dress code is “collared shirt, no denim.” With the relatively loose and inclusive standards of attire, it shouldn’t be a surprise that golf apparel is a broad and competitive market, whose players vary from high-end fashion houses to athletic shoe companies to discount-store private labels.
Very few of these companies started out making golf apparel; the origins of some well-known sportswear brands may surprise you. Here are five such clothing companies and the stories behind them.
Number Five: Ralph Lauren Didn’t Invent the Polo Shirt (Though He’d Like You to Think He Did)
Mr. Lauren has a wonderful racket going on. What we know as the polo shirt has been called by that name since at least the 1950s. Lauren, a necktie salesman, realized that as a colloquialism, no one had actually used the word “polo” as a proper name. So in the 1970s, he decides to make a polo shirt the signature item of his menswear line, appropriately named “Polo Ralph Lauren,” and stitches the logo of a polo player on horseback onto the breast just to drive the point home. Consequently, his company has spent the last 30-plus years convincing people with disposable incomes to assume that the Polo shirt is the “original” polo shirt, and millions of them have been sold for $50 a pop. Throughout the whole scheme, the brand’s namesake has accumulated a net worth of over $4 billion dollars, so he’s obviously doing something right.
A Polo Golf collection has existed since 1987; current pros endorsing the label include Tom Watson, Luke Donald, and Morgan Pressel.
Number Four: Lacoste (Who Did Invent the Polo Shirt) Was Founded by the Only Person Able to Get Aay with Wearing It
In the early 1900s, athletes were supposed to appear as gentlemen in competition. Unfortunately, the woven shirts, neckties, jackets, and bulky sweaters of the day were hardly able to allow the wearer a full range of motion. A French tennis player, Rene Lacoste, decided by the late 1920s that he was fed up with restricting wardrobes, and designed a knit, placketed shirt of his own to wear.
Breaking the prevailing etiquette of the day would have been outrageous, but Lacoste had one thing going for him: he was the undisputed best tennis player in the world at the time, ultimately winning seven Grand Slam titles between 1925 and 1929. No tournament organizer was going to risk telling off the sport’s biggest star because of what he wore.
Because of Lacoste’s success on the court, his shirt caught on with well-to-do sportsmen of all types: golfers, yachtsmen, cricketers, and yes, polo players (for whom the shirt’s name was probably assumed to reinforce its luxury status). Lacoste started a company to mass-produce the shirt after retiring in 1933; Miguel Angel Jimenez, Lorena Ochoa, and Robert Allenby are notable pros currently under contract with the company.
Number Three: Hugo Boss is a Relic of Nazi Germany
Hugo Boss is such a premium label that the star representative for its golf line, Henrik Stenson, famously stripped to his tidy whities in favor of soiling his clothes to play from a muddy lie at the 2009 WGC-CA Championship. It’s fair to say that the company’s clothing has not always been held in such esteem.
You know how right-wing radio hosts enjoy calling liberal supporters of Barack Obama “brownshirts,” among other Nazi references? Hugo Boss made those shirts for Hitler’s storm troopers, as well as the black shirts worn by the SS and other official Nazi uniforms. Boss’ original company (which sold police and postal uniforms) went bankrupt in 1930, only to recover upon the patronage of the Nazi Party. After the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II and Boss’ death in 1948, his descendants continued to operate the company, ultimately moving into designer menswear.
Number Two: Adidas and Puma are Products of a Decades-Old Sibling Rivalry
Puma is currently attempting to make a big splash in the golf industry, purchasing the Cobra club brand from the Acushnet Company (a.k.a. Titleist and FootJoy) and being a very prominent sponsor to phenom Rickie Fowler.
Why does Puma want to get into golf? The answer is simple: Adidas is already there, having bought TaylorMade in 1997 to compete with Nike’s burgeoning golf business. The two shoe giants are headquartered on opposite ends of Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach, and have a very incestuous history.
Brothers Adi and Rudi Dassler founded a shoe company in their mother’s laundry room in 1924. The Dasslers’ running shoes became world-famous after Jesse Owens won four gold medals wearing them at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but tensions were forming between the two founders. Rudi was an ardent supporter of the Nazi Party; Adi was also a supporter, if only to not be thrown in jail for not supporting the Nazis. World War II and its aftermath obviously strained their relationship; the brothers split their business in 1948, with Adi’s half becoming Adidas (ADI DASsler), and Rudi’s half eventually assuming the Puma name.
Number One: Under Armour Hit the Big Time Cradling Jamie Foxx’s Junk
The growth of Under Armour during the last decade is an astonishing one. What began as a niche maker of moisture-wicking undershirts for football players has become a force in the sportswear industry, with $846 million in revenues made in 2009. UA now has a full line of performance golf clothing, with Hunter Mahan acting as its most prominent pro under contract. It can be argued that UA is what it is now thanks to its placement in a major motion picture.
The NFL likes to present itself as a family-friendly organization whose players love their moms and salute the American flag. The league gets very defensive when others portray professional football as the stomping ground of drug abusers and wife beaters; it’s widely believed that ESPN canceled its critically-acclaimed dramatic series Playmakers in 2003 under the threat of the NFL voiding its broadcasting deal with the cable channel.
So when Oliver Stone set out to make the football movie Any Given Sunday in 1999, larger companies like Nike and Reebok were reluctant to lend their products to the feature, lest they face retribution from the NFL (who refused Stone permission to use the league and its teams). Under Armour, still a small, independent company with few major clients, caught the eye of the movie’s costume designer, and its products were featured prominently in the film (including Jamie Foxx’s jockstrap). The company took out a full-page ad in ESPN the Magazine upon Any Given Sunday’s release to prove that it was a real company and not the creation of the film, and sales subsequently went through the roof.