New York — As a new generation of women take up golf, both on the LPGA tour and on local greens, they've changed the look of the links.
In place of clothes that in some ways were just smaller versions of the men's, they've created a new breed of lifestyle clothing incorporating feminine styles that come in neutral-colored basics with pops of preppy colors, and are constructed from comfortable fabrics that can be worn from day to night.
The new players in the world of golf fashion, including Lija's Linda Hipp and Birdie's Kate Sutton, say they got in the design game because they had trouble finding clothes for themselves.
"I am a golfer since I was little," Sutton says. "As I grew older I found golf is enjoyable as a social sport. When I'd play with my guy friends, I'd look down at what I was wearing and looked at what they were wearing - and they really weren't much different. I knew I wasn't alone in feeling this way."
But changing the DNA of golf clothes isn't only a matter of adding trendier elements seen in street clothes. Golf clothes have to play by different rules since many courses - especially private country clubs - have conservative dress codes, requiring collared shirts, and shorts and skirts that hit no higher than an inch above the knee. And you can't look wrinkled and rumpled after 18 holes and hours in the sun if you want to hit the clubhouse afterward.
"There is a certain image to the game, you always wear appropriate dress and keep your manners in check," Hipp says. From there, though, feel free to branch out into pop-art prints and some less-than-traditional silhouettes like dresses or sailor-style capris.
"One of our best sellers is an urban golf short," Hipp says. "It goes down to the knee and has tee holders on the hip. The belt loops are Velcro so you can hook your club on - women love details like that that are fun and functional. But there's a definite feminine shape, and the legs are slightly tapered."
Other popular pieces include the waistband-free Par skort that has deep pockets for "tees and ball markers - or lipgloss," Hipp says. The Dista Uno dress, which has a fitted shape and a contrasting color around the V-neckline and front seam, is made of a lightweight nylon-Spandex fabric that has an SPF of 50.
"These are fashion styles that are golf-friendly but not golf-specific," Hipp says.
The key item from Birdie's summer collection is its polo dress, says company founder Sutton. "It has a modern feel. It has exaggerated buttons, a pocket for tees and it's a wonderful weight so you don't see your underwear line."
You can wear it for a variety of activities. Golf is one of them, but so is shopping or lunch with friends.
Lija and Birdie are among the companies pushing golf apparel to be more fashion forward, says Argy Koutsothanasis, fashion director at Golf for Women. Personally, she's a fan of Birdie's graphic circle skirt. "Honestly you could wear it to the office with a white oxford tucked in and a set of pearls," she says.
Other labels Koutsothanasis notes as particularly fashion forward are Ralph Lauren Golf, Burberry and J. Lindeberg.
"I've had models who don't golf put these clothes on and say, 'I'd take up golf just so I can wear these clothes,"' Koutsothanasis says.
"The cut of their stuff is so great, like Theory or Tahari. Their pants, in particular, you could definitely transition from golf course to go have some cocktails. You'd just need different accessories," Koutsothanasis says.
Golfers might not have to look any farther than the pro shop to round out their off-the-course wardrobe. Offering a wider variety of merchandise is good for business, after all. In 2006, total golf apparel sales for men and women totaled $1.65 billion, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.
"The courses are realizing that they have a captive audience when women walk into a pro shop. If they walk in and see something that appeals to them, they'll go to it - and women can shop wherever they are, whenever they're there," observes Hipp.
Shawn Cox, director of golf at the Grand Golf Club in San Diego, says unlike male golfers who almost exclusively buy from the pro shop a polo shirt with the emblem of the course on the upper left corner, women want clothes that cross over into the rest of their lives. "They want a jacket they can wear to go walking in the morning or still look OK if they're going shopping," Cox says.
Women are looking for broad-use clothing in all aspects of their wardrobe, including sports, says Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys Inc., a New York-based customer research marketing firm. And, he notes, golf, in particular, is a social sport, so consumers are want apparel they feel looks good.
Bells and whistles
Keri Murschell, founder of bag manufacturer Keri Golf, says she hears from customers that they don't want just a golf shoe bag anymore, they want a tote bag - which can double as a handbag - that can fit a matching shoe bag inside. They don't want to have to switch purses just because they're heading to the golf course.
Her golf bags have a mirror attached to the outside and there's also an extra zippered bag, often used as a cosmetics case, that can shuttle from golf bag to that aforementioned tote - or you can take it to the ladies room at the ninth hole to freshen up your lipstick.
Players haven't become too concerned with pampering that they've forgotten why they're there, though, Murschell says, crediting the top pros as leading the fashion-conscious charge. "Today's tour players are the best thing to happen to women's golf. They're incorporating their own style into what had been traditional. Now every woman golfer wants her own signature style."
What - or who - gave the LPGA players this newfound freedom? Male superstar Tiger Woods, says Birdie's Sutton.
"Tiger Woods brought a lot of energy and attention to the sport," she says. But it wasn't until the likes of Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer came along that women had a stylish role model.
"This is what golf needed for so long," Sutton adds.