Golf shoes get a makeover thanks to streetwear and sneaker culture

Streetwear – long the source of New York hip-hop and Californian surf culture – has made its way to the green grass of golf courses.

“Golf started to get cooler, and it got less aloof because there are parts of the sneaker community that have embraced it,” said Jacques Slade, a sneaker YouTuber and golfer who voiced the need more golf shoes that mirror the sneaker. Culture.

Hip-hop culture and sneakers have always had a close relationship, but the connection between hip-hop and golf might not be too far apart, says Ankur Amin, owner of the New York streetwear boutique Extra Butter. He said the ambitious appeal of golf has helped his style connect with his clients.

“So much of what we do in street culture is about pursuing the good life,” he said, “and so much of golf represents that, the same way Moët & Chandon or Louis Vuitton.

Tiger Woods, a Nike-sponsored golfer, attracted many new fans to the sport in the late 1990s, but declining interest in his products during the 2010s paved the way for a crossover of streetwear with Golf. Nike and a subsidiary, Jordan Brand, began releasing collectible silhouettes as golf shoes, such as the Air Max 1 and the original Air Jordans.

Sneakerheads were salivating. “You have people who grew up with the Jordan brand,” said rapper and golf entrepreneur Macklemore, who has done sneaker collaborations with Jordan. “It makes sense that people are going crazy.”

And the hold of sneaker culture on golf has grown steadily. While the pandemic has devastated a number of institutions, it has also boosted participation in golf, as well as other activities conducive to social distancing such as running, hiking and biking, according to the NPD Group, a market research company.

“Once the golf courses started to reopen, the business just took off,” said Matt Powell, NPD Group vice president and analyst for the sports sector, who said attendance also increased slightly. before the pandemic.

Many people bought golf sets at entry-level prices in 2020, he said, indicating that newcomers have taken up the sport. “None of the newbies who buy $400 golf sets are going to lose $120 worth of golf shoes,” he said. “They are going to play in sneakers.”

Sneakers have always been a big part of Millennials’ fashion choices, but now some adults in their late 20s and 30s have the disposable income to play golf — or, at least, try it. . Top Golf and Five Iron Golf locations, in some ways the sport’s equivalent to bowling alleys, also opened across the country, making elements of the sport more accessible in urban areas where courses are more hard to find.

“Golf is a very traditional game, but if you look at millennials and all the generations that come after them, they’re never afraid to do something a little different,” said Gentry Humphrey, the former vice-president. president of footwear at Jordan. Brand that spearheaded the company’s entry into sports.

Credit…Charley Gallay/Getty Images

Before Humphrey retired last fall, he also spent time running Nike’s golf business. Part of Humphrey’s philosophy has been to turn the Nike and Jordan sneakers that collectors covet into shoes that can be used on the fairway. “Kids want to go out there,” he said, “and they’d rather go with something fresh.”

While producing these golf sneakers may seem as simple as adding high-grip soles, there are also other considerations such as waterproofing and modifying the cushioning.

“We didn’t want it to be just a basketball shoe that moves on the golf course,” Humphrey said, adding that Nike had developed new shoe technologies like the built-in traction bottom. – a rubber outsole with no hard spikes that players could wear all day. .

Another part of Humphrey’s strategy has been to provide a broader platform for startup golf brands through product collaborations. For example, Eastside Golf, a brand launched in 2019 by professional golfers Olajuwon Ajanaku and Earl Cooper, who played together at Morehouse College in Atlanta, aims to increase diversity in the sport and introduce it to younger people.

“Who said you can’t play golf in a T-shirt? said Cooper, Delaware’s first all-state African-American golfer. “When they created these rules, minorities weren’t even allowed to play. People try to cling to a tradition that was already broken or flawed.

Ajanaku, who designed the trademark Eastside Golf clothing line, which features a black man in bluejeans wearing a gold chain and baseball cap while swinging a club, said highlighting a person of color on the company’s products was an important step.

“For us, having the logo of a black man playing golf on our apparel speaks to anyone who hasn’t felt welcome in the sport,” he said.

Eastside Golf’s logo featured prominently on the tongue of their Air Jordan collaboration, which utilized the silhouette of the original Air Jordan IV, a retro sneaker popular with sneakerheads. The golf spikes were removable so the sneakers could also be worn off the course.

One of the key innovations that helped open sneaker culture to golf were shoes that were convertible or easily transitioned from the green to the clubhouse. For the fashion-conscious, half-inch spikes at the bottom of a shoe can dramatically change the aesthetics of the shoe. So brands are increasingly opting for a subtle pull on the bottom of their golf shoes instead of straight toes.

“There were so many people who bought the golf product collaborations, but didn’t even play the game,” Humphrey said. “My phone was ringing more for the Eastside Golf collaboration than some of the projects we did with Christian Dior. The sport is looking for another dose of energy, and it was a great way to introduce something again.

On tour, eagle-eyed golfers or sneaker collectors may have spotted these shoes on the feet of 43-year-old Bubba Watson or 31-year-old Harold Varner III, but even the youngest pros bring a swagger too. different on the PGA Tour, Slade, the sneaker YouTuber, said. A lot of players on the tour now, he said, “grew up listening to Travis Scott or Tyler the Creator. They come into this world with a totally different perspective.

Last summer, Extra Butter, Amin’s boutique, collaborated with Adidas on a streetwear golf collection inspired by the movie “Happy Gilmore” that included golf shoes, sneakers, balls and putter covers. The store is also introducing new golf-based brands to its inventory, such as Radda, Whim and Manors Golf.

“Since the beginning of hip-hop culture, there has always been this air of wanting to represent what you aspire to,” said Bernie Gross, creative director of Extra Butter. “We come from backgrounds that don’t represent that, but that’s what we hope to achieve one day. Golf is one of them.

Rappers are also getting into the world of golf. Drake launched a 10-piece golf collection with Nike that was worn by four-time major champion Brooks Koepka. And Macklemore, the Seattle-based rapper, launched his own golf line — dubbed Bogey Boys — in February 2021.

Macklemore started playing just two and a half years ago while on vacation and was immediately hooked. But before he even pulled his first 5 iron from the fairway bunker, he was looking for classic 1970s golf looks. He started his independent golf brand because he saw a market of new players who wanted to bring a unique style to their appearance on the course.

Since launching just over a year ago, Bogey Boys, whose looks are inspired by the swag of golfers like Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino, has sold out its first collection of limited-edition merchandise, partnered with Nordstrom and opened its first boutique location in Seattle in September.

Yet beyond collection, style and functionality, the founders of Eastside Golf believe there are greater benefits to the conventional sport.

“Golf can learn from sneaker culture,” Cooper said. “Sneaker culture is all about individuality. That’s what golf lacked.