Golf shoes are renewed thanks to the culture of streetwear and sneakers

Long stemming from New York hip-hop and California surf culture, streetwear has made its way onto the green grass of golf courses.

“Golf has started to get cooler and less standoffish because there are parts of the sneaker community that have embraced it,” said Jacques Slade, a sneaker YouTuber and golfer who has expressed a need for more golf shoes than ever before. reflect the slippers. culture.

Hip-hop culture and sneakers have always had a close relationship, but the link between hip-hop and golf might not be that far-fetched, said Ankur Amin, owner of New York streetwear boutique Extra Butter. He said golf’s aspirational appeal has helped his style connect with his customers.

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

Tiger Woods, a Nike-sponsored golfer, brought many new fans to the sport in the late 1990s, but the waning 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.

Sneaker lovers salivated. “There are people who have grown up with the Jordan brand,” said rapper and golf entrepreneur Macklemore, who has done sneaker collaborations with Jordan. “It makes sense that people would go crazy.”

And the dominance of sneaker culture in golf has only grown. While the pandemic has devastated several institutions, it has also boosted participation in golf, as well as other activities that encourage social distancing, such as running, walking and cycling, according to the NPD Group, a market research company.

“Once the golf courses started opening up again, the business just took off,” said Matt Powell, NPD Group vice president and sports business analyst, who said participation also rose slightly before the pandemic.

Many people bought golf sets at entry-level prices in 2020, he said, an indication that newcomers were taking up the sport. “Any beginner who buys $400 golf sets is not going to spend $120 on golf shoes,” she said. “They are going to play in sneakers.”

Sneakers have always been a staple of millennials’ fashion choices, but now some adults in their 20s and 30s have the disposable income to play golf, or at least try it out. Top Golf and Five Iron Golf locations, in some ways the sport’s equivalent to bowling alleys, have 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 follow them, they’re never afraid to do something a little different,” said Gentry Humphrey, former vice president of footwear for Jordan. He brand that led the company’s entry into the sport.

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 transform the Nike and Jordan shoes that collectors covet into shoes that can truly be worn on the street. “Kids want to go out,” he said, “and they prefer to go out with something new.”

Although producing these golf shoes may seem as simple as adding high-traction soles, there are also other considerations like waterproofing and cushioning modification.

“We didn’t want it to be just a basketball shoe that translates to the golf course,” Humphrey said, adding that Nike had developed new shoe technologies like Integrated Traction Bottoms — a rubber outsole without hard spikes that players they could wear all day. .

Another part of Humphrey’s strategy has been to provide a broader platform for golf brand building through product collaborations. For example, Eastside Golf, a brand started 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, the first African-American golfer from across the state in Delaware. “When they created these rules, minorities weren’t even allowed to play. People are trying to hold on to a tradition that was already broken or flawed.”

Ajanaku, who designed the trademark for the Eastside Golf clothing line, which features a black man in blue jeans wearing a gold chain and a baseball cap while hitting a club, he said the prominent placement of a person of color on the company’s products was a milestone.

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

The Eastside Golf logo was prominently displayed on the tongue of their Air Jordan collaboration, which used the silhouette of the original Air Jordan IV, a throwback sneaker beloved among sneaker lovers. The golf spikes were removable so that the shoes could also be worn off the course.

Shoes that are convertible or can easily transition from the green to the clubhouse are one of the key innovations that have helped open up the sneaker culture within golf. For fashion-conscious people, half-inch spikes at the bottom of a sneaker can significantly alter the aesthetic of the shoe. Therefore, brands are increasingly opting for subtle traction on the sole of their golf shoes instead of straight spikes.

“There were so many people buying the golf product collaborations, but they weren’t even playing,” Humphrey said. “My phone kept ringing off the hook more because of the Eastside Golf collaboration than because of some of the projects we did with Christian Dior. The sport is looking for another injection of energy, and this was a great way to introduce something new to it.”

On Tour, eagle-eyed golfers or sneaker collectors may have seen these shoes on the feet of 43-year-old Bubba Watson or 31-year-old Harold Varner III, but even younger pros are bringing a Different swagger than the PGA Tour, Slade the sneaker Youtuber said. A lot of the players on tour now, she told her, “grew up listening to Travis Scott or Tyler the Creator. They come into this world with a totally different perspective.”

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

“Since the beginning of hip-hop culture, there’s 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 this, but this is what we hope to achieve one day. Golf is part of that.”

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

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

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

Still, beyond collectability, style and functionality, the founders of Eastside Golf believe there are more important things to mainstream sport.

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