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Lines with pros’ names broaden price, appeal

- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Not every man is a golfer, but makers of golf clothing are moving toward looks they hope will appeal to the Everyman.

And they're using golf celebrities to announce to the world that one's golf wardrobe can include a rich variety of colors, styles and clothes that are comfortable enough to swing your club at 125 miles per hour as Bubba Watson does.

PGA Tour stars who double as labels aren't new: Greg Norman, Nick Price and Jack Nicklaus all have their names attached to polo shirts. However, new clothing lines fronted by Mr. Watson and Ian Poulter and another that honors the name of the late Payne Stewart are trying to draw attention to those golfers' personal styles instead of their playing skills.

Mr. Watson is the charismatic player from Baghdad, Fla., who tied for fifth at the U.S. Open and was a crowd favorite throughout the tournament. He's ranked third overall on the PGA Tour and No. 1 when it comes to driving distance, but he's most known for his ability to connect to guys like him.

That's why Steve & Barry's, the retail chain that boasts inexpensive items but big-name partners including Sarah Jessica Parker and NBA star Stephon Marbury, introduced the Bubba Golf collection in July.

"He reflects our customer. He's a regular guy with a great personality," says Howard Schacter, chief partnership officer of Steve & Barry's. "He's a guy's guy. He's a bit irreverent. But when he's on that course, it's about being serious."

Mr. Schacter doesn't think Mr. Watson would feel quite right in traditional golf garb, such as an argyle sweater.

"He didn't grow up as a country clubber," he says. "He learned to play golf using Wiffle balls. He understands what today's consumer wants in dressing the part, but not losing himself."

Thirty styles, all costing $14.98 or less, will be available at the Bubba debut, including three-button and zip-front shirts, a lightweight wind shirt and wrinkle-resistant pants.

"I like stuff that stands out a bit," Mr. Watson says. "This is what you'd see if you opened my closet: lime green, pink, yellows and baby blues."

The key piece is the polo. "I'm striving to make sure they're good," Mr. Watson says, especially because he's wearing them for all sorts of occasions, including business meetings. The emphasis on that polo shirt is on target, says Shawn Cox, director of golf at the upscale Grand Golf Club in San Diego.

"Frequent golfer men probably have 20 to 40 golf shirts in their closets at home. Their wives are saying, 'If you bring one in, one has to go out,' " Mr. Cox says. "I think they're going to want to bring them home from the places they've played."

Nevertheless, some golfers might experiment with the player-branded clothes hoping the clothes bring them good luck, just like the PGA players turn to their signature garments.

(When Mr. Watson is playing in a tournament, he always wears a white shirt with a touch of pink on the last day, he says, in the way Tiger Woods always wears red.)

"I think you know that clothes are important to me, particularly when I play golf," Mr. Poulter say in a statement on his Web site. "If I feel good about what I am wearing, I feel good about my golf game," adds the player, who has been known to wear purple and bright pink pants. "I wanted to create a range that would do this for you, too."

Meanwhile, Garan, a division of Berkshire Hathaway, is using Mr. Stewart, who died in a plane crash in 1999, as its inspiration for a brand intended to make a splash with a rainbow of colors. Mr. Stewart's family has given its blessing to the apparel line, says Larry Reiner, vice president of the initiative.

"The Payne Stewart name was always synonymous with color and fashion. It's still a popular name today," Mr. Reiner says. "He's the only fashion icon in the history of golf that we can identify."

At price points ranging from $38 to $65, the Payne Stewart Collection will be more expensive than Bubba Golf but less than most pro-shop brands.