Women's Golf Fashions – Almost Anything Goes!

By: Nancy Berkley

If you are a woman golfer but never really liked golf clothes, then this is your season. The key words are "variety" and "choice." There have never been more of both.

First, the good news about bottoms: You can choose short-shorts, short skorts (a la Michelle Wie), traditional shorts, knee-length shorts, traditional skirts, Capri pants and/or traditional pants. The big golf-apparel manufacturers like EP, Tail, Liz Golf, Astra, Bette & Court, are making bottoms in many different styles and even fabrics. And, except for traditional courses with strict dress codes, almost anything goes.

The news about tops is very similar. The old rule used to be: A ladies’ golf top had to have either a collar or a sleeve. Tank tops have neither, which is why they don't appear very often on the golf course. But in between tank tops and traditional striped golf shirts with "old-lady" sleeves, are lots of new T-shirts (with no collar) and lots of new sleeve styles (shorter sleeves and some cap sleeves). Stretch fabrics are "in" along with hi-tech microfiber blends.

Now the bad news: Unless you go to one of the large golf-apparel specialty shops, you may not see the variety of styles. (My favorite golf store is Palm Beach Golf Center in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Visit www.palmbeachgolfcenter.com and survey the variety of apparel.)

Unfortunately, the typical on-course golf pro shop simply cannot afford to stock five different IZOD skirt-styles. That means that many women will find they have to shop at several different places to really find the new golf fashions.

Strangely enough, all the style innovation by the women's golf apparel companies has created a different problem for the golf apparel makers. Now that anything goes, women golfers do not have to go to a "golf" store to buy "golf" clothes. In fact, younger women golfers (women aged 18 to 29 are the fastest growing segment in the industry) are just as likely to find their clothes at the Gap or Nordstrom than at the pro shop at a fancy golf resort.

The reason those little five-button collared shirts (with stretch) at the Gap disappear off the shelves so quickly is that women golfers grab them up – in multiples. This spring, The Gap offered a "shaded" shirt in orange and turquoise that seems to be inspired by the same designer who designed Wie's Nike shirt in the recent Kraft Nabisco Tournament.

How did women's golf attire move so quickly from traditional to trendy? I have a couple of explanations.

Several years ago when golf rounds and sales started slipping downward, golf apparel manufacturers landed on another route to way to increase women’s apparel sales. They decided that more women would buy more golf clothes if they could wear them for more than golf. Makes sense! The theory that I would pay more for a pair of Tail capri pants in that wonderful non-wrinkle fabric that I can wear on the golf course, on casual work days or to the grocery store worked for me. (I have several pairs of them.)

Once golf clothes crossed over to non-golf clothes, the reverse also happened. Now women could buy a pair of Bermuda shorts at Lands End or L.L.Bean and wear them for golf. And once women could buy clothes for golf wear at main-stream retailers like Nordstrom, the retailers do what retailers do best: they changed styles more frequently so that they were new and trendy. Big brands like Ralph Lauren Polo took a similar track. You can buy a Polo golf shirt in the newest shade of green at Bloomingdale’s or your favorite golf shop. Buy it anywhere and wear it anywhere.

At about the same time as the golf-apparel manufacturers were doing more cross-merchandising and distribution, the younger golf celebrities, such as Wie, Morgan Pressel, Natalie Gulbis – to name three – were making news on the links and in major newspapers. No longer did you have to read a golf magazine to see how short Michelle’s shorts were. And, they didn’t look like your mother’s golf shorts. Hey! This game looks cool. For a great photo of the new class of rookie LPGA golfers, see the March/April Issue of Golf For Women magazine and the article by GolfWorld Editor Ron Sirak (visit http://www.golfdigest.com/gfw/gfwfeatures/index.ssf?/gfw/gfwfeatures/gfw200603seasonpreview.html).

The full range of golf fashions was clearly in evidence in the last two groups playing at the LPGA Kraft Nabisco Tournament in Palm Springs in early April 2006. The winner of the tournament, Karrie Webb, was wearing traditional navy golf shorts with a pleated front and a very traditional horizontal striped traditional golf shirt tucked in and worn with a belt. She is just over 30 and was the oldest player in the final two groups. Lorena Ochoa from Mexico, who finished second to Webb in the playoff, was wearing dark-blue long-and-lean shorts – just above her knee – and a green Polo with shirt-tails out. Michelle was wearing a short black skort (about the same length as a tennis skirt) and a red-collared shirt. And Gulbis was wearing a black and white, close-fitting sleeveless shirt with no collar – worn out – over a short black skort.

There you have it – quite a range of golf styles. And ordinary golfers like you and me can wear any of them. Note: blue jeans have not made it to the golf course in the U.S. My advice: Do not push the envelope by wearing blue jeans – unless you are playing golf in Sweden.

So is all this variety and choice in clothing good for women’s golf. I think so.

Years ago, when a woman thought about taking up golf, she had to think about buying a golf "outfit." Not anymore. Now if you want to play this game, there is probably something hanging in your closet you can easily wear. (A plain T-shirt and medium length pair of shorts will do.) That’s one less barrier for growing the game for women. The price of golf clubs, lessons, tee times and too little time, offer enough barriers!

Anything that makes golf more accessible and affordable for women, I think is good for golf. Of course, everything has limits. Maybe one or two LPGA pros are wearing skorts that are a little too short, but that’s for another article.

The wide variety and choice does make it more difficult for the average pro shop to keep pace and stock on women’s clothing. But, that leaves open a wonderful competitive advantage for pro shops. They should be concentrating on offering excellent customer service and a fashion-forward staff. Take a look at my pro-shop tips on my website at http://www.nancyberkley.com/809428.html. Pass along my suggestions to your golf professionals and managers.

You can check out the new styles for yourself at the coming LPGA Tournaments. Go to http://www.lpga.com/tournaments_index.aspx  to find the tournament schedule. Watch the LPGA players on TV or just read the sports pages for women’s golf fashion news. You also may be interested in the new Apparel Wire – an on-line newsletter dedicated to golf fashions. For information see http://www.golfbusinesswire.com/2006_articles/103245.

The bottom line: It has never been easier for women to look good on the golf course.

Nancy Berkley is an expert on women’s golf. Her book, “Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women’s Golf,” published in 2003 by the National Golf Foundation, is the industry reference on how-to attract and retain women golfers. She updates her research and best practices on her website www.nancyberkley.com.

Nancy consults with facilities on how they can increase participation and revenues from women golfers and is a frequent speaker at industry events. Nancy also reviews courses for “The Golf Insider,” an international golf and travel newsletter, and “Ladies Golf Journey,” a golf publication for women. She’s contributed articles to “Golf For Women” magazine and is the author of the 2004 PGA Magazine cover story about women golfers.

A respected resource in the golf industry, Nancy participates in Golf 20/20, the annual strategic invitation-only conference sponsored by the PGA Tour, the PGA, the LPGA, and the World Golf Foundation. At the November 2004 Conference, she moderated the panel discussions on player development with a focus on women golfers. She has addressed the National Golf Course Owner’s Association at their National Conference as well as at numerous marketing seminars for the PGA and LPGA professionals. Nancy serves as a consultant to the Golden Links Advisory Board of Corporate Meetings & Incentives, a PRIMEDIA Business Publication. Nancy is an experienced golfer and has competed on the Metropolitan Women’s Golf Association (N.J., N.Y., Conn.) interclub matches. She’s served on the Board and Golf Committees of her golf clubs in Florida and New Jersey.

In 1998, Nancy founded Berkley Consulting and The Woman’s Only Guide® to Golf to share her long-time passion for golf and to help grow the game. Prior to working in the golf industry, Nancy was an attorney for a Wall Street firm and then held a number of senior executive positions with Prudential Financial, including Assistant General Counsel and Vice President of Corporate Marketing & Business Integration. Nancy began her professional career as a high school teacher.

Nancy holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Minnesota; a master’s degree in teaching from Harvard University Graduate School of Education; and a law degree from Rutgers University School of Law, where she was a member of the Law Review. She is a graduate of the Program for Management Development at Harvard Business School.

Nancy describes herself as a bogey golfer and plays on her home courses in Florida and New Jersey. To contact her, write, call or email Nancy at: Nancy Berkley, Berkley Consulting, 242 Eagleton Estates Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 561-776-7243 or at info@nancyberkley.com.