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Suited to a Tee : No Ifs, Ands or Putts: Stylish Prints and Soft Colors Are Par for the Course or the Clubhouse, as Men Find the Missing Links: Stylish Golf Attire

July 09, 1993|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Golfers are getting into the swing of fashion.

No longer are most men wearing traditional golf shirts with their cardboard-like collars and uneven engineered stripes that cut across their middles. Now they're teeing off in soft-collared shirts with stylish prints. Horizontal stripes have been replaced by everything from wavy island designs borrowed from surf wear to funky geometric graphics.

Color has also been a major handicap of golf shirts. Golfers used to wear primarily red, white and blue and that awful shade of golf green. In recent years, golfers have switched to shirts in fashion-forward shades such as teal, taupe and purple.

Men are also wearing their golf shirts bigger. The sleeves are longer, the shoulders wider, making the shirts more comfortable for wielding a club. Ribbed-knit collars are rapidly making the stiff collars of the past obsolete.

"Golfers don't look like golfers anymore," says Roberta Quinlan, merchandise coordinator and fashion buyer for the pro shop at Pelican Hill Golf Club in Corona del Mar.

"In years past if a golfer stopped at a gas station (on the way to the course), you knew he was a golfer. They had a reputation for bad fashion, with their lime green polyesters. That was a hideous phase," Quinlan says. "Now you can't tell golfers from anyone else. They have a younger, much more updated look."

The makers of golf shirts began changing their stripes several years ago.

Innovators such as the hot-selling Ashworth started luring younger golfers with oversized polo-style shirts in solid colors and prints not seen before on golf courses. Now everyone from top-of-the-line Bobby Jones to lower-priced manufacturers make golf shirts that don't look like golf shirts.

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Among the more sophisticated styles for golfers are Bobby Jones shirts made of fine cotton and often printed with subtle geometric graphics (about $100). One style at Pelican Hill features abstract splashes of burnt orange against a tiny dark green and black checkered background ($110).

Descente, another maker of style-conscious golf shirts, created a color-blocked shirt in muted tones of mauve, blue, cream and green ($81) that can be worn anywhere.

"Guys don't want a golf look," says Jim Ireland, Southern California sales representative for Descente. "They want to be able to go out to dinner and not look like they just stepped off a golf course."

Greg Norman's Shark Club golf shirts have gained a reputation for splashy designs. One style at Pelican Hill resembles a referee's uniform, with wide green vertical stripes painted on a white background, a black knit collar and black sleeves ($68); another shirt has artsy waves, stripes and diamonds in pink, yellow, blue and black ($61).

"There's a trend away from the golfy look," says Janetha Leonard, director of merchandising for John Leonard's Golf Shop in Newport Beach.

"A lot of the shirts can be worn for weekend wear. They don't scream 'golf.' "

Indeed, some golf shirts look like they were designed for surfers. Many golf shirts in Ashworth's spring collection resemble the old Hang Ten shirts with their colorful woven knit patterns.

One style at John Leonard's has a patchwork of ethnic designs in muted shades of purple, green, yellow and charcoal ($61); another has horizontal stripes of purple and teal with an Oxford cloth finish ($67).

More conservative golfers favor something more subtle, such as the Jack Nicklaus white cotton shirt with fine navy horizontal stripes and navy collar ($66).

"It's more of an understated look," Leonard says.

The preference for shirt styles often depends on the age of the golfer, according to Jack Birnbaum, owner of Birnbaum's House of Golf in Brea.

"Young golfers mostly like the solid, soft-colored shirts without a lot of design," Birnbaum says. "Baby boomers go for the geometrics."

Typical of the graphics-oriented shirts favored by baby boomers is Sporthomson's teal and purple golf shirt with geometric trim ($40) or the white shirt with wide vertical stripes inlaid with an abstract pattern of diamonds and crosses in black, pale green and red ($40), both available at Birnbaum's.

"Before everything was red, white and blue with some green or black," Birnbaum says. "Now it's teals and purples--whatever is the hot ticket in fashion."

However, not all golfers agree on the new looks. There's still a small percentage of duffers who like the traditional shirts with engineered stripes, those uneven horizontal stripes, Leonard says.

"They want the polyester slacks and shirts with collars made of iron," she says. "But our customers are young-thinking. They're not into that. They're on the cutting edge."

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