The first time Fairways + Greens attended the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., in 2001, the golf industry was still in the fast lane of a sustained roll that had begun a decade earlier and picked up steam when Tiger Woods turned pro in 1997. To borrow a phrase from Joni Mitchell, the aisles went on for miles. You could feel the technology-fueled frenzy in every corner of the cavernous Orange County Convention Center. The apparel side alone was head-spinning in its breadth and variety, but the equipment hall — with its ancillary gadget, travel and made-for-pros course maintenance and operations sections — was legend in its ability to wear down shoe leather and leave one’s legs and spine begging for mercy by day’s end.
The show’s size and intensity backed off in the mid-2000s as the “golf craze” settled and flattened, but now there are new signs of life. This year’s PGA Show definitely had more heat and anticipation than last year’s. Aisles were more crowded. Smiles abounded as reps wrote business and attendees roamed in search of the Next Great Thing. And while that “Thing” didn’t really materialize in our eyes — no game-changing hardware or technology, but rather we saw some cool incremental nudges forward and a couple refreshing steps back — there seems a new attitude about the golf biz overall. The PGA of America launched its new “Golf 2.0” initiative to spur new play and hopefully find a way to reverse recent downward spirals in avid participation. Big companies like TaylorMade/adidas and Callaway went all out in their booth displays, with the former doubling down on its massive presence in 2011 by creating a “show within a show” complete with its own indoor practice facility and restaurant. Oakley is jumping into the golf stream with both well-shod feet (more on that in a minute), while formerly stodgy apparel outfits like Fairway & Greene have overhauled their entire lines.
The buzz is back. Nothing earth shattering, but it’s there.
In three days on the floor and at the opening Demo Day, Fairways + Greens managed to spot a dozen and a half products that pretty much represented this year’s unspoken theme of what we’ll call “careful positivity.” As you’ll see, what we’d like to wear out there caught our fancies more than what we’d like to play (or play with).
ADAMS SPEEDLINE FAST 12 & SUPER XTD FAIRWAY METALS
“These clubs blow away anything else out there,” said one Adams rep at the show’s popular Demo Day, and we can understand his hyperbole. The company famed for its easy-to-hit sticks has come up with a true new wrinkle in club design — a patented “Velocity Slot” placed on both the crown and sole on both of its new Speedline fairway metals and hybrids. Testing shows that this pairing of deep, squared-off grooves makes for a hotter trampoline effect, which translates to more distance across the swing speed board. The Super XTD features new multi-material construction (titanium crown/face and steel sole) for optimally low center of gravity and the hottest face — approaching that of a driver. It’s priced at $349.95 and goes on sale in March, while the Fast 12 goes for $249.99 and goes on sale in February.
ALLEN EDMONDS SHOES
Yeah, we love the new wave of spikeless, lightweight, athletic-styled golf shoes as much as the next forward-facing guy and gal, but there is a place for old-school quality in the well-heeled pro shops of America. When it revealed its line of exquisitely designed and built Honors Collection last year, this 90-year-old Wisconsin company took the lead in giving tradition its due. The fact that Ben Crenshaw and Jack Nicklaus have jumped on board as representatives only makes Allen Edmonds’ beautiful footwear — wingtips, crocodiles, saddles and bluchers — only gives it more credibility in the upscale marketplace (they’re $345 per pair at retail). And the new Clubhouse Collection of loafers and dress shoes ($195-$335) keeps the refined comfort going after every round.
A certain FGer’s closet is loaded with Antigua shirts of many colors, heavy on the solids. Why? Because they come out of the suitcase in battle-ready, wrinkle-free form and look damned good even after 36 holes in withering summertime heat or under maximum competitive conditions like those endured by the U.S. Solheim Cup team in 2012 — they lost the cup, but looked positively awesome doing it thanks to their custom Antigua wear. The rest of us get the same excellent materials, craftsmanship, feel and finish, year-round. This year’s catalog introduces even more great shades and subtle patterns, including our favorite, the single-color stripe.
The cool guys from Quagmire — one of Canada’s best golfwear brands, especially if you’ve got more dark hair on your head than gray — got a call one day last year from none other than Arnold Palmer. Or, rather, his “people” in Orlando who had caught wind of what Quagmire was up to with its fashion-forward designs and were keen to partner up. So, several months later they had themselves a deal, and a cool new line of togs broken into four time periods — 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and “Timeless” — that reflect the king’s sartorial evolution. Quagmire’s designers bring Arnie’s Everyman fashion sense up to date with a mix of more straightforward solids and intriguing but classic patterns. At the line’s roll-out, Palmer himself donned a full outfit, and man, did he look put together. As usual.
AUR DRI-MAX AND CARBO COOL FABRICS
AUR’s active wear relies on the line’s Dri-Max/polyester double knit fabric to bring all the right elements to every moment on the golf course — moisture-wicking comfort, the slight and soundless stretch of Spandex, a supple “hand” and almost feather-light feel over the shoulders and across the back. It’s not baggy, it’s just roomy through every size, yet keeps it shape. CarboCool is a Polyester/bamboo/charcoal blend with a grey tint on its interior, hinting at the charcoal in the equation. It’s perhaps AUR’s fastest-drying stuff yet, and as a bonus, it’s environmentall responsible — no chemical treatment needed.
BOCCIERI GOLF SECRET GRIP
Starting with the Heavy Putter, club engineer and designer Steve Boccieri has singlehandedly reframed the debate of what golf equipment should be. Lighter is not always better, as his tests and sales have proved, and even as he’s expanded into mid-weight and light-weighted sticks across the spectrum (wedges, irons, even drivers), he’s never lost that heavy-driven philosophy. Now he’s brought the vibe to a grip whose compound is 40 percent heavier than regular models. A tungsten weight in the butt-end raises a club’s balance point, promoting consistently crisp contact, greater control and distance. The grip is an inch longer than standard, allowing players to choke-down further for improved play around the green or uneven lies, while its built-up lower section makes additional grip tape wrapping obsolete. $18.99 per grip.
ECCO BIOM HYBRID SHOES
Excuse us while we have a yak attack. That’s right, yak — the origin of the leather used in Ecco’s newest trendsetting spikeless “street” shoe. It’s ultra-soft, mega-strong and, when treated with Hydromax protectant, superbly weather resistant. It’s also the natural extension of the company’s Biom line, heretofore distinguished by a more “mainstream” athletic look. This is what happens when the folks who first put a laid-back Fred Couples into a pair of rubber-soled, sweet-feeling Eccos take a good thing and make it better — and better looking, too. A triple-decker sole provide support yet keeps the feet close to the ground while the ingenious outsole includes 100 “traction bars” that assure a great grip through the entire swing.
FAIRWAY & GREEN WINDSWEATERS
“Timeless style meets modern performance”: That’s Fairway & Green’s new tagline, and like their freshened array of shirts and sweaters lives up to the words. The expanded “tech collection” includes FG Tech Pique — a blend of polyester and Spandex — while the “Pureformance” shirts combines Egyptian cotton with “cool pass” polyester that reduces moisture and odor, and the more classic active knits stay with Mercerized cotton. But we particularly love the Italian Merino wool sweaters; in the Windsweater model, a merino shell is lined with Japanese anti-static fabric that adds a bit more stretch. It’s perfect for cool spring or fall days — and indoors anytime.
Slipping on a Fila shirt or pair of shorts instantly makes us feel more athletic than we probably are, especially in the more Euro-looking Essenziale collection, with its two-tone shirt designs, slimming cut and mockneck zip collars. The Forza Collection introduces stripes into the equation, with collars that range from two to four buttons. The high-end Primo Collection stands out for its subtle but intricate patterning on brightly-colored Lycra-Polyester pallettes. All shirts are Tech-Dry treated anti-bacterial, so you don’t have to feel uncomfortable while you’re looking downright delicious.
GOLF BUDDY VOICE
Riffing on the iPod Nano, Korean GPS company Golf Buddy has come up with the most compact rangefinder yet, and best of all, it’ll tell you the distance to front, center and back without a glance thanks to voice technology. Just clip the small unit to your cap, flip it on and start playing. It’s got 40,000 courses pre-installed and speaks several languages. If you want more info, the screen offers a dynamic green view and shot distance — after you’ve nuked that driver, for instance. The white Voice matches Golf Buddy’s new full-featured, full-color World Platinum II GPS unit. And everything’s Mac and PC compatible.
KENTWOOL GOLF SOCKS
While the list of true PGA and LPGA believers in these ultra-comfy, expertly crafted golf socks continues to grow — Duffy Waldorf and Jenny Suh recently joined the ranks alongside Bubba Watson, Jonathan Byrd, Krisy McPherson and others — so does our own love for them. Crafted from a proprietary blend of fine merino wool and high-tech fibers, Kentwool Golf Socks create an innovative, micro-climate system for superior moisture management, wicking and odor control. Each pair (IN low profile, tour standard and tour profile styles) features the brand’s WINDspun technology, infusing the fibers with air, for unrivaled cushioning at micro-stress points along the foot. This maximizes comfort, increases energy levels, reduces the risk of injury and boosts on-course performance. And the 2012 models include bright new colors, a slightly retooled design plus a brand new calf-high compression model that’s perfect for long airplane flights. The golf socks retail for $19.95 to $24.95.
This brand new line of state-of-the art activewear marks a new chapter for John Ashworth, who long since made his name in the golf business but, as an entrepreneur, is always looking to extend his brand. Linksoul does that in fine fashion (pardon the pun) on two fronts. The entire line of shirts, pants, shorts and outerwear is designed to appeal to a younger demographic through the use of lightweight Supima cotton and cotton blends and, in its M15 solid and striped shirts, Merino wool. All pieces hold their shape through countless washes and require no ironing — music to a traveler’s ears. The “Linksoul Club” side of the line allows individual golf courses and resorts to brand each piece with their own logo right on the collar, a true splash of class.
NIKE TOUR PERFORMANCE BELTS
Nike’s entire line of leather goods and performance accessories keep the likes of Anthony Kim (or anybody, for that matter) looking fine on the links, but for us, the belts — designed by Bill Adler, really caught our fancy. The leather Sport and Performance models include reversible straps, pivoting buckles and either a brush metal center-bar or embossed Swoosh logo buckle, while the Tiger Woods mesh G-Flex stretches and twitches for added range of motion and no side-to-side movement.
OAKLEY CIPHER GOLF SHOE
Keegan Bradley is already rockin’ these bright, light and groundbreaking shoes on Tour, and now that Oakley has signed Rory McIlroy, he’ll probably give them a swing, too. There’s simply nothing else like them; they’ve taken the current “closer to the ground is better” trend and put the distinctive, mega-atheletic stamp on them, mostly via Nano-Spike technology. Instead of rubberized spikeless soles you get special ceramic inserts that feel like 10 gauge sandpaper to the touch and grab the turf like nobody’s business. When they get worn, just peel them off and clap on a new set in mere seconds. Pair them up with a set of new Oakley golf togs and a sleek set of shades, and you’re good to go.
SUNICE ULTIMATE V4 JACKET
Not afraid of extreme conditions? Neither are we, especially when we zip ourselves into one of Sunice’s Gore-Tex beauties and head out into the elements with the confidence born of tip-top technology and smart design. The new lineup of outerwear just builds on previous models with all the right whistles and bells — sealed zippers, interior and exterior drawstrings, moisture-killing cuffs and whisper-soft materials that have served Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup competitors so well over the past few years.
SUN MOUNTAIN KG:3 CART BAG
This Missoula, Mont.-based company seems to live by a sleek mantra: “Lighter is better.” It’s hard to argue whether we’re talking pull carts, waterproof jackets or golf bags. We’ve long been fans of their carry bag lineup, but the KG:3 cart bag manages to make the strap-on-and-ride set somehow cool again. The dang thing weighs just 6.5 pounds — you can pick it up with one finger — but doesn’t scrimp on features like the 15-way divided top with full club-length protection, three handle-holds, forward-facing pockets that give easy access to all your gear, and ample space for everything you’ll need to play golf in any weather conditions. Color schemes are right on point, too. And it goes for a reasonable $229.
TOTEM ECO-NEUTRAL TEES
These little, tubular biodegradable tees are a two-piece proposition: A short “core” goes into the ground, where it’s designed to break down quickly and aerate the turf; on top of it goes one of several “elevation tubes” depending on what club you’re hitting, then the ball goes on top of that. It’s an interesting concept, and designers say that early testing shows an increase in distance for the driver.
TOUR EDGE XCG5 FAIRWAY METALS
Never have we seriously considered bagging our drivers in favor of a full-time 3-wood, but this epic new stick causes to take pause and consider the possibilities: The 11.5 degree model (you read that right) sends a ball just as far as a driver of comparable loft, and does so with a pleasing fairway-piercing accuracy. We whaled away at Demo Day and within seconds were believers in the club’s metal-monster composition: an innovative titanium cup face and crown, a beta titanium face insert for added distance, and a heavy tungsten sole plate that provides 68% of the club head’s total weight. And its ballflight is solid, too — bring it on, headwind!
ZERO RESTRICTION POWER TORQUE PULLOVER
Sister company to Fairway & Greene, Zero Restriction continues to roll out some of the best-looking and most effective outerwear on the market, from insulated jackets to “bio-energy”-impregnated knitwear. With the sleek, warm and swing-friendly Power Torque line, ZR introduces two new fabrics that ratchet up the waterproofing without sacrificing smoothness of movement. In other word, you won’t feel like a bulked-up Michelin Man while playing golf in this garment, but you’ll be warm and dry for the duration. Same deal with the long-sleeved polos and windjackets: They just work. And yes, they still make killer Gore-Tex stuff, too.