Palmer Turns to Classic Look to Revive Golf Clothing Line

Arnold Palmer Moves to Mid-Century Hip
Golfer Arnold Palmer in action during his Ryder Cup match at the Royal Lytham and St Anne's Golf Club on Oct. 16, 1961. Source: Central Press/Getty Images

Arnold Palmer is going back in time to update his image.

The 82-year-old golfer and businessman, one of the sport’s most successful and marketable figures for six decades, turned to 29-year-old Ryan Moore of the U.S. PGA Tour as the pitchman for a new clothing line that seeks to shake off the Palmer brand’s reputation for being a range of dowdy apparel for old men.

“It was stale,” said Geoff Tait, co-founder of Toronto-based manufacturer Quagmire Golf Inc., which licenses the Palmer apparel brand. “Where it was heading was kind of toward that really, really old demographic.”

Palmer was 31st on Esquire’s 2010 list of the 75 best-dressed men of all time for his on-course style of his prime that featured mid-century neutral colors and slim profiles. He is returning to that era with Arnie Wear, incorporating his style through the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s -- adding black and white accents -- to try to attract younger consumers while not alienating older fans.

“I care very much about his legacy and I want to see it carried on,” said Amy Saunders, Palmer’s 53-year-old daughter. “There’s a lot of history and tradition that shouldn’t be lost.”

While companies such as Nike Inc., Puma SE, Galvin Green and J. Lindberg have developed modern, athletic styles and breathable fabrics to attract young consumers, many of Palmer’s cotton clothes have remained unchanged through the years.

Nothing Radical

“I’m a straight-collared sports-shirt man,” Palmer said in a telephone interview from his home in Palm Springs, California. “I’m fairly conservative in my mode of dress. There are some extremes, but nothing really radically extreme.”

The new line moves in a much-needed new direction, Tait said last month at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, where the clothes were on display. It taps into the trend toward retro clothing, inspired in part by television shows such as AMC Networks Inc.’s “Mad Men,” Tait and Palmer’s daughter said.

“There was a style when my father was coming up through the ranks that was classic,” Saunders said. “We all looked at the clothing back then and saw how back in vogue it is now. It all just makes sense to reinvent that.”

On Sale Now

Solid-color shirts are $59, while fashion polos range from $69-$89. Sweaters are $89 and shorts and pants range from $79- $89, according to Tait. The line went on sale today at retailers including Golfsmith International Holdings Inc.

Since he began Arnold Palmer Enterprises Inc. in 1960 with the help of Mark McCormack, the late founder of the International Management Group, Palmer has become a very rich man thanks to that older demographic, who made up “Arnie’s Army” of fans as the golfer known as the “King” won seven major championships, including four Masters Tournament titles.

Endorsements and branded products, such as his line of Arnie women’s clothing sold in almost 300 stores throughout Asia, gave Palmer an income of $36 million in 2011, according to Golf Digest magazine’s annual earnings list -- third in the sport behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, even though Palmer last won a PGA Tour event in 1973.

His playing legacy, which included 62 titles on the U.S. PGA Tour, doesn’t resonate with younger recreational players, said Casey Alexander, who analyzes the golf industry as a director of equity research at New York-based Gilford Securities Inc.

Ties on Course

Hence the selection of Moore, a player who shunned major corporate sponsors in favor of his own style on the golf course, to push the new line.

Moore’s ensembles sometimes include ties -- he wore one during last year’s Masters Tournament at Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club and helped develop his own line of minimalist True Linkswear golf shoes. That style makes him the ideal player to introduce the updated brand to a new generation, Saunders said.

“Ryan has been identified as having a classy style without being over the top,” she said. “He definitely stands out and that’s the point. It’s a little funky but it’s not crazy.”

Moore said he was just waiting for the right sponsor.

“Mr. Palmer’s image in golf over the years is so great, and people respect him so much,” he said. “To have an affiliation with him, especially a young player like myself, I said, “Absolutely!” in a heartbeat. It was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Years of Persuasion

Bringing Palmer around to the idea wasn’t easy.

“It’s taken several years to convince him that we need to take a look at how he’s represented across the board in the marketplace,” said Cori Britt, vice president of Arnold Palmer Enterprises.

Britt declined to discuss sales figures for Palmer’s clothing line or his other businesses, which include golf course design and a new agreement with Hornell Brewing Co. for an alcoholic version of an iced tea and lemonade drink generally referred to as an Arnold Palmer.

Golf apparel accounted for $906 million in sales in on- and off-course shops in 2011, according to Tom Stine, co-founder of Kissimmee, Florida-based Golf Datatech, which tracks the industry.

Since Palmer takes an active role in all business decisions, he had to approve Moore before he became an endorser, Britt said. The two men have known each other since Moore won the U.S. Amateur title in 2004. While Palmer called Moore a “great young man,” he also had some style advice for him.

“I might convince him to shave a little,” Palmer said. “That’s about it.”

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