This year, professional golfer Ian Poulter is ranked seventh in the world. It is lucky for some; 2010 has also seen him take a runner-up position in the Abu Dhabi Gold Championship and his first PGA Tour win, at the WGC Accenture World Match Play.
It follows on from a successful 2009, which saw him finish second in The Players’ Championship and win the Barclays Singapore Open. But never mind all that, have you seen his trousers? “My dad always dressed nattily and one of my first jobs was selling menswear on a market stall,” says Poulter, who seems that much more at ease talking about clothes than clubs.
“Sport was always my first love but I knew it was important to me to look good on the course and wear what I wanted. So I thought I’d best do it myself.” Certainly, if some might recall a golden age of golf style – Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in pastel checks, or Frank Sinatra, reputed to spend $30,000 a year on orange knitwear from the Canyon Club shop in Palm Spring, and the swinger credibility of Jack Nicklaus, Dan Sanders and Arnold Palmer – is to admit that today’s golfers, in chinos and baggy polo shirts, just don’t cut it. With the notable exception of Poulter.
And he takes it sufficiently seriously that he has launched IJP Design, his own golfwear company. “Style in golf just became too easy – all those XXL T-shirts rather than a shirt that fits, multiple pleats rather than a flat-fronted trouser,” says Poulter. “Golf itself has become more fashionable, appealing more to younger men, evolving so more people can get out there and enjoy it. But its style has yet to catch up. It’s time it revived its old colour and edge.” He is not kidding. Staple to the 35-year-old’s collections are bold tartans, signed off by the Scottish Tartan Authority no less and a signature for the player, as are bootleg cut trousers “because plain trousers just look all the same”.
Also included are lightweight sleeveless striped cardigans, brightly-hued knee-length tailored shorts, neat, fitted polo shirts and even Swarowski crystal studded belts.
These are smart garments in a broader sense as well, cut to allow necessary ease of movement, using technical fabrics to wick away moisture and maintain breathability. It is a brand doing as well in club shops as Poulter is on the course too. What began as an idea sketched on hotel letterhead paper in 2003 and launched tentatively three years ago has this year gone into overdrive.
As of this summer it is sold in all 35 golfplaying nations, is moving into fashion retail and is set to expand in line with golf’s popularity (it is the world’s fastest growing leisure activity). A women’s golfwear line and even one for kids are preparing to tee off for 2011.
“I’m the crash test dummy,” Poulter jokes, referring to his wear-trialling every design. “It needs to look right but also feel right in more practical terms. It has to be cool, the buttons have to be in the right position.
It’s back to basics stuff but the kind of thing you don’t think off when you’re just buying a T-shirt. Just a button can get in the way of a swing. There needs to be a performance element.
But I don’t understand why golfwear can’t look great too.” There is, however, more to IJP Design than Poulter’s love of flashy duds and his confession that he “tends to be a bit flamboyant off the course as well”. If other players turn to a new club or caddy to improve their game, Poulter finds it in his attire. “Clothing is psychologically important on the course,” he explains, “but I think it can be for everyone. If you go to a business meeting and your suit doesn’t fit well, you won’t feel right – you may not get the deal.” But, more than that, the clothing company is a longer term business prospect, a cashing in on his public profile and his sartorial reputation alike with post-golf life in mind.
“I don’t want to get to 50 and wonder what to do next and I’ve always admired golfers who have looked beyond the sport alone to do something in the business of golf,” he says.
“But there is also a recognition among professional sportspeople in general that their increased visibility, or the public’s access to them via social media, for example, makes them brands now. Sportspeople are businesses, in part because they have to leverage their names to have something in place for when they can’t play any more.” To develop it as Poulter has done is, however, harder than it looks.
Poulter’s insistence on wearing his own clothing means, for instance, that lucrative sponsorship deals are not in the offing.
Rather, young up-and-coming British players, the likes of Steve Lewton, Giowan Suh and Gary Boyd are being sponsored by IJP.
Nor is this to forget that launching a clothing line, let alone a specialist one, is a gamble in the current climate and that few other golfers, with the exception of Greg Norman, have successfully pulled off launching a clothing line. Poulter, however, may benefit from the increased style-consciousness among men now. “It’s just too easy to sign up with some fashion brand now,” he says. “This is a business decision and if it doesn’t work out at least I’ve given it a try, and at least I’ve got to wear what I like.
It is a huge risk, though; it requires huge investment. But I think there will be a growing crossover of golf and fashion in coming years.
More players want to look good on the course and keep looking good in the clubhouse. There’s room for what we’re doing.” Indeed, while he certainly imposes his experience of play and his idea of taste on IJP Design products, the company is building a dedicated design team to keep the new collections coming.
He needs it, since he still sees his job as playing championship golf, with a hectic schedule that leaves little time for pondering fabric swatches and samples. “My job is still to try to hole some putts and if I can give some design ideas on the side that’s great,” he says, though the fact that putts equals units sold is not lost on him. “There’s certainly a relationship there to work with – success on the course translates into sales. For the moment though, my working life has a very simple dynamic. It’s called performance-related pay. If I don’t play well, I don’t get paid. That keeps you on your toes.”