Though I'm pretty much the opposite of a golf style icon (I will cop to having worn, unironically, a Tabasco shirt or two in my junior golf days), fashion is nevertheless interesting to me. Though it's not my area of expertise or focus, every year I attend the PGA Merchandise Show, I take some time to wander through the massive apparel section of the exhibition floor. It's not the Smithsonian, but the juxtaposition of stately established brands, hip newcomers and kitschy upstarts is good for a couple hours' wandering.
For the most part, shirts, shorts and sweaters are hard to distinguish other than by colors and patterns. Almost everyone is using the same sorts of materials. There are traditional and athletic stylistic leanings across different brands, for sure, but polyester and cotton rule the racks.
That said, a few other companies are branching out by incorporating unconventional materials in their products with the promise they actually improve comfort or performance.
Here's a rundown of some of these materials and why they might be worth considering over your traditional fabrics:
At this year's PGA Merchandise Show, one illuminating conversation I had was with the folks at tasc Performance, whose shirts and pants incorporate upwards of 45% or more bamboo alongside more traditional fabrics. I've got a shirt and pair of shorts of theirs and they stand up very well to their all-cotton counterparts.
Why bamboo? It's known to be significantly more absorbent than even the highest-quality cotton, and its naturally anti-microbial properties mean less odor even in high-sweat situations. Furthermore, bamboo is more sustainable than cotton because it is less water-intensive to cultivate, and thrives naturally in similar climates to cotton.
That said, there are legitimate historical concerns with the chemicals used to break the bamboo cellulose down into a workable textile. The synthetic material rayon is derived from bamboo, in many cases. For its part, tasc's process seeks to minimize both the use of chemicals and any harmful byproducts. Per the company's website, this process yields "a fabric that feels better than cotton and performs without chemical enhancements."
Quick review: I have a golf shirt and a pair of shorts from tasc and like them both. The shirt material feels like cotton with a bit of stretch, and has held up well over several months' worth of launderings. The shorts, too, although one of the rear buttons has come off and another is hanging by a thread. Still, they are quite comfortable. Price-wise, they're mid-high end - golf shirts run $72 to $95 and the shorts are $72 to $78.
tasc was the first golf apparel company to catch my eye for their use of bamboo, but they're not alone. Our friends at Linksoul also dabble in bamboo fibers in their clothing. I own a pair of their Bamboo Stretch 5-Pocket Pants (29% bamboo) and find them very comfortable - wearable to dinner or out and about even on hot Florida afternoons and evenings.
(Note: Linksoul has offered a promo code to Golf Advisor readers. To take advantage, enter GAFALL20 at checkout to receive 20% off any regular-priced apparel at linksoul.com.)
Portugal is home to some notable golf courses and a couple known pros like Ricardo Gouveia and Jose-Filipe Lima, but it is not a worldwide golf hotbed (Europeans do love vacationing in the Algarve, though). Other than great food and wine, one of its most notable exports is cork; it is home to more than a third of the cork tree forest in the world.
Cork's lightweight and elastic properties give it a number of uses - wine bottle stoppers, baseball cores and several industrial applications. Best of all, it is highly sustainable. After it is harvested off a cork oak tree, it replenishes quickly.
One home-grown shoe company, Kankura, has taken to using cork in its products, primarily as the base of their insoles. Cork offers support, and wicks moisture away in order to keep feet drier and fresher longer than synthetic shoe materials.
Kankura's high-end shoes ($250+) are mostly available in Europe, but you can order them online, too.
It won't get you high, and it probably won't lower your scores, but hemp has been a fairly well-regarded clothing fiber source for clothing over the years...and not just by hippies. Hemp has been spun into fiber (including for clothing) for 10,000 years or more.
While they're not pitching specifically to golfers, plenty of hemp apparel makers sell polo shirts that would look fine on the golf course. Like bamboo, hemp is known for breathability, moisture-wicking and anti-microbial properties, but proponents of the plant are quick to point out that it doesn't require the chemical input that bamboo does in order to become textile-ready.
The Colorado-based Denver Hemp Company makes both socks and hats out of hemp. As someone who stains plenty of hats in the hot Florida summer, I might have to try a hemp hat to see if it might outlast some of my hopelessly sweat-stained stock.
During a family gathering this June, my uncle Bob, who lives in California, was touting his duds by Santa Cruz-based Dash Hemp. He swears by their comfort and durability in particular. Company owner Richard Dash is a golfer himself, playing often at Delaveaga Golf Course, Santa Cruz's historic muni. He even named his line of hemp/cotton blend polos after the course.
Quick Review: I was sent a polo from Dash Hemp and find it very comfortable and sturdily made. The fabric is a bit thicker but it doesn't feel warm or heavy by any stretch. The hand not so much silky as comparable to more mainstream pique cotton polo shirts (I'd liken it to a couple Brooks Brothers polos I own). At $70, they're in a similar price range as many other companies' golf polos, and I'd consider them a nice alternative to something all-cotton.
Recycled plastic bottles
Recycling is rad, but I bet you never imagined that your discarded Dasani bottle might end up on your back one day. Nevertheless, Charleston Green uses recycled plastic bottles as a primary material in its line of golf shirts, t-shirts and pullovers. For example, their Corwin polos are made from 20 recycled bottles, each, and retail for $39.99.
Quick review: The company sent me one of their Corwin shirts and I was pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the product, even on the golf course during a characteristically hot and humid Florida day. The material feels comparable to the polyester shirts one might find from Under Armour and Nike and the like and breathes nicely. I will say there was a little less stretch in the Charleston Green shirt material than some other brands, but I never felt constricted during my swing. Overall, given the pricepoint, this is a solid-value shirt.
What do you think about opening your wardrobe to some of these less mainstream fabrics? Let us know in the comments below!