It's a small and relatively novel item, but it's representative of some long-overdue growth in golf.
My go-to ball marker is a Bicentennial Eisenhower dollar. I keep it in my pocket. The new SNAPS hat-clip accessory/golf ball marker I was recently sent is a little different than what I and other "traditional" golfers would typically use, but I take it as a welcome sign of golf's ongoing cultural evolution.
Golf fashion has expanded in unexpected ways in recent years. The longtime partnership between Tiger Woods and Nike helped bring an athletic side to golf attire that it could never seriously sell before. Go to a public golf course now and you're much more likely to see Gen-X and younger golfers, as well as many of the older set, in slim-fit shirts made with contemporary moisture-wicking, polyester-forward athletic fabrics than the baggier, heavy cotton blend silhouettes of yesteryear.
The next chapter in the game's aesthetic history is being drafted, and that's where SNAPS and other brands fit in. SNAPS started in 2017 and ultimately has more in common with streetwear sensation Supreme than Titleist or Callaway. Its bread-and-butter is leather-and-metal clips that attach to the back of a baseball cap, adding a jolt of color and shine as well as some potential to signify sports fandom. They offer clips licensed and branded with each NBA franchise. Football fans can rep the names and jersey numbers of stars like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield, too. SNAPS' other clips are more in the mode of straight-ahead fashion accessories, and include styles for less than $30 and others with choicer materials like ostrich leather and push the price tag higher.
Like other streetwear brands, SNAPS also offers limited-run items at a more premium price. The Supremes of the world understand the power of a "SOLD OUT" sign as an advertisement for future products and cleverly turn scarcity into a light to which consumers flock like moths.
The brand's aforementioned foray into golf might seem a little incongruous, but since the ball marker clips became available earlier this year, they have sold well and the company is planning to expand the offering beyond the initial black/gold and white/silver styles, currently available for $34.99 each and equipped with a coin-style ball marker (which can be replaced with any similar-sized magnetic marker) emblazoned with SNAPS' logo, a greater-than symbol.
That symbol also points to a supplemental mission, aside from selling their widgets. SNAPS recently started the >Greater Than Initiative>, which diverts proceeds from select products to causes that support social justice. Their first such item, a clip with the bluntly unequivocal message "F*** RACISM," benefits the Los Angeles-based Dignity and Power Now, which advocates for criminal justice system reforms. This dual purpose - commerce, plus support for causes important to their clientele - is another hallmark of these brands that are making inroads in golf.
"It’s important to be more than a good product or a cool brand. We all belong to larger communities and it’s up to us to help make them better," said SNAPS CEO Matt Eldridge. "Ultimately, our product is a way to make statements enabling you to express your style, your beliefs or your mood, and to connect with members of your tribe. We have this platform and we want to use it to do good."
Many other golf brands are taking similar hints from previously unexplored corners of the greater culture in order to push their products and develop a loyal following.
Authenticity, Instagram and widening golf's appeal
More than any other social medium, Instagram has become fertile ground for both golf-native brands and those looking to add golfers to their pool of customers. The photo-driven nature of the app pairs perfectly with the need to establish a clear and attractive aesthetic. Instagram's native ad and commerce platforms dovetail nicely here as well, adding value tools to any nascent brand's kit.
Seamus is a perfect example of a golf brand that used Instagram to generate early momentum and maintains a significant presence there. Their artisanal, hand-crafted headcovers began appearing in 2012; more than 2,000 posts and 45,000 followers later, they are a trusted source for quality products that accessorize the life of the avid golfer. Collaborations with Nike and the presence of their merchandise at resorts like Bandon Dunes and in spaces like USGA championship mechandise tents have provided valuable visibility. Still, Founders Akbar and Megan Chisti have maintained the authenticity of their original, eye-catching work while scaling up.
Instagram has also served as a catalyst for turning a friend group into a commercial brand. That's been the arc of Sugarloaf Social Club, which started as a way for friends graduating from college to remain connected via their shared love of golf. It became a club-without-a-course, and is now also a clothing brand whose limited releases pop up and often quickly sell out within their Sugarloaf Swag site.
Whereas Seamus and Sugarloaf sell more traditional-looking golf accessories and apparel via modern techniques, brands like Los Angeles-based Malbon Golf seek to infuse the game with some of the aesthetics that underpin streetwear. Their look juxtaposes retro-golf, casual Californian street style and a bit of cheek. Per their website, Malbon's goal is "to inspire today’s youth to participate in the greatest game on Earth." It's understandable that more traditional (read: older) golfers might not find the apparel entirely appealing, but the inspiration Malbon takes from the mid-20th century (they love to post about Arnold Palmer on Instagram) does complicate the narrative that young golfers today are all about breaking all entrenched fashion conventions.
These brands and many others are part of golf's ongoing gradual assimilation into the greater cultural fabric. Aesthetics are just part of golf's long-term challenges, but seeing some new approaches to what constitutes not just appropriate but outright stylish golf duds - from the print of your polo shirt to your new back-of-cap ball marker clip - makes the game seem more welcoming. Nothing is cooler than that.