A new fashion statement Attire: An influx of young golfers makes designers sit up and take notice. Style-making now is in the threads as well as the shots.


LOS ANGELES -- Swingers are getting younger and younger, so it's par for the course that golf fashion would take a new stance.

Whereas golf was once jokingly referred to as an old man's sport, the National Golf Foundation has noted that since 1996 the tables have turned. There are now more players under 29, than over 50, according to the NGF's latest report, which shows there are 8 million players between the ages of 12 and 29.

Many of these young players have become style-makers, including dapper Phil Mickelson, sporty Tiger Woods (Nike has already named a collection after him) and the buffed Se Ri Pak, the 20-year-old who is the youngest winner of the U.S. Women's Open. And they aren't wearing their father's loud plaid pants or their mother's seersucker culottes.

Among the new generation of fashion-savvy golfers are TV stars T.C. Warner, who won the 1997 Soap Opera Digest's Best Young Actress Award for her role as a troubled teen on "All My Children"; and Robert Ri'Chard, who has a Daytime Emmy Award for his role in Showtime's "In His Father's Shoes" and a new comedy series on Nickelodeon called "Cousin Skeeter."

According to Warner, "Golf is not a dork's game anymore. Thanks to players like Tiger and Se Ri, it's cool."

On a more serious note, the recent graduate of California State University-Northridge said: "I think young people stayed away from golf in the past, not only because of the clothes, but because it was too slow. They didn't think of it as a game of concentration, which it certainly is."

While Warner admits she quickly learned the sport because of a boyfriend, Ri'Chard says it was golf star Woods who inspired him to learn the game from his neighbor Bill Richardson.

"Tiger is phenomenal. He made the game look attractive to me he's a young African-American male who I can look up to," Ri'Chard said.

And the clothes help, too.

He says: "I like the idea that you wear different clothes for golfing than you would for just hanging out or playing basketball with your friends."

Warner says: "Where else can you look good, conduct business and be surrounded by men?"

Now, about those link looks.

While they took a break from their respective shows, and played a game of miniature golf (it's also in again) at Nickelodeon's Animation Studio in Burbank, the pair tried on some of the game's newest fashions by designers who are looking to Old Hollywood (think Cary Grant and Grace Kelly) for inspiration.

Among the mainstream fashion designers now offering golf collections are Ralph Lauren (favored by Justin Leonard and Davis Love), Bugle Boy (worn by Paul Stankowski), Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Brioni and Hugo Boss. Even Italian superstars Armani and Ferragamo have fall collections at department stores that include cuffed cotton khaki pants, quiet checks on wool trousers, soft-collared shirts with Missoni-like weaves, argyle sweaters and vests, checked jackets that can pass as sport coats for him, and tailored dress slacks or wool plaid skirts topped with cashmere twin sets for her. And they're all elegant enough to go from the office to the golf course and stay for dinner at the country club.

Although today's golfers say the look is new to them, any fashion maven will tell you it's right out of the '50s, when one might have teed off on a Valley course with the likes of Bing Crosby or Bob zTC Hope.

Even the shoes these young swingers wear are retro. According to Warner and Ri'Chard, the must-have shoe is Nike's brown-and-white saddle oxford. The shoe style is made by a number of manufacturers with traditional metal spikes or the newer plastic spikes that are considered kinder to courses and easier for beginning golfers.

But like other types of fashion, golf fashion is fickle. It's not always a dressy sport, says Ri'Chard, who usually prefers Docker khakis with a geometric print knit shirt by Nautica or Tommy Hilfiger. And Warner agrees, adding that she often wears white linen ensembles.

Others, like model Cindy Crawford and David Spade of TV's "Just Shoot Me," are buying alternative golf fashions at Golf Punk, the hip hangout on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. According to store manager Brian Shine Abell, "Our clothes put the fun back in golf, with bucket hats [sort of like fishermen's hats] in pastel yellow and blue, baby tees with Golf Punk logos that feature butterflies, and action sports-inspired shorts and shirts featuring themes like Hole in One, and GPA [instead of PGA]."

However hip, clothes that bare midriffs or too much thigh may not be accepted at some golf courses, says Troy Rodvold, the head professional and instructor at Family Golf Center in Encino. At this local, city-managed course, Rodvold says there is a very relaxed dress code, but the funny thing is that few follow it.

"It's the older players who wear the loud, informal clothes, while younger players, especially women, are wearing professional, tailored looks like you'd see at the office," he said.

To keep your eye on what's hot on the golf course, look at fashion magazines as well as golf publications. And also watch what rookie swingers are wearing.

"It's really the players who start the trends," said Craig Davies, manager of the Roger Dunn Golf shop in Northridge.

Says Davies: "When Tiger Woods was hot, so was Nike. But who knows who and what brands are coming up next."

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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