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Fashion archive: The right dress for a golf master

Next Saturday 43 golfers (maybe a few more if there is a tie for forty-fourth place) will wake up in various hotels and houses in Augusta, Georgia, and confront the question: What shall I wear today? Nothing unusual in that. We all do it every morning of our lives. Well, not quite all. Not Jack Nicklaus, for instance.

He will shave and shower and then open a package labelled “Masters, third round.” The package will contain slacks, shirt and cardigan. If the shirt is plain, in one solid colour, the slacks will have a check pattern. If the shirt is striped, the slacks will be monotone. That is his rule and it is understandable if he cannot recall off-hand which way round it will be on Saturday because the selection of his outfit was made on 22 September 1980, and the choice was made in committee.

On that day in the Florida offices of Golden Bear Enterprises, Nicklaus and his marketing man, Tom Bowles, sat down with representatives of Messrs Hart, Shaffner and Marx, Hathaway Shirts and Puritan Knitwear.

These are the companies associated with Nicklaus in making and marketing the Golden Bear range of sportswear. There were no clothing samples to be seen, just swatches of material and sketches of the coming season’s lines. In commendably short order Nicklaus gave his approval of items to be marketed under his name and emblem (a golden bear naturally) and exercised his power of veto over the selection of his personal outfits for the television days (Saturday and Sunday) of every tournament he planned to play during the following year.

In due season the garments were made up, with duplicates for a photographic session, and the outfits were parcelled and labelled. Hart, Shaffner and Marx, the old, respectable and slightly conservative tailoring chain, co-ordinated the entire operation.

Salesmen of each company were given lists of the outfits Nicklaus had selected for each occasion so that stockists might be ready for the rush if, say, a new pattern of shirt worn by Nicklaus grabbed the TV public’s fancy. However, as Bowles admitted with a tone of regret, close synchronisation of stocking and TV promotion is not an exact marketing science.

The Observer, 5 April 1981

There are too many random factors. After all, you might be poised for a push on a new pattern for slacks, for example, and then Nicklaus could miss the cut and your exposure would be lost. Nobody would come in and demand a pair “just like Nicklaus was wearing on TV.” In fact, the casual shopper cannot buy exact copies of Nicklaus’s slacks. Those massive thighs, the same circumference as Gary Player’s waist measurement, require a fuller cut than the retail range.

We rely more on a general impression, an accumulation of the idea that Jack looks good on the course. As he does, he has been voted the best dressed golfer in America. That is what sells the Golden Bear lines.

And very well they sell, too, specially in Japan where the Nicklaus look commands a quarter of the sportswear market. In cash terms it is an enormous success story. You could say that wearing clothes earns more for Nicklaus than hitting golf balls, although the two activities go hand in hand, or leg in trouser.

This is an edited article.

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