How Nike Is Using Streetwear to Make Golf Appeal to a New Audience

Here's how Nike is using streetwear and sneakers to make golf appeal to a new audience through collaborations with Stone Island and more.

Nike Air Max 1 Golf
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Nike Air Max 1 Golf

Photography by Sergio Santos.

If you asked a group of people if they considered Phil Mickelson a style icon, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who says, “yes.” Golfers have never been known to influence mainstream style like NBA players, for example. It’s a niche look synonymous with country clubs and old businessmen. Sure, Tiger Woods and his “Sunday Red” polo capture the attention of the casual fan when he’s winning, but for many, their knowledge of the sport starts and stops with the 15-time major winner. 

Now more than ever before, it seems that Nike is trying to erase the boring and bland reputation that has plagued the sport of golf for so long and appeal to a larger audience with its products. Streetwear is arguably at its apex, in terms of mainstream popularity anyway, and its influence can easily be seen infiltrating the world of golf with options in 2019 including an update to the traditional Nike polo, cleated versions of popular lifestyle sneakers, and more extravagant prints being applied to apparel.

“Our athletes are changing. They want more style with what they wear. If you look at some of our younger players, they are asking for style,” says Nike Creative Director for Apparel, Specialty Categories Kelly Tweeden. “That said, I think the game has to change. I don’t think people want to look like they are wearing a costume while they play golf. If we want to pull young golfers into the game, I think we have to make it look like something they want to wear. Golf has been off-putting to people who don’t want to look like traditional golfers.”

Nike Air Max 1 Golf (Camo)

Its footwear collection, in particular, has been a major focus this past year with the brand getting mainstream attention for pairs like an Air Max 1 covered in grass, or Air Jordan XI Low with denim uppers and floral accents. Golf purists might not necessarily be fond of the designs, but the bold options showcase a fun side to the sport that is not often associated with it. 

Aside from the footwear, Nike’s has also switched up its approach with apparel. Brand athletes like Brooks Koepka have elicited polarizing reactions for wearing hats covered in colorful prints, or emblazoned with vertical “Nike” script instead of Swooshes at various major tournaments this year. The unconventional designs play perfectly into the rebelliousness and carefree attitude that streetwear is rooted in. 

“Golf people love to hate. So, there’s a little poking the bear. Some of our headwear has been controversial. Some of the prints have been controversial. You love it or hate it. What matters most is if our players love it. If they don’t love it, we don’t force anyone to wear anything,” says Tweeden. “We haven’t abandoned the past, we’ve just added another dimension based on the appetite of our athletes.”

The latest example of Nike bringing streetwear to the links is its upcoming collaboration with Stone Island to celebrate the 148th Open Championship in Northern Ireland later this month. The storied Italian apparel brand has worked with the Swoosh before on collabs like NikeLab Windrunner jackets in 2016, and a pack of Sock Darts in 2017. However, this is the first time it has lent its designs to the world of golf.

Stone Island x Nike Golf

Referred to simply as “Stoney” by many members its cult-like following, the brand has long been a cornerstone of the streetwear scene, and terrace subculture of football fans in Europe. Its popularity has also grown in the States in recent years, thanks in large part to massive co-signs from Drake and recurring work with Supreme. Each fanbase is exactly the audience that Nike is hoping to peak the interest of with this new project. 

“I think making apparel for any generation, especially the younger generation, is important to keep the game alive. We want to make sure we make the game appear as fun and inviting,” Tweeden says. “Even if someone just turns on golf to see what someone is wearing, you’re pulling people into the game, and creating interest.”

A jacket and crewneck will both be up for grabs in an array of colors. Each is engineered to withstand the unpredictable conditions of the course and cater to the movements of golfers, while maintaining a fashionable appeal. Creating performance golf pieces was a first for Stone Island, but the collection still maintains signature techniques of the brand like overdyed fabric treatments, weather resistant membranes, and multiple storage pockets. A native of Northern Ireland, pro golfer Rory McIlroy also played a part in the testing the product that will soon be arriving at retailers.

“As an athlete, it’s important that my apparel can comfortably handle the conditions of any course at any time,” says McIlroy. “This collection will allow me to be prepared for the unpredictable climate of Northern Ireland but also sport a look that appeals to my personal style.”

Fans will be able to get their hands on the Stone Island x Nike Golf collection when it hits select retailers on July 25. 

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