Burning Up the Course

Four New Jersey brands are on the leader board for blending athleticism and style in women’s golf wear and accessories.

The Carmel stand bag in Neapolitan stripe with azalea trim, $295 at kerigolf.com.

On average, about 5.6 million women have played golf every year this decade through 2006, according to the National Golf Foundation. While that is well below the nearly 19 million men who played the game annually during the same period, the golf industry has started to take the female market more seriously, not only in terms of golf clubs and shoes, but in fashion. On that rising tide, four New Jersey-based companies selling women’s golf products have become leaders in the field.

Keri Golf, based in Haddonfield, has made its mark with brightly colored, uniquely patterned cart bags and light carry bags with foldout stands. Golf by Claudia Romana, headquartered in Atlantic Highlands, has combined elegance with modern styling to flourish in women’s apparel. Golftini’s updated take on the skort—short skirts with a pair of shorts underneath—has helped the Westfield-based company become the leading women’s line in one of the most prestigious golf clubs in the country. To A Tee, located in Burlington, has devoted itself to fitting every woman, regardless of size or shape.

Pinks and prints carry the day

Introducing pink women’s golf bags five years ago may have seemed daring at the time, but, says Keri Golf president, CEO, and designer Keri Murschell, “It was definitely the pinks that put us on the map the first year. It was very feminine and very timely. The fashion trends happened to hit at the same time—the pinks and the greens.”

Later adding tote bags and head covers, Keri has grown from 0 to 700 accounts in half a decade, according to Murschell. The company increased its first-quarter sales in 2008 by more than 75 percent over the same period for 2007. Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus and Manasquan River Golf Club in Brielle are among its top New Jersey clients.

Murschell, 35 and a mother of two, runs the company with her husband, Wayne. They have added neutrals and solid chocolate shades to the extroverted pink, but there’s still plenty to attract the eye. Daisy prints are summery and fun. Neapolitan stripe is inspired by the ice cream. Geometric patterns are commonplace. Cart bags—water, stain, and pilling resistant, made from high-grade cotton sateen, as well as nylon—list at $375; stand bags are $295, and tote bags, $115.

“The quality is evident, and people are willing to pay for it,” says Murschell. “The golf bags are classically fun with feminine flair. They’re tailored. They don’t have a lot of exterior pockets that look lumpy on the outside. They’re very clean with simple lines.”

“They’re unique,” says Ashleigh Spaulding, merchandise manager of Ridgewood CC. “You’ll have twenty bags lined up and half of them are going to be Titleist, half of them will be Ping, and one will be Keri Golf—and that’s the one you’re going to be able to pick out.” (kerigolf.com).

A slice of European flair

Claudia Romana watched the Twin Towers crumble from the piers near the West Side Highway. Two weeks later she received the product samples for the launch of her golfwear company. But to her it seemed like “the end of the world.”

Before the attacks, Romana had mailed about 600 postcards announcing the line with a picture of her standing on the Staten Island ferry with her golf bag—and the iconic World Trade Center looming behind her.

“It was a time when everything was in question,” says Romana. “I’m looking at these pictures and saying, ‘My god, I’m doomed. How dated can this be? There’s no point in this.’ I had my samples but I didn’t do anything. The PGA [Fall Expo golf] show in Las Vegas that I was scheduled to go to was cancelled. I was frozen in a way. I could barely get out of bed in the morning, and I certainly wasn’t going to make any phone calls.”

Luckily, someone who had received the postcard called her. About three to four weeks after the terrorist attacks, Donalyn Sialiano, then the merchandiser at Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, wanted to see the line. Romana made the presentation, and Sialiano liked what she saw. Metropolis became the inaugural customer.

“She had a different look,” Sialiano says. “She used styling that women were looking for at the time. It didn’t have that matchy-matchy or cutesy outfit look. It looked hip. She used bright colors that complemented each other. Everything about it was fresh and new.

“Her line looked polished and distinguished,” Sialiano adds. “It had a bit of European flair. The cuts were a little more flattering, especially for a woman with a nice figure. It was more high fashioned without being glitzy.”

The sale put Romana’s company into gear. Just as important, Sialiano helped Romana shed her negative mindset. “She said, ‘How are you going to be in business if you don’t make any phone calls?’” Romana says. “She told me that people will always play golf and that they’ve played golf through world wars. It’s not going to stop people.”

In addition to the pep talk, Sialiano gave Romana a list of potential clients to contact.

“If it wasn’t for her phone call I don’t think I would be in business today,” Romana says. “It’s people like that who put people like me on the map; people that believe in something new or that will give somebody that is not big a chance.”

Romana, 44, says her company has since grown to approximately 400 accounts, selling mostly to private clubs, including elite New Jersey sites such as Alpine Country Club in Demarest and Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell. Annual sales have grown by about 25 percent over the last year or two, according to Romana.

“She’s obviously a local person a lot of the women are familiar with,” says Kevin Syring, head golf professional at Alpine. “That makes it an attractive brand. It’s a comfortable fit. It’s got bright colors and functional wear…. It’s not old-fashioned, old lady apparel.”

It’s also for women who appreciate the style of legendary actress Katharine Hepburn, whom Romana uses as an inspiration. “She was the initial person I thought would be a great female role model,” says Romana, whose husband is also in the fashion industry. “She was sporty, she was funny, she wasn’t frilly.”
Golf by Claudia Romana (golfbycr.com) features a full range of clothing, including tops ($70), pants ($90), and cashmere sweaters ($160).

Long on skorts

Raise a glass to Golftini, where bottoms—specifically skorts—are driving the four-year-old company straight up the fairway of success.

Golftini got its name during a night of imbibing and wordplay at Martini’s, a popular bar/bistro in Millburn. Susan Hess, the founder, owner, and designer, was an avid golfer who had been off the links for awhile raising her three young sons. Deciding to dust off her clubs, she shopped for a skort but found nothing she liked. Frustrated, she made one for herself and one for a friend.

“When I started Golftini, everything came up too high on the waist, with pleats that were not flattering,” says Hess, 44. “Everything was way too long. I have made skorts different and better by modernizing the fit. My skorts sit a little bit lower and are designed to flatter most figures.”

In the three-and-a-half years since its debut, Golftini has stirred, but not shaken, some 300 accounts in country clubs, resorts, and boutiques. Sales have grown more than 35 percent every year, Hess says. Golftini has become the top-selling women’s line at Ridgewood Country Club.

“Golftini is our best-selling women’s brand because they can’t really find it in too many places,” says Ridgewood Country Club’s merchandise manager Ashleigh Spaulding. “It’s younger and a better fit. It fits lower on the hips, so the younger golfers like it. The colors are brighter.”

This summer, Golftini is offering $136 skorts in chocolate martini, blue martini, independent martini, and classic martini. Pink cosmo, normally presented in a martini glass, serves up plenty of pink accents. The company also sells shorts ($110), polos ($60-$65), T-shirts ($30), and sweaters ($90).

“Anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it,” says Hess, a Midwesterner who moved to New Jersey twelve years ago from Chicago and lives and works in Westfield. “Every single day since I started Golftini, I’ve learned something new. Find something you love and just do it.” (golftiniwear.com).

Custom orders fill a niche

At a time when many golf companies are relying on synthetic fabrics that are easy to wash and care for and wick moisture off the skin, To a Tee has reached back to old-fashioned seersucker. It is also running against the grain by catering to fuller-figured women.

“Our seersucker skort is the number one seller for the past few years,” says Christine Beach, who bought the company with her husband, Jeff, in 2004. Seersucker’s thin, lightweight, poly-cotton fabric makes it “fantastic for warm weather,” says Beach. “That’s our staple.”

“Because we carry sizes 0 to 24—and it is extremely rare to carry size 24—we have another special niche,” adds Beach, who was formerly a buyer and manager for JCPenney and Federated Department Stores. “We capture not only small ladies but the other end of the market.”

Beach says the majority of To a Tee’s business is in sizes 8 to 12 because that is what most women wear. But its plus-size business is growing because the industry largely ignores that market segment. By using one fabric in a large part of its line, To a Tee is able to fulfill custom orders in larger sizes and ship them anywhere in the country within 24 hours.

“We keep a percentage of each size from 0 to 24 in stock at all times,” says Beach, who lives and works in Burlington. “Our business thrives on special orders.”

To a Tee has some 300 accounts, according to Beach, primarily in country clubs. Leading New Jersey clients include Somerset Hills Country Club in Bernardsville and Essex Fells Country Club in Essex Fells.

The company offers shorts ($70), skorts ($85-$90), shirts ($40-$50), and sweaters ($90-$100). The line also includes ribbon belts, hats, and visors.

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