2002: Exclusivity suits Fairway & Greene

By John Steinbreder

As a rule, apparel makers don’t attract a lot of attention in golf. A hot, new driver will quickly make headlines, but rarely does anyone get worked up over the latest in sweaters or slacks.

That probably explains why so few people know much about Fairway & Greene Ltd.

Founded in fall 1995, the Shelton, Conn.-based company best known for its men’s apparel and signature horizontally striped shirts is now a $20 million corporation that turned a profit after four years in business. It has 3,600 green-grass accounts across the country, includingsome of the biggest names in club golf.

Winged Foot stocks its pro shop with Fairway & Greene products, as does Cypress Point. The company also is big in the resort and daily-fee world, as evidenced by its presence at places such as Bandon Dunes and Pebble Beach. All told, Fairway & Greene wares are sold at 99 of the 100 Classic courses on Golfweek’s America’s Best list, and 89 out of the 100 that make up the Modern roster.

By all accounts, the people who sell those products are happy with the brand.

“The quality is very high, and they have a great look that does well with our members,” says Jack Druga, head professional at the Country Club of Fairfield (Conn.). “It also helps that Fairway & Greene hires the best sales representatives and provides excellent service. And I don’t just mean excellent service when you are putting in an order. If you have a problem with something, or if you need something, they take care of it right away.”

Brian Dees, golf operations manager at Barton Creek Resort in Austin, Texas, echoes those compliments. “The company is responsive to us, and that allows us to be responsive to our customers,” he says. “Plus, the sell-through is very good, and in just a few years, Fairway & Greene has become one of our top lines.”

Company founder and president Rick Martin spent 30 years in the men’s sportswear business and felt he could do well in golf apparel when he started Fairway & Greene. “I was amazed how people were paying $100 for golf shirts that shrunk and faded,” he says. “And I figured I could do better.”

The first step, Martin explains, was to develop fabrics and finishes of the highest quality. “I also wanted to make products that performed and were classically styled and tailored,” he says. “In addition, it was important to target pro shops and high-end resorts. We would not sell discount, off-course or retail. Our focus was geared toward the pro shop, and the fact that we could offer products at what we called a bridge price point, where we still have apparel of the highest quality but at a price that also provides value to our customers.”

Martin set up the company’s headquarters in Shelton, a small town about 70 miles from New York City. Six employees are based there including his son Todd, who serves as vice president of marketing and sales, and daughter Teri Schleifer, who is vice president of merchandising and product design. She is in the process of creating a new women’s line. Martin is based in Dallas, and customer service and warehousing operations are in Wisconsin. The company manufacturers most of its products in Peru and South Korea.

Martin, who handles much of the creative design work, does not like it when people refer to Fairway & Greene as a family business. “Todd and Teri are the two best people I could possibly have in those positions, and they are not here because they are my kids,” he says, adding that neither of them own a stake in the company in which he is a majority shareholder.

Another sensitive subject is how the fast-growing apparel maker can avoid the usual pitfalls of that business, where companies seem to fall out of fashion overnight and suddenly find themselves struggling for survival after doing extraordinarily well.

“As long as we pay attention to our customer base, and to what we do well, we will be fine,” Martin says. “We will not chase the so-called fashion colors, and we will not sell to the malls. We know who we are, we know who our customer is, and we will not vary from that.”

That does not sound like a philosophy that will make a lot of noise. But Martin believes it will help him sell a lot of sweaters, shirts and slacks.

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