Ashworth continues revival with tour push

Ashworth footwear products have helped in the brand's revival.

Ashworth footwear products have helped in the brand's revival.

Once an iconic golf apparel brand, Ashworth, in its last years as an independent company, became what's dreaded in the business: nondescript casual wear.

Now, it’s back to being tour authentic.

Beginning this PGA Tour season, it will be difficult for viewers not to see Ashworth on tournament broadcasts. According to company officials, Ashworth has recruited approximately 30 tour pros to wear its apparel. Among them are Justin Leonard, Rory Sabbatini and Johnson Wagner, who already has a 2012 victory with a win at the Sony Open.

The big tour push continues the revival of Ashworth, which was in ailing fiscal health before TaylorMade-Adidas Golf bought it in 2008. Considering that the company’s acquisition coincided with the economy’s downturn, Ashworth’s turnaround has taken longer than expected, TaylorMade officials say.

“Our timing was impeccable, as they say,” joked John Kawaja, TaylorMade’s executive vice president. He can laugh about it now, in part, because Ashworth’s apparel and footwear sales in the U.S. are projected to grow about 20 percent this year. Internationally, Kawaja said, some markets are forecasting single-digit growth while sales in Japan are expected to grow three-fold.

Refinement and tweaking of product design have helped restore Ashworth’s identity and secured it a place in the marketplace, Kawaja says. “The line has a heavy nod to the authenticity of golf,” he said. “It’s not crazy, young, new, flashy – it’s respectful to the game with a modern twist…. It doesn’t fit like an old Ashworth shirt that went down below your elbow, if you remember those.”

But to fully revitalize the brand, company executives determined it needed to be validated with tour usage. The golf shirts Ashworth makes feature EZ-TEC 2, a performance-fabric technology that provides breathability, controls odor and wicks moisture.

Ashworth’s move to the tour, however, won’t undermine or compete against Adidas apparel, company officials say.

“There’s a distinction that’s really easy to see (between the two brands),” Kawaja said. “Adidas is all about sport, innovation…. there’s a lot of testosterone in that product. Ashworth is an understated technical fabric. It works for you so you’re not sweaty and blotchy, but it’s more about looking like a golfer. To each his own, that’s the beauty of it.”

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