2001: Business - DuPont spins nifty yarn at CoolMax

Forget that this tournament, the DuPont CoolMax World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C., which concluded Aug. 31, attracts 5,000 golfers each year. Forget that it is the largest single-location tournament in golf. Forget that entrants play 72 holes, using 80 courses. Forget that it is known as much for its social atmosphere as it is for its golf.

Forget the precision with which it is organized. Forget how special it has become. There is something else going on here.

DuPont, which has been the title sponsor for 16 years, uses the CoolMax tourney to showcase the changing nature of golf apparel and other golf products. It goes far beyond CoolMax, a quick-drying fabric that helps keep golfers cool in the summer.

The cousins of CoolMax have names such as Supplex, Tactel, Thermolite, Cordura, Dacron and Lycra. All from DuPont. All connected with golf.

The other relatives are named Surlyn, Kevlar, Hytrel, Delrin and Teflon. All from DuPont. All connected with golf.

“Before we signed up,” recalls Bob LeComte, whose title with DuPont was programs manager and whose area of expertise was engineering plastics, “I thought DuPont might be interested because of the Surlyn connection. There was a lot of Surlyn being used in golf balls.”

LeComte became the point man – and later the tournament director – and DuPont came on board. The Surlyn connection grew to include many other materials used in golf. Cordura, for example, is used in golf bags. Delrin is used in zippers for the bags. Kevlar still is used in golf shafts. Hytrel was the first modern insert material for putters and was pioneered in STX putters.

It is in fabrics, though, that DuPont is changing golf. Sure, there are many golfers who swear by cotton and won’t consider anything else, but today’s cool, lightweight, wrinkleproof, easily washable, quick-drying products are making their mark and producing converts.

Ashworth has a Tactel nylon windbreaker. Cutter & Buck has a line of CoolMax golf shirts. Nicklaus will introduce its own CoolMax shirts next January. National retailers such as TravelSmith, L.L. Bean and Royal Robbins offer a large variety of these fabrics.

DuPont typically manufacturers the fibers, which are spun into yarn. Different manufacturers then buy the yarn to produce their own apparel lines.

“We began the tournament mostly as a customer entertainment event,” says Jerry Summers, DuPont’s corporate events manager, “but it has become more and more valuable as a goodwill event for the company.”

Steve Mays is the tournament director of the World Amateur, which is run in conjunction with Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, the nonprofit umbrella organization that oversees golf among the 110 courses in the Myrtle Beach area.

“We get golfers from all over the world,” Mays said. “There are about 30 foreign countries represented. Most golfers don’t get the opportunity to play in a major championship. We strive to give them this kind of feeling. The CoolMax tournament (commonly referred to as ‘The DuPont’) is their U.S. Open or PGA Championship.”

Competition is by age group and by handicap. More than 1,200 players are 60 or older. About 500 are women. A committee checks and scrutinizes the accuracy of handicaps, and each year a handful of contestants are disqualified from winning prizes but are encouraged to continue playing. Merchandise prizes totaling almost $500,000 are awarded during the week.

Every night the players meet at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center – dubbed the “world’s largest 19th hole” – and talk golf. Golf, prizes, food and drink are included in the $465 entry fee.

These 5,000 golfers are an ideal target audience for DuPont.

“The demographics associated with golf make it very attractive,” says Alyssa Koontz, marketing communications manager for the active wear, outdoor segment of DuPont.

“Golf is more of a crossover sport. People don’t wear a uniform. They dress more in everyday clothes. We find that golfers are very well educated about garments and fabrics. It’s a perfect, perfect fit for us.”

One of the trends in golf and outdoor apparel is to combine different fibers. For example, a garment might be treated with Lycra and Teflon and have CoolMax in it as well. Such a garment might be so versatile that it does everything except sink a 3-foot putt. DuPont engineers probably are working on that one, too.

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