Future of Golf: Stephen Malbon is spinning golf retail and the game forward

Malbon Golf

Future of Golf: Stephen Malbon is spinning golf retail and the game forward

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Future of Golf: Stephen Malbon is spinning golf retail and the game forward

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From an Instagram hobbyist to the most diverse collaborator in golf merchandise, Stephen Malbon is constantly blurting out ideas and dreams. The co-purveyor of Malbon Golf with wife Erica is supported by an affable crew of golf-admiring hipsters. He works out of a prime Fairfax Avenue location in what looks like nothing more than a converted house.

But the Malbon Golf clubhouse sits at the epicenter of Los Angeles fashion and culture. Providing a golf simulator, burgeoning event space and several fun new takes on classic golf merchandise, it’s the future of golf retail and maybe even the golf course experience.

In between the dreams and ideas, Malbon is not afraid to make clear his goal is ambitious: to liven up the sport he loves by tearing down walls erected over years of safe, conservative and sometimes suffocating merchandise efforts. While Malbon could come off as another skateboarding hipster injecting brands with big-city “edge” or as golf retail’s flavor of the month, his passion and history-based sensibilities suggest the real future is in Malbon’s rethinking of the golf retail experience.

In a buttoned-up business generally resistant to fresh faces and prone to shy away from brand collaborations, Malbon’s projects with Nike, Puma, ECCO, Jones Golf Bags and now Callaway have set the stage for a future that sparks a total reimagination of how we buy and “hang” at a golf course.

Since he started the shop in July 2017, the dizzying array of beloved brands hoping to be in business with Malbon indicates a realization that a more sophisticated buying public is drawn to bespoke items and one-off lines. By partnering with Malbon, established brands have infused character and soul into their image while quietly extending golf’s reach every time a Steph Curry or Justin Bieber is spotted in a Malbon-themed item. Even better, big-name companies come off as more accessible, forward-thinking entities by not demanding exclusivity as they find fits with Malbon.

An event specialist by trade, Malbon moved to L.A. in 2007 and rekindled his passion for the game in year-round good weather. Playing to around a 5 handicap, Malbon is able to talk shop with everyone from old-money country club types to Golden State Warrior Andre Iguodala. But it was Malbon’s archive of vintage imagery and knack for bringing influencers together that has led to his latest collaboration: the remodeled back patio at Malbon Golf became a Callaway-endorsed, Hank Haney-designed “Celebrity Green.” Like so many of his ideas, Malbon sees the indoor-outdoor, mid-city clubhouse expansion as just the beginning for an experiential retail experience that awakens interest in the sport and tears down barriers.

His next dream project? To reimagine the golf course clubhouse and retail experience. Given how quickly Malbon’s brand has gone from Instagram-following to leading co-producer of must-have items and now a model home for melding all of those sensibilities, the future of golf may just be a block away from the intersection of Fairfax and Melrose. Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the December 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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