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Ashworth seeks to reclaim former golf glory

[photopress:ashworth.jpg,full,alignleft]It was once a titan of golf fashion, a high-flying brand name that was synonymous with one of the most popular, smooth-swinging players on the PGA Tour.

But as Fred Couples slipped from the limelight, so too did Ashworth Golf and its familiar, languid-golfer logo. John Ashworth, who founded the company in 1987, left 10 years later as the era of Tiger Woods began to fundamentally change the look and style of the game.

After a decade away, Ashworth returned to consult for the company that bears his name, appearing with much fanfare at the 2007 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. A year after that reunion, the anticipation at Ashworth was palpable at the company’s booth at the show’s 2008 edition.

“When John left, the company lost its way a little bit in terms of becoming a leader in the industry,” said Ashworth’s energetic president, Eddie Fadel, as he showed off some of the 2008 product line.

“Theres a lot of mimicry going on in the industry, and when John started the company, it was about starting trends, not following trends.

“We kind of lost our leadership role, and thats what weve regained this season. Were not really looking at what others are doing; we say, ‘This is what we stand for, this is what were going to do.’ Theres room for growth for a lot of people in the industry, but youve got to stand for something.”

Interestingly, Ashworth Golf was born at a time when the golf apparel industry was fixated on artificial fabrics. The companys founder has returned to find much the same situation in 2008, with so-called performance fabrics all the rage, Fadel said.

Performance is the buzzword, so to speak, but it doesnt have to be 100 per cent polyester to be performance, he said.

At this years show, Ashworth is showcasing three product lines, including EZTech, made from a specially treated cotton that wont shrink, wrinkle or curl, and Third Groove, a pima cotton-polyester blend that wicks moisture but wears like cotton and doesnt stink after youve worn it a few times.

Ben Hogan used to say if you hit the ball right on the third groove, thats the max in performance, Fadel said. Thats where we combine the elements of cotton and poly to give you a functional fabric thats the best of both worlds.

Theres also Ashworth Organics, a straightforward, mid-range line made out of sustainable, recyclable or 100 per cent organic cotton for the more environmentally conscious consumer.

You dont have to be a tree-hugger, you just have to want to do your part for the planet.

Ashworths big news out of this years show, however, is the fact that its purchased the Montreal-based Sun Ice trademarks, and plans to use the existing engineers and development team to build a new outerwear line that will continue to carry the Sun Ice brand.

“People really look at their outerwear product as something thats equipment _ its got to be functional, and that engineering element is what we lacked, Fadel admitted.

“Its an exciting time for us, for our Ashworth team to be able to have this outerwear component to add. Its a product line thats been hugely successful in Canada.”

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James McCarten

When James McCarten isn't at the Ottawa offices of The Canadian Press, where he works as parliamentary news editor, he's either on the golf course or putting off his latest freelance golf-writing gig to spend time with wife Lisa and school-age kids Claire and Lucas. With 20 years of experience in Canadian journalism, James also suffers from a financially crippling addiction to all things Scotty Cameron.

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