I met Geoff Tait — and his Quagmire Golf co-founder Bobby Pasternak — at the PGA Merchandise Show last January. They were — and are — selling hip golf apparel, such as their ColorFusion Polos and T’s that literally change color with the heat!
A few months later, Geoff and I had a golf conversation about Quagmire’s new venture: a line of clothing inspired by Arnold Palmer’s apparel from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Geoff was given access to Mr. Palmer’s storage closets and trunks at his Latrobe, PA home to view the actual shirts and sweaters worn by The King during his long and fashionable reign.
Golf Conversations: This Arnold Palmer thing you’re involved with sounds pretty interesting. Did you meet him?
Geoff Tait: We did. We met him at Bay Hill last week. That’s the first time that we got to sit down with him and have a chat. We got to know his family a little bit. We went to Latrobe in December and went through his closets, had dinner with his daughter. That was cool. We got a feel for the family, we met his brother.
GC: Wow! You went through his closets?
GT: We did, yeah.
GC: Was he there when you were doing this?
GT: No. The first time we met him was at Bay Hill. He had to go to Madrid to launch something else so he couldn’t be at Latrobe. He saved everything from the past, since 1950, I guess. It’s neat to see all the pictures, clothing, shoes, golf clubs. It’s unreal.
GC: He wrote a book a few years ago which showed a lot of his memorabilia. So his closet had shirts and pants and sweaters from the ‘50s and ‘60s?
GT: Yep. Exactly. It was an honor that we were able to go into his house.
GT: His daughter, Amy Saunders, took us into his basement where they used to play pool. We went right into his closet. He had a trunkful of cardigans. There was another closet that had his old boots and leather jackets.
GC: There must have been a lot of mothballs in that closet.
Are you talking about hundreds of shirts? Hundreds of sweaters?
GT: Yes, quite a bit. I’d say there are a couple of hundred pieces. There’s a barn that he has and he saved everything that he’s ever made, from golf clubs to golf balls. There are shoe racks – probably 500 pairs of shoes that he wore throughout the years.
GC: He sounds like the Imelda Marcos of the golf world.
GT: In his office, there are pictures of him and all the presidents … and all the airplanes he’s flown. It was an unbelievable experience.
GC: I’m very jealous. I’ve been doing these interviews for over a year now and I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to who either know Arnold Palmer or who’ve met Arnold Palmer. And I would love to meet him. In exchange for an interview, I’ve offered to shave off my beard — which I’ve had all my life — because I read that he doesn’t like beards. But I draw the line at shaving my legs.
But I’m thrilled that you met him. What an experience! How did the idea of Arniewear come about?
GT: I got a phone call from the Palmer people; I guess it was last Easter. They said they’d been following us for the past 5-6 years, watching the Quagmire brand grow. They liked the youthfulness and the firepower behind it.
I met a guy in Toronto who’s affiliated with IMG. The deal is based through Arnold Palmer Enterprises. We had a little chat. He said, “We’ve kind of made the Arnold Palmer classicwear disappear in the US. The reason being, we want to come back with a bang with something new and fresh. We’ve watched you guys grow; we know that you have great fabrics and great attitudes as far as youthfulness in the golf business. Would you be interested in speaking further and seeing if we could get a license agreement going?”
I said, “Yeah, for sure.”
GC: Wow, you must have been floored!
GT: Yeah, it was neat.
GC: That’s quite a compliment that Mr. Palmer was watching you guys.
GT: Yeah, you’re exactly right. I’ve been a golfer since I was six. I worked at golf clubs, taught golf on cruise ships. I’m a hard-core golfer; I’ve got lots of friends in the golf business. I know that Mr. Palmer is the top of the top in golf so you’re right: it was a huge compliment.
GC: Yes, Mr. Palmer is the top of the top. But I’m right below him.
So this conversation we’re having, this is also going to be a real feather in your cap.
GT: I gotcha. That’s why I was nervous for this conversation.
GC: Yeah, right. Ok, continue.
GT: And then Tiger is Number 3, right?
GC: No, my dog Wolfie is Number 3.
Ok, so what happened after the meeting in Toronto?
GT: They invited some of the Arnold Palmer people up to Canada. It was Cori Britt, Arnold Palmer’s vice president. He kind of runs Arnold Palmer Enterprises on a day-to-day basis. And Carolyn Sweeney from another office. So we met these people and toured them around our operation.
Two years ago we partnered with a company called the Jaytex Group out of Toronto because Quagmire Group grew out of its skin as far as funding is concerned. Jaytex is the Canada licensee for Tommy Bahama and Penguin and Kenneth Cole.
So being with Jaytex impressed the Palmer people. If we were working out of the back of our cars and didn’t have anything that looked like we’re in business…
GC: You mean like what I’m doing? I’m sitting here in my underwear.
GT: That’s where we started up until about two years ago. We were working out of my business partner’s dad’s back office. And I’m sure Arnold Palmer wouldn’t want one of his businesses run like that. So, luckily, we lined up nicely with these guys; we have two huge warehouses and showrooms up here.
So we gave them the tour. And they said, “The next step should be to come on down to Latrobe and you can get a feel for all the history behind this.” The talk was, let’s make it a classic Arnie line that shows what he wore back in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s when he was in his prime. And let’s put a modern twist to it so it’s got all the functional fabrics and make sure it’s relevant to today’s market. And that’s exactly what we did.
I went and saw the designs and styles that he used to wear. I even took back a couple of pairs of his pants, a couple of sweaters, a couple of shirts. He used to wear the hard collars and the long plackets.
GC: Back then, I would assume all the fabrics were cotton, yes?
GT: All cotton, yeah. And that’s one thing he did request: “Can we have a couple of cotton shirts in the line?”
I said, “Yeah.” At the end of the day, it’s not cotton that’s selling these days but why not have something that feels like cotton? So we put a really nice cotton/poly in the line so it will still be wicking and all that good stuff.
GC: Wait, let me interrupt you for a moment. You said that cotton isn’t selling these days?
GT: In the golf market, not at all. For the last couple of years, people have asked us to put cotton into our Quagmire line and we do it because we think there’s going to be a market there … because the buyers are asking for it, including some major chain golf stores. And those are the shirts that are left on the racks.
GT: People love to talk about, “Oh, I love my cotton golf shirts.” But to be honest with you, those people that are talking about it – probably only 20% of them actually go out and buy that cotton golf shirt.
GC: Two-faced cotton lovers! But isn’t that interesting? I didn’t know that. I would have thought the opposite. So people are into the wicking thing?
GT: Polyester wicking. Even in shorts. Cotton isn’t selling. It’s been that way for years. Everybody says, “It’s all going to turn around, cotton is going to be more popular than polyester.” But at the end of the day, in 90-degree weather, you want to wear a polyester wicking shirt.
GC: But Arnie requested a little bit of cotton?
GT: Yeah. He wanted the cotton feel. He loves cotton. You’re right when you said there must have been a lot of cotton stuff in his closet. Back then, even before he had his own line, he would wear Penguin…
GT: Yeah. Until he had his own brand with the umbrella, he was wearing Penguin/Munsingwear which is all cotton. And to this day, it’s all cotton. We distribute it here in Toronto.
GC: Is everything going to be logoed with Mr. Palmer’s famous umbrella or are you going to have a different logo?
GT: All the clothing is going to have a black and white umbrella. They’ve used this umbrella in the past for other things besides clothing. I don’t want to put the red/yellow/green/white umbrella on there because people will relate it to this brand that they tried to kind of make disappear – the classic, older man stuff.
The black and white is a little slicker. We went back and forth with the new logo stamp and called it Arnie. He and his daughter and Cori … they all approved this new Arnie font. For years it’s just been Arnold Palmer’s signature. So it’s been a huge honor to be able to re-invent the Arnie logo stamp. So everything will have Arnie and a black and white umbrella beside it.
GC: So this older line that they want to disappear … was that because the sales weren’t large enough?
GT: I don’t know the exact reason but I do know that the demographic was quite a bit older. They still sell it in Sears up here in Canada. I would say the target age group for that brand up here is probably 70 or 80 years old.
The market in golf is changing so rapidly. Arnold’s grandson, Sam Saunders, has been sitting in on a couple of meetings, too, because he’s out there playing on tour. And he loves the line. And he’s the perfect demographic: “This is cool and I’m going to be proud to be wearing clothing with my Grampa’s legacy on it.”
GC: That is cool.
GT: I think the demographic will be across the board: the people that love Arnie and watched him play back in the ‘60s and ‘70s … and the new, young guys who love golf and know that he was a legend and still is.
GC: So when you took some of Mr. Palmer’s shirts back to Canada … tell me the truth: did you try one of them on?
GT: I haven’t, actually. I put them in…
GC: A safe deposit box.
GT: The next time I went into my office, it smelled like moth balls.
GC: Listen, that is not a negative! You’ve got 50-year-old shirts – of course you want to have them in moth balls. That’s just common sense. Ok, so you took the shirts and then what? How do you go about designing them?
GT: I’m the creative director so I lay it out. I don’t have any skills when it comes to computer design. So I pick the colors, I lay it out, I took some bits from different shirts. I hand draw stuff. I have a girl named Linda; she puts it into the computer. We print it out and I go through it.
In a lot of the pictures from the ‘50s, it was the Penguin with the shorter placket and smaller collar. When it evolved into the ‘60s, the collars got a little bigger and the plackets got a little bit longer and the pants got a little bit wider leg. And then the ‘70s, it was kind of in between.
So the ‘50s collection will be the first delivery and it will all be the shorter plackets and smaller collars. Two months later, the ‘60s will come out; it’ll have a different hang-tag on it and will tell about Mr. Palmer’s accomplishments in the ‘60s. It’ll have a bigger collar and a longer placket. The three collections will have different feels but they’ll all have the Arnie name and umbrella.
GC: So the ‘70s will come out two months after the ‘60s?
GT: Yes, it will be in three deliveries.
GC: And when are your goods planning on hitting the stores?
GT: We’re aiming for January/February delivery of 2012. We’ve got a couple of targets that we want to go after: all the Arnold Palmer golf courses, obviously. One or two big-chain golf shops. We’ll focus on the Pebble Beaches and the Pine Valleys because he’s kind of connected to those places.
GC: Gee, you think he knows anyone there?
He’s “kind of connected”???
He could sell his shirts at the North Pole if he wanted to!
Speaking of the ‘50s, I think Mr. Palmer’s first professional victory was in the Canadian Open.
GT: Sure was. Canadian Open, 1955. Funny, Chez Reavie won the Canadian Open as a rookie in 2008 and he was wearing our Quagmire brand. And that put Quagmire on the map in Canada.
GC: I’ll be going to Canada in a few weeks. Specifically, Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia where I’ll be bringing six of their golf courses to their respective knees.
GT: It’s beautiful there.
GC: If you wanted to meet me there with a dozen of your Arnie shirts, I’d be happy to buy you a hot dog.
GT: There you go!
GC: Ok, so you had Linda pop the design into the computer and then what? It gets emailed to China?
GT: Yes, we send over swatches, Pantone colors and shades. I’m actually going to China tomorrow. I’ll spend a week there and make sure everything’s correct and hopefully see samples in two months. Then we’ll build the catalogs in June and be ready to sell to the shops July 1st for the spring delivery.
GC: Well, I love the idea of Arnie golf shirts. If it’s “good to be the King,” the next best thing is, “It’s good to be wearing the King’s shirts.”
Good luck, Geoff! I wish you every success with your new venture.
GT: Thank you.
GC: And don’t forget: I take a “Large.”