You may have noticed people wearing them at a sports event, an airport, or on social media: distinctive tie-dyed, cotton-candy-hued hoodies with the LPGA logo. But besides being trendy merch, these hoodies have a story to tell. At a recent Baker Executive Speaker Series event, legendary golfer Michelle Wie West and LPGA Chief Brand Officer Roberta Bowman talked about the #HoodieForGolf campaign: how it came about and what it stands for.
Launched in April 2021, #HoodieForGolf supports two charitable causes. One is the Renee Powell Fund, which provides need-based grants to LPGA-USGA Girls Golf programs that are inclusive of black communities. Renee Powell was the second African American woman ever to play on the LPGA Tour, and today at 75 she continues to be “an incredible resource in introducing the game of golf, not just in the West but all around the world,” in Bowman’s words.
The other—and related—charity is The Clearview Legacy Foundation, named for the golf course hand-built by Powell’s father Bill in 1946. Barred from American golf courses because of his race after returning home from WWII, Bill Powell was determined to establish a more inclusive place to play. Clearview remains the only course owned and operated by an African American and has been named a National Historic Site.
In addition to supporting charity, the hoodie branding campaign is intended to promote the sport to minority girls and to raise the profile of the LPGA tour in general. One of Bowman’s favorite aspects of the campaign is that it is a player-led initiative. It is spearheaded by the most iconic figure in women’s golf, Michelle Wie West, who joined Bowman at the talk. Wie West was the youngest player ever to qualify for an LPGA tournament, rising to fame shortly before her 16th birthday. She continues to enjoy a remarkable career.
The Power of Merch
Wie West said her inspiration for #HoodieForGolf was a WNBA-branded hoodie that she received as a gift. She began wearing it, and felt pride in helping promote women’s sports. Eventually this motivated her to start watching WNBA basketball and become a fan. Wie West said she realized the power of ‘merch.’
“In our society you see merch everywhere: for restaurants, for TikTok stars. I called Roberta [Bowman] after I joined the board and said, I think we need to do something exciting for merch.
She was kind enough to believe in the vision. And I can’t believe where we stand now.” As of October, more than 13,000 hoodies have been sold and over $300,000 raised for charity.
Wie West noted that when the hoodie project began, the LPGA store stocked up on mostly small and medium sizes, assuming that women would be their main customers. To her surprise, it was the larger sizes that sold out the fastest. After receiving “a flood of messages,” she discovered these buyers were men who wanted to support women’s sports on behalf of their daughters and wives. “That was just the most touching thing for me,” Wie West said.
The “Little Club” That Meets on the Golf Course
Yet raising awareness of women’s sports is an uphill battle, said Bowman and Wie West. Only 4% of sports media coverage is focused on women’s sports. And of the $30 billion that corporations invested in sports sponsorship in 2019, only 7% went to women. Moreover, the media coverage itself can reflect a double standard, Wie West said. She cited examples of reporters focusing more on how she dresses, or who is babysitting her daughter during tours, than her golf achievements.
“So that’s the world that we live in,” Bowman said. “We’ve got to work hard to bring our value proposition forward.”
Besides being a great sport in itself, Bowman said, golf continues to open doors for people in a business context. She noted that when she took up golf during her corporate career, it gave her “opportunities in business and in life that I never could have imagined.” Unfortunately, women and underrepresented minorities often find themselves excluded from that world, and the LPGA is determined to change that. Wie West emphasized that the hoodie project’s aim is not necessarily to nurture professional golfers, but rather to help women and girls of color “become part of that little club that meets on a golf course and talks business.”