Interview with Matt Ward
Actually, I came to the golf industry via an unconventional path. I was a military officer, in the United States Air Force and at the end of the Cold War I found myself in an organization that was downsizing. I was offered the opportunity to resign my regular commission for a severance package that provided the seed capital for my first foray into the business of golf. That business, started in 1995, was Golf Links to the Past – bootstrapped and organically grown by my brother Eric and I to become the preeminent golf antiques business in the world. Ultimately, leading to retail shops at The Lodge at Pebble Beach as well as a shop in St. Andrews, Scotland. In 2008 we sold our ownership in Golf Links to the Past and moved on to new challenges, never completely severing ties with the golf industry.
One of those ties was Bert Hand. Bert had been Chairman and CEO of Hartmarx (father of Bobby Jones apparel) and had played a significant role in mentoring and supporting me in the early days of Golf Links to the Past. After he retired I made a point to stay in touch. When I sold my stake in GLTTP, I took the Alister MacKenzie trademark portfolio with me and had always thought it would be fun to coax Bert out of retirement and collectively launch an exquisite golf apparel brand. The name Alister MacKenzie resonates with so many wonderful traits — everything from timeless design to the celebration of Scottish endeavors — like golf, winged shooting and the love of a fine single malt. I confess, I played up those angles with Bert while badgering him back into the business.
But in reality, my years as an Air Force officer is what truly laid the ground work for my entrepreneurial endeavors into golf — to include Alister MacKenzie. The service taught me the value of being a part of something bigger than oneself as well as giving me the confidence to start my own business. There is not a day that goes by where I’m not employing some tool taught to me by the Air Force — tools that are invaluable in navigating the day-to-day challenges of running a successful golf business.
Matt Ward: The impetus for creating a clothing line came about how?
Eddie Papczun: I have known Bert Hand for many years and always appreciated his passion for building great apparel brands. I’ve owned the rights to the Alister MacKenzie brand for over 10 years — and about three years ago I asked Bert if we might work together and introduce a truly luxurious golf apparel collection. And here we are…
MW: What was the thought process in selecting the name Alister MacKenzie for the company?
EP: The name Alister MacKenzie name is synonymous with classic and timeless design that stands the test of time. We strongly feel our apparel offerings embrace this ethos.
MW: Many different companies — especially those on the premium / luxury side — have entered the apparel area. What do you believe separates you from all the others?
EP: Bert’s track record in the industry and his passion for creating the very best as well as the performance characteristics we’ve employed in our 100% cotton knit collection. And of course great colors and styling.
MW: Describe your target audience?
EP: Our target customer belongs to, or plays his golf at finer clubs and resorts. He counts on his club or fine men’s retailer to carry the best in on and off-course apparel options and Alister MacKenzie helps fill that need. He enjoys the comfort and feel of 100% natural fiber garments without any loss in moisture management performance found in other less desirable fabrics. And he appreciates classic styling and a comfortable fit that looks good on the course or under a sports jacket at a cocktail reception or dinner.
MW: Shelf space is a key emphasis point at many clubs and retail outlets — outline the process you’re following to get inside the key golf clubs and retail stores?
EP: Relationships, quality product and timely delivery — plus a commitment to truly servicing green-grass accounts as well as a very controlled distribution strategy. Additionally, we pride ourselves on going the extra mile for our partner clubs and fine men’s retailers. In fact, we recently worked very closely with Cherokee Golf Club in Atlanta to help them design a members jacket and loved the challenge and opportunity to work with Cherokee’s team in servicing this need. As our retail partners get to know us — we feel confident they will see us as problem solvers that pay attention to their needs and challenges, which should further set us apart from other apparel companies.
MW: Do you see value in having a high profile person on the PGA Tour wearing your product or do you believe one can succeed without doing so?
EP: We’d absolutely love for a high profile player to wear our product and we think once he started wearing our clothes he wouldn’t be interested in giving them back. That said — we do not necessarily think investing lots of money into player endorsements and paying for them to wear our clothes is a good initial use of financial resources. We more interested in media telling our story and the power of word-of-mouth endorsements of the clothing once it makes its way into the marketplace.
MW: Curious to know — will a companion women’s line ultimately be offered at some point in time or is that not feasible under the brand name?
EP: We feel women’s golf apparel is an under-serviced segment of the golf industry and we will continue to look at opportunities for a well-timed entry into this growing market segment.
MW: Do you envision branching out to other elements such as accessories, men’s fragrances, etc, etc, — or will the Alister MacKenzie brand simply offer men’s on/course and off/course clothing?
EP: We will be introducing a hand-crafted, made in America leather collection this fall and we’re working on a single malt Scotch whiskey. Beyond those endeavors, we’ll be very selective on other ancillary products — with a keen eye toward our overall brand strategy.
MW: Is it fair to say Alister MacKenzie is geared towards the traditionalist rather than the contemporary push ones see today with bold colors for hats, shirts and even pants?
EP: We are not a “fashion forward” brand — but we are fashionable. We embrace a color palette in our offerings that captures the colorful hues of the beautiful Scottish valleys and highlands. The line features colors that play upon one-another to create an amazing and rich look — classic and timeless.
MW: What do you think Alister MacKenzie would say if he were alive today that his name is now linked to a clothing line that sports his name?
EP: I think he would appreciate our commitment to telling his story as well as our desire to further educate the public to his greatness. And I’m sure he’d like the fact that the apparel line was all natural, well-designed, comfortable to wear and great looking — either on the course or back in the club with a single malt in hand.