Behind Arnie golf: Classic Arnold Palmer style gets an update
Becoming wildly successful starts with having a dream, taking a risk and believing in yourself and your idea 100 percent. There are business plans and other stuff you might learn from your friends with an MBA, but for 33-year-old Geoff Tait, the co-owner of Quagmire Golf and creative director Arnie, that’s how he went from teaching golf on a cruise ship to designing a brand of clothes inspired by the most iconic golfer through the years — “The King” Arnold Palmer.
Tait, whose Quagmire Golf brand is one of the most trendy in the industry, was hand-selected by Palmer’s people to recreate the style that made Arnie a timeless classic, both on and off the course. Palmer was recently ranked one of “The 25 Coolest Athletes of All Time” by GQ, which previously named him one of the “50 Most Stylish Men of the Past 50 Years.”
Geoff, in 100 words or less, how does a guy from Canada go from working on a cruise ship to designing/reinventing golf icon Arnold Palmer’s clothing brand?
It’s all about following your passion and realizing that life is short. No one is going to hand you anything. You have to work your butt off and create your own opportunities. I’ve always wanted to do something great in the golf industry. After teaching the game on a cruise ship, I saw a market need for an alternatively styled golf apparel line and created Quagmire Golf with my business partner, Bob Pasternak. Doing things our own unique way for five years is what led to the relationship with Mr. Palmer and his team. It’s a dream come true.
Knowing our readers are interested in building their own business, what’s one tip you’d offer someone at a crossroad, deciding whether to take that plunge?
You’re only on this planet for a brief speck in time. If you have a dream, your window to make it come true is relatively narrow. Yes, going out and chasing it is scary. Yes, you’re definitely going to have to make sacrifices. But if you believe 100% in your vision and put everything you have into making it a reality, you’re skewing the odds in your favor.
If there’s a single most important break that went your way, what was it?
The e-mail from IMG and Arnold Palmer Enterprises asking if we would be interested in partnering with Arnold Palmer!!! I thought it was a joke but didn’t waste any time in doing some initial design sketches and having a few samples made. We met with their teams, made a presentation and the rest is history.
Was there a moment you said, “no way this will work?” If so, what did you do about it?
I haven’t ever doubted that we could pull this off, because I believe 100% in our determination and drive to make things happen. It’s obviously been a roller coaster ride, but doubt never enters the equation. There are enough pessimists, the world needs more believers!
What’s most important: The idea, the person or having the breaks go your way?
Great ideas and amazing breaks certainly play a role in entrepreneurial success, but ultimately it’s the person that’s most important. You have to control your own destiny and be willing to put your chips on the table, or you’ll be left talking about what could have been. I learned that the hard way a decade ago after I passed on opening a crab shack where cruise ships roll in on the island of Roatan in Honduras. The place is absolutely hopping today and I’d be sitting on a pile of loot, sipping island cocktails right now. But missing that chance is what led me to seize future opportunities and go after them with all I’ve got.
You’ve launched the Arnie line during a time when everyone’s selling “bargains.” How have you successfully convinced consumers that your goods are worth shelling out more for?
The bargain brands actually do a lot of the convincing for us! The negative experience consumers often have leads to folks looking for better quality and brands to which they can relate. Fortunately, there aren’t many bigger brand names than Arnold Palmer. At 82, he’s still the King and very relevant in the clothing market, and a lot of other industries, too. In terms of our product, we’ve made certain to use high-end fabrics that feel amazing, are made to last and appropriately positioned. This combination provides real value that keeps people coming back. That’s a lot more sustainable strategy than competing on price.
Describe the day your phone rang and someone from Arnold Palmer’s team was reaching out to work with you.
I’ll never forget the day we were first contacted by Jim Neish at IMG. He said he’d been watching what we’d done with our Quagmire Golf line and wanted to know if we’d be interested in meeting to discuss a partnership with Arnold Palmer. My jaw literally hit the floor and I jumped at the chance. We really hit it off at the first meeting, and that’s been the case with all the great people at Arnold Palmer enterprises, including Cori Britt, the Vice President, and Mr. Palmer’s daughter, Amy Saunders. They’ve been closely involved in the re-branding from Day 1.
What was your “I get it moment” and did you know it right away? What are some ways our readers will identify their own?
My biggest “I get it” moment was early on in the development of the Arnie line when I visited the USGA offices in Far Hills, NJ, with Tom Williams from Buffalo Communications. The librarian, Nancy Stulack, was incredibly gracious and helpful in locating some amazing articles and archival pictures of Mr. Palmer. That’s where I came up with the concept of the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s collections coinciding with Mr. Palmer’s peak of coolness. It was super clear that he wasn’t only dominating on the course. He was having a massive impact on popular culture well beyond the sport.
For our golf blog readers, what’s it been like working with Arnold Palmer? What’s he like as a guy, as a businessman? What’s his entourage like? Friendly? Intense? Protective?
Working with Mr. Palmer has been an absolute pleasure. When this opportunity first arose, my business partner Bob Pasternak and I were definitely nervous that the fun-loving Quagmire Golf culture would recede. This definitely has not been the case. In fact, we’re having more fun than ever and a big part of that is the relationship we’ve developed with Mr. Palmer and his team. He loves telling jokes and stories and is incredibly approachable. On the day-to-day, his daughter Amy Saunders and right-hand man Cori Britt have become our very close friends. It’s rare in business to cross paths with so many wonderful and supportive people, but we’re fortunate to be surrounded by quite a few. No one is territorial and, surprisingly, we deal with very few layers of bureaucracy.
How much input did Palmer have on the product? What has been his reaction and feedback?
I think it would be more appropriate to say Mr. Palmer had an impact rather than input on the product. That’s because the line was directly inspired by the clothes he wore over the course of his most dominant decades in the game. At one point early on, he even opened up to us his closets at home in Latrobe, PA. This allowed us to really get a feel for the designs, fabrics, and overall looks. He’s saved almost everything and it was awesome to be able to go through The King’s closets. His reaction to the designs has been tremendous. One of the coolest experiences of my life was being at a party at Bay Hill recently when Mr. Palmer walked in wearing one of our sweaters. That showed me how much he loves what we’re doing!
Funny, it’s been known that Palmer has a thing for the people around him being clean shaven. Yet his two new fashion guys – you and PGA Tour play Ryan Moore – are known for the scruff. Is he softening up, or open to new style? Were you tempted to shave before meeting him the first time?
That’s a great questions and funny, because I knew that going in to my first meeting with Mr. Palmer. I even asked his daughter, Amy Saunders, if I should shave. Amy told me to be myself and that he would respect that. I shaved quite close that day, but he still commented that we forgot our razors! When it came to Ryan Moore, he’s such a great player and so widely recognized for his on-course style, that scruff or not he was the #1 guy on our list when it came to us signing a PGA Tour ambassador. Mr. Palmer is his idol, so it made sense for everyone involved.
Fashion on the golf course has really stepped out in the past few years. In your eyes, what made golf prime for the overhaul from pleated khakis and cotton shirts to tailored fits and new materials? Is there something about today’s golfer vs. the players in the 80s? Does it simply reflect style and fashion changes as a whole?
Golf has traditionally been a few steps behind mainstream fashion, but always seems to follow suit eventually. There are even some people in Mr. Palmer’s office that like a classic look and occasionally still wear pleated pants, but now that the new Arnie collection is available they’re starting to make the change. The new materials, fits and youthful attitudes are really making an impact. I remember hating the outfit I had to wear when working at St. Thomas Golf and Country Club where I grew up in Canada. The pants were pleated and way too baggy and the shirts were oversized and ugly. That played a big role in the Quagmire brand idea – Let’s make something people actually want to wear and feel comfortable in.
What do you say to a guy who plays on the weekends, has 30 extra pounds around the waist and couldn’t fit into a “designer” shirt unless it was XXXXL? Are the white belt looks only for 19 year old, stick thin tour pros? How do you design in a way to fit the masses, but also stand apart from the Dockers look?
It’s really easy to lose your design focus if you try and create clothing for everyone, but it’s definitely possible to create pieces that work for most people. That’s especially true when your templates are the truly timeless pieces Mr. Palmer has always selected. We have a few solids, along with some more fashion-forward looks so you can make a selection based on your age, body type and personal comfort level. As for white belts and euro fits, they look good on some people, but even being fairly young and fit, I stick with black belts. You can make your fashion statement in other ways, even without putting on a pair of garish orange pants!
What’s next for Quagmire, Arnie and Geoff Tait?
I’m super excited about what lies ahead for both the Arnie and Quagmire Golf lines. We’re constantly expanding and looking for new opportunities, like pushing our distribution channels globally and growing our presence in the college golf market. We’re also expanding our custom apparel business – which has included partnerships with Coors and a bunch of other major brands – and driving even more sales for our red-hot Quagmire Kids apparel line.