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How Dunning Changed Golf Apparel

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He’s called “The Dunning Player,” and he does everything most golfers want to do. He takes golf trips to the UK with friends; he plays once per week and shoots in the 70s or better; he relishes opportunities to carry his own bag and uses a Scotty Cameron putter. Surprisingly, this man isn’t an avatar constructed by Dunning’s marketing team; it’s a profile of the company’s actual customers based on survey results.

The Dunning Player

  • 20% Travel to play golf in Scotland/Ireland
  • 34% Scratch or single-digit handicap
  • 30% Carry their own bag
  • 30% Use a Scotty Cameron
  • 56% Play 50+ rounds per year

Company founder Ralph Dunning, 52, fits the Dunning Player profile, but not as well as most of his customers. He developed a passion for golf later in life. His 12 handicap might never dip to scratch or even single digits, but the six-time Ironman knows firsthand why someone would make a sport a key part of their life.

In 1989 Dunning founded “Rip N Hammer,” a premium, performance-apparel maker for endurance athletes: namely triathletes, cyclists and fellow Ironmen. Most serious athletes want the best-performing clothes for their sport; it’s these athletes who truly need them. The best Ironmen spend 8-9 hours swimming, biking and running a distance of 26.2 miles. The not-so-good ones can take twice as long. Rip N Hammer’s apparel was enjoyed by both pros and regular joes. It was also appreciated by other companies in the space; Dunning created private-label apparel for Saucony and Cervelo, enthusiast brands for runners and cyclists, respectively.

Brendan Steele wears Dunning on the PGA Tour. He's pictured in the company's "Natural Hand" golf shirt in "Mid Orange Heather." It sells for $79.99.

Brendan Steele in Dunning’s “Natural Hand” golf shirt ($79) in “Mid Orange Heather.”

In 2000, Dunning sold his company. That same year, he attended the annual Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, but just as an observer, so he said yes to an invitation to play golf. It was then he says he developed a staying passion for golf. Adding to his passion was the realization that he could improve on the trendy golf clothes he was wearing that week, which didn’t stand up to the 90-degree temperatures on the Big Island.

“When I finished playing that week, I told my wife I was going back to Toronto to meet with my engineering team and start engineering golf apparel,” Dunning says.

In Toronto, Dunning developed the prototypes for what would become major championship-winning apparel less than a decade later. He leveraged his background in fabric engineering to create a head-to-toe, performance-apparel line that would impress serious golfers. Key to his process was knowing exactly what serious golfers wanted, so he spent a lot of time talking to them, especially good golfers.

When he asked golfers what they wanted from their wind shirts and rain jackets, for example, it was clear that they didn’t want jackets with high collars that could distract them during shots. It was also important for them to be able to pull their sleeves over their forearms when they were hitting finesse shots around the greens.

Dunning continues to focus on details that matter to golfers, like how the company’s golf clothes adapt to the golf posture and move during the swing. He also eschews the common practice of purchasing off-the-rack fabrics, opting instead to engineer his own fabric with natural fibers that can provide performance benefits without the use of chemical treatments.

David Hearn wears Dunning on the PGA Tour. He's pictured in 5-Pocket Stretch Woven Pants ($99) in Tan and a Player Merino V-Neck sweater ($125)

David Hearn in Dunning’s 5-Pocket Stretch Woven pants ($99) and Player Merino V-Neck sweater ($125).

“There’s a difference between fabrics that are inherently breathable and products that are chemically treated,” Dunning says. “You want fabrics that feel good, and by that I mean on your skin and when you reach for them in your closet. At the same time, you want them to feel good on your body, and they have to perform.”

In 2007, Dunning had its big break when Zach Johnson won the Masters wearing the brand. Johnson (who now endorses Oakley apparel) doesn’t fit the mold of golfers who generally win at Augusta National. He’s not long off the tee, so he’s at a disadvantage on the course’s famous par-5 holes. The weather was unseasonably cold that year, however, putting the par-5s out of reach for many in the field. Johnson went the whole week without hitting a par-5 in two, relying on his wedge game to take him to the top of the leaderboard.

The Masters - Final Round

Zach Johnson at the 2007 Masters.

Johnson’s other advantage, according to Dunning, was his clothes. Whereas many golfers in the field were wearing bulky sweaters to stay warm, Johnson was wearing the three-layer system Dunning developed seven years prior in Toronto: a next-to-skin, mock turtleneck “base layer” kept Johnson’s core temperature up and two more slim layers of apparel — a golf shirt and vest — offered a freedom of motion that kept Johnson’s mind on his game and off the temperatures and his clothes.

Even to casual golf fans, it was easy to see the difference between Johnson’s clothes and those being worn that week by Tiger Woods, who dressed in a short sleeve polo and a thick sweater at Augusta.

The Masters - Final Round

Tiger Woods and Stuart Appleby at the 2007 Masters.

Dunning doesn’t claim to have invented performance apparel, but he is widely credited for being the first to bring it to golf. It wasn’t an easy sell. In the early 2000s, he was told many times at golf trade shows in the U.S. and Canada that golf was “a cotton industry.” Johnson’s win lifted Dunning’s company to new heights, and as a result buyers from major retailers started calling: Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Dillards. Who would say no to an opportunity to be in those stores? Dunning didn’t, but it’s now clear to him why they weren’t a good fit for his company.

“It’s very difficult [for employees] to talk about our products the way we want them to at a department store … or at stores like Dicks [Sporting Goods] and Golf Galaxy,” Dunning says. “That’s why we don’t really want to be there.”

Dunning is currently sold at 1,200 golf shops worldwide, a number that’s rising. Growth is especially brisk in the UK, he says, where golfers are asking for the brand after being exposed to it by Americans and Canadians on golf vacations.

David Hearn in Dunning's Stripe Yarn Dye Jersey golf shirt ($89) in light pink/white.

David Hearn in Dunning’s Stripe Yarn Dye Jersey golf shirt ($89) in light pink/white.

“I know a lot of brands that want to earn [our] reputation,” Dunning says. “When we say we offer the best performance, we can say that based on 30 years of experience in the performance space … and that matters.”

A tenet of the running and cycling product worlds is that athletes purchase their gear from specialty shops, behavior driven by the seriousness with which runners and cyclists approach their gear. These athletic boutiques pride themselves on advanced product knowledge and fitting, and because their customers demand it, they stock only the best-performing products. In the golf world, the model translates to what are known green-grass shops — golf stores generally located on golf course properties that are usually run by PGA Professionals. It’s in these kinds of stores that Dunning wants golfers to learn about his apparel, and then hopefully purchase it.

“We made a very conscious decision in 2011 to really just focus on the green-grass community,” Dunning says. “We’re going to deliver the best player-specific product while protecting our game, our industry and the golf professional. That’s what matters to us.”

Learn more about Dunning and its apparel on its website.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Rev G

    Apr 12, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    so basically “The Dunning Player” is a typical golfing snob with more dollars then sense

  2. CB

    Apr 11, 2017 at 8:08 am

    I have 3 of their garments. Not especially impressed
    2 x Polos – don’t stretch enough, sweaty and do not feel especially nice on the skin. I rarely wear them because of this.
    I also have a vest similar to Zach’s in the photo above. This is great and gets a lot of use – but you can get something very similar from another brand for less than 20$/€/Pounds.

  3. The Real Swanson

    Apr 10, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    I’ll stick to Primark. As someone else said, blatant promotional editorial like this should be more clearly identified. Shank off a cliff with a DQ thrown in for good measure in my opinion.

  4. cgasucks

    Apr 9, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    That’s nice…but I’ll stick to my Ben Hogan clothing at Walmart.

  5. setter02

    Apr 9, 2017 at 11:33 am

    Their high-end stuff was very nice, but not worth the price point they were trying to get. Still have a few pairs of the wool pants that I will wear for Spring and Fall golf when I want to break out my wingtip Icons. Poly shirts were just like everything else, tho did stretch more. Would be better to not go for top tier price point and I would think they could be more successful, as didn’t they basically go under once?

  6. John Agel

    Apr 8, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    I’ve not tried it or heard of it.
    The Best golf gear ever so far for me is Antigua. Their Desert Dri fabric is a miracle. First, it breathes. Second, even here in the heat and humidity of Georgia, the fabric really does dry during the round. Oh and unlike most “performance wear” Antigua, breathes and helps cool you.
    I do not work for Antigua.

    • ooffa

      Apr 8, 2017 at 5:12 pm

      C’mon, yes you do. I saw you at the company picnic.

  7. Jim C

    Apr 7, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Not into putting “paid advertisement” at the beginning to alert GolfWRX readers, huh?

  8. Pingback: Friday, April 7, 2017 – Flog

  9. Brian

    Apr 7, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Yeah, that all sounds very expensive. Thanks, but no thanks. It’s already an expensive game.

  10. Britt Stevenson

    Apr 7, 2017 at 10:24 am

    Tenet not tenant.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Apr 7, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      I appreciate you catching that error, Britt. Thanks!

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Best of 2021 U.S. Open gear

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The U.S. Open is once again upon us, and and company’s have pushed out the boat with some awesome gear to celebrate this year’s national championship.

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2021 U.S. Open Commemorative T-Shirt – $39.99

 

 

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In our forums, our members have been discussing drivers for new players to the game. WRXer ‘KWatch’ is looking for a used driver and mentions his preference for TaylorMade, Callaway and Ping – with the latter getting plenty of approval from our members.

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Coolest thing for sale in the GolfWRX Classifieds (06/17/21): Nike Zoom TW 2012 shoes

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At GolfWRX, we love golf, plain and simple.

We are a community of like-minded individuals that all experience and express our enjoyment of the game in many ways. It’s that sense of community that drives day-to-day interactions in the forums on topics that range from best driver to what marker you use to mark your ball. It even allows us to share another thing we all love – buy and selling equipment.

Currently, in our GolfWRX buy/sell/trade (BST) forum, there is a listing for a pair of Nike Zoom TW 2012 shoes ($85)

From the seller (@pingman4): ” Brand new, in the original box and maybe one of Nike’s best shoes ever. Nike Zoom TW 2012 Black with the Nike Shoe bag. Size is 9 1/2 Wide. I had bought 4 pair of these and this is the last pair left. Never worn and ready for someone who still appreciates a great golf shoe – $85.00 shipped.”

To check out the full listing in our BST forum, head through the link: Nike Zoom TW 2012 shoes.

This is the most impressive current listing from the GolfWRX BST, and if you are curious about the rules to participate in the BST Forum you can check them out here: GolfWRX BST Rules

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