Left: Photo by theaposition.com
As golf souls go, John Ashworth is decidedly an old one. He favors persimmon clubs, relishes golf history books, is renovating an old Oceanside golf course (more on that later) and prefers walk to riding.
He relates to the game this way because it speaks to his soul, and the embodiment of those belief is his new clothing brand, Linksoul.
Launched three years ago, Linksoul speaks to golf culture and surf culture and creates common ground in a clothing line that has quickly populated pro shops in Southern California, including Maderas Golf Club, and nationwide and recently went international.
Linksoul is the third evolution of Ashworth’s apparel career, the most notable being the clothing line of his namesake now owned by TaylorMade-Adidas.
After a brief break from the corporate world, Ashworth decided to spin a new line off of the Linksoul name he had trademarked years earlier and set out on his own.
Ashworth set up shop in Oceanside and has been happily re-conquering the world of golf apparel in a new way ever since. These days Ashworth seem to enjoy designing for the game as much as he does playing it.
“We’re very lucky to design for the golf market. It feels like we’re off the grid from the real world,” he says. “It’s great when coming to work feels like getting away with something.”
At age 55 and at a time when his career could be winding down, Ashworth is perhaps busier than ever. Besides launching his clothing brand, Ashworth is restoring Oceanside’s neglected Goat Hill Park golf course, which is just a mile from his office.
The goals of Ashworth’s twin passion projects are to get ahead and give back. He recently took some time to talk about both.
Q. What’s the history of the Linksoul name?
A. I used it on t-shirts with Ashworth and trademarked it. I always liked the name and what it stood for. I thought if I ever did another brand that’s what it’d be because it has a real deep meaning to me. It’s true and it’s real, and that’s what you want in a brand.
The timing was right three years ago to make it a brand with its own personality, culture and thumbprint.
Q. What is the origin and meaning?
A. I came up with it when I was playing a lot of links golf in Scotland. I was also reading Michael Murphy’s, “The Kingdom of Shivas Irons,” in which he wrote, “Golf is what links the flesh to the soul.” I always liked that. And that’s how it started.
Q. How does that apply to the brand?
A. The true definition of links is, “The sandy dunes land that links the land to the sea,” and we’re trying to link the land to the sea by linking the golf culture and the surf culture.
From that point of view, it’s perfect for what we’re trying to do from a clothing and culture standpoint. And “soul” is the spiritual essence of the human body. And golf has a spiritual competent.
Four guys from different parts of the world can show up on a tee box and have their souls linked through golf.
Q. How much do surfing and golf have in common?
A. A lot. You can surf with a group, but ultimate you’re in charge of your own game, just like golf. And they’ve both tough to learn.
They are very similar in a lot of ways, and both very soulful.
Q. Growing up in California (Escondido), did you golf or surf more as a kid?
A. I was a range rat as a kid. My parents would drop me off at the course and I’d be there all day. But I had buddies who were surfers.
Q. When and why did you take up surfing?
A. I surfed a little as a kid, but didn’t really get into again until my 30s when I lived right near the beach. I had just had my first kid, and I wanted to learn how to surf because I wanted my kids to surf.”
It’s a tough sport. There’s a huge learning curve.
It took me a least a month to feel like I could go surfing and actually catch a wave. And that was after going every day.
Q. Which is tougher: Golf or surfing?
A. Well, land doesn’t move. (Laughing.)
Q. Three years in, how do you feel about the growth of the company?
A. I like where we’re positioned. I like the quality of our clothing and our look. We’ve got a full line, but we do a lot of cool graphic t-shirts. And we’ve got a board walker short that is a board short you can swim in. Guys love it. It’s super comfortable.
In our golf shirts, we use mostly natural fabrics with some very special treatments so they don’t shrink, fade and are very soft and comfortable with easy care finish for and no ironing needed. Guys love them.
We mostly want to come into the golf industry and give people a choice. And a lot of people are choosing us.
Q. Geographically, where has the brand had its best success?
A. Obviously, California, but we’ve done well in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii. We’re better on the coasts, though we’ve gotten a great response in places like Denver.
We’ve had requests from all over the word, back when we didn’t ship internationally. We’ve just now started that, which is awesome.
But we have fans called Linksouldiers – they call themselves that. They’re really into it. They like the clothing and what we stand for.
Q. That includes Geoff Ogilvy, John Merrick and Lucas Glover, the guys who wear your gear on Tour. How did those relationships start?
A. They all came to us so we sent them some stuff, and that’s how it started. It’s nice to have somebody wearing it unpaid and just because they like it. They’ve become good friends and are really behind what we’re doing.
It does help (to have Tour presence). We’re so lucky, because we couldn’t pay to get that. But the way the world is now, you’ve got to have a presence to have that credibility in the golf world.
Q. How is the business challenge most different for you this time?
A. The interesting thing about this go-around is the Web. That really wasn’t a factor starting in starting my businesses before. This time around, it’s crazy how everything has changed. We decided from the beginning we had to have our own web store and to make that our own TV station so to speak.
Q. Do you feel like you’re at the top of your game professionally?
A. I’m 10,000 hours in (editor’s note: reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s definition of a professional) and I finally feel like I kinda know what I’m doing. But you still can’t take anything for granted because the business changes every day.
In part II of our conversation, Ashworth will talk about his Goat Hill project and his affinity for wooden golf clubs.