An interview with the founder of Linksoul
April 30, 2017
By Greg Monteforte, Style Insider, PGATOUR.COM
- John Ashworth, founder of Linksoul, caught up with us about his design philosophy, his restoration of Goat Hill Park Golf Course and about Mandatory Golf Fridays. (Photos courtesy of Linksoul)
You won’t find a more iconic name in the golf apparel industry than John Ashworth. Under the Ashworth label, he redefined what the golf shirt was all about in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His cotton polos with soft collars and relaxed fits were a welcomed change of pace from the stodgy stiff-collared shirts that dominated the game. Ashworth made golf shirts that were not only cool to wear on the course, but also off of it.
Since leaving the brand that carried his name, John Ashworth went on to start Fidra and most recently Linksoul, which is worn on the PGA TOUR by Ryan Moore, Lucas Glover, and Geoff Ogilvy. Linksoul is much more than an apparel brand: it is a philosophy. With collections featuring understated looks, natural fabrics, and a soft color palette of grays, blues, and dusty pastels, Linksoul’s mission under Ashworth’s tutelage is to “reconnect people to the art and soul of the game.” And much like his designs 25 years ago, Ashworth is making golf shirts cool to wear on and off the course again.
Our Style Insider recently caught up with Ashworth to about his design philosophy, his restoration of Goat Hill Park Golf Course, Mandatory Golf Fridays, and more.
Style Insider: How has golf apparel and its industry changed over the years?
John Ashworth: When I was a senior in high school in 1977, every non-golfer thought golfers were uncool for what they wore. This was the very reason I wanted to start my own golf clothing company. In order to change that impression, I wanted to make clothing that was “cool” to wear on and off the course. I wanted to bring back a more natural look that had a modern edge and a timeless quality that could transition from the street to the course.
Until the mid-’90s, the golf apparel market was very much a cottage industry. It was a fragmented series of independent mom and pop golf shops. It was during this time that the big boys entered the market. These companies only knew polyester factories because that’s where they made all their soccer and football jerseys, which were set up for sewing 100 percent polyester knits. They had these awful loud colors for both tops and bottoms and white belts. To me, it looks bad on and off the course, but especially off the course.
This motivated our Co-founder/Art Director Geoff Cunningham and me to create a brand that stands up for the soul of the game. With Linksoul, we use a combination of natural fabrics or incredible blends that will give a natural feel while providing top-notch performance. We strive for a modern, timeless quality and a look that will easily transition from the course to the workplace and everywhere in between.
SI: What’s the story and philosophy behind the Linksoul name?
JA: The true definition of links is the sandy dunes that connect the land to the sea. This is where the game of golf began, on the links and coastline of Scotland. And the true definition of soul is the spiritual part or nature of a human being.
I was reading Michael Murphy’s book, The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, and there’s a line that reads, “Golf is what connects the soul to the flesh.” At the time, I thought Linksoul would be a great name for a brand some day.
Plus, the greatest quality of golf, in my opinion, is how it has the ability to link souls. Where else in the world can four complete strangers meet up on the first tee and go through the ups-and-downs of a round and come out the other end as lifelong friends?
SI: PGA TOUR players and non-TOUR players alike, how did you get such a unique and stylish crew of “Linksouldiers?”
JA: The interesting thing about our guys is that they all saw our clothing in some shop, then sought us out on their own and asked if they could wear Linksoul. And the bonus is that they’re all great guys who fit our vibe and style.
They influence us, for sure, especially when we’re on a photo shoot and we all have time to hang out. We chat about different things and they become involved in the process. They’re super helpful and it’s just a creative environment.
SI: You recently opened the Linksoul Lab retail store in Huntington Beach. Why a brick and mortar shop?
JA: We wanted to show the breadth and depth of our collection and company. We wanted a chance to show our style and tell our story in an environment that we created. We've also been able to curate other products and brands to complement our offering and make the retail experience unique and enjoyable. So far the reception has been super positive.
SI: Goat Hill Park is a project that is near and dear to your heart. How did you get involved with the project?
JA: Goat Hill Park has been around since 1952. It used to be a nine-hole course, but the city leased it to a man named Lud Keenig, who redesigned it in the ’80s into a very sporty 18-hole, par-65 short course.
Unfortunately, Lud died and the lease was turned over to a manager that neglected it. After a year, he left town without notice. The next management team was not much better. The city was looking to rezone this 76-acre property with an ocean view into a moneymaking tax revenue housing or retail mall development.
I had to at least try and do something, so with the help and support of our Geoff and David Emerick, the President of the North County Junior Golf Association, we put our own plan in at the last minute. We really never thought we had a chance to actually have our plan chosen by the City Council, but it was! It was so surreal. We thought, “Now what?” We rolled up our sleeves and enlisted the whole community to help out. By some miracle, we’ve turned the place around.
It’s been the most challenging project. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears have been put into the Goat, but it’s been the most rewarding project. To see kids and their parents, grandparents, and friends enjoying being on a golf course is what makes it all worthwhile, especially the positive effect we’ve had on some of the underprivileged teenagers that somehow found their way to Goat Hill Park and are now on a positive path.
SI: Tell us a bit about the Leadership and Caddie Academy at Goat Hill Park.
JA: One of the big reasons we wanted to save Goat Hill was to recognize the importance of lower-end public golf as a place to introduce new golfers and kids from the neighborhoods that would never be exposed to the game. We wanted it to be a place to positively transform lives.
From the beginning, I let my friend David Emerick use Goat Hill as the home of the North County Junior Golf Association. We have since adopted the Solich Leadership and Caddie Academy as part of our program. If a kid can learn the game through the lens of being a caddie, then they will learn the game from a deeper perspective. If they caddie for established and successful men and women from the community, who in effect become mentors, then it’s a real win-win and transforming situation.
SI: It’s been noted that you’re a traditionalist when it comes to golf clubs. If we took a peek in your bag, what would we find?
JA: I would say I’m more of a mid-century modernist, which means you’d most likely find a set of 1959 velocitized MacGregor persimmon woods. I recently got a new set of Hogan Blade irons that are amazingly beautiful. I do have a modern set that, if I’m playing a long and difficult course in a tournament with a partner, I’ll go with metal woods and forgiving irons. I prefer the feel of a well-struck shot with persimmon and blades, though.
SI: Linksoul has “Mandatory Golf Fridays.” Is that for real and how can the rest of us convince our employers to adopt this program?
JA: We like to promote the game, and we felt that if we are in the golf business that this was a chance to start a very cool trend. Our rule is that at the bare minimum, we spend five minutes gripping and swinging a club. We typically hit a bucket of balls or at least play nine holes. This helps create a positive attitude, which can then spread to everything you do.