Malbon’s Mission to Make Golf Cool

Stephen Malbon’s relationship with golf is on par with many who play the game.

Growing up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Malbon played golf as a young teen, but stopped when he was 16, seeing his friends going to hang out, party and play beach volleyball. He had a temporary tryst with golf when he was caddying during art school in Atlanta, but the flame again flickered out. 

It wasn’t until his 30s when Malbon rediscovered golf, which has since evolved into more than a game.

“In my third addiction to golf when I was living in L.A. as a grown up I really just started thinking about how I took a 20-year break from golf,” Malbon says. “I really started thinking about why it is very normal that kids will play when they’re teenagers but stop until they’re young adults in their 30s then play the rest of their life.

“It really made me start thinking about that and hence our brand and what we’ve been getting after.”

Launched in 2017 with wife Erica, Malbon isn’t a golf brand—it’s a lifestyle brand influenced by golf.

Rather than creating polos with loud patterns and colors, Malbon has leveraged a combination of multi-sport/activity collections like Malbon Golf and Yacht Club and strategic collaborations with well-known names across a multitude of categories including fashion, music, luxury and streetwear.

Malbon’s collaborations include endemic golf brands like FootJoy, TaylorMade and Nike to Girl Skateboards, Beats by Dre, luxury French swimwear brand Vilebrequin (launched March 21), rapper Chief Keef (March 28) and Undefeated (April 11).

“Young people pay attention to Hypebeast or Complex,” Stephen says. “Young people care more about fashion more than they’re going to care about like Golf Digest or a typical golf platform, so the fashion stuff is a very easy and direct way to get to younger people and kind of let them see that, ‘Wow, there’s pro skateboarders, entertainers, rappers and artists who are supporting golf now,’ so it’s easy for them to say, ‘Maybe I’ll call grandpa and get lessons because the guy I look up to is golfing every day.’ It’s a lot of that.”

That’s why rather than seeing a Malbon script “M” or its Buckets logo on the hat or polo of a PGA Tour pro, Stephen was on the bag for rapper ScHoolboy Q at the 2023 Pebble Beach Pro-Am and why he, former NBA player-turned-collegiate golfer J.R. Smith and actor/jeweler Ben Baller launched the Par 3 Podcast.

“Golf’s such a great equalizer,” Malbon says. “You can get paired in a foursome and there are four people who would never ever hang out in any other circumstance but after three or four holes you’re best friends and you know their kids’ names. It immediately knocks down a bunch of barriers and walls. Golf just levels the playing field. 

“Whether you make $300,000 a year, $30,000 or $3 million, none of that matters when you’re golfing. We all have the same fight ahead of us.”

Malbon’s fight is standing out in an ever-crowded industry as golf continues to flourish thanks to a convergence of factors including being a safe, outdoor activity during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the popularity of golf-entertainment values like Topgolf, Netflix’s Full Swing, increased opportunities for Black golfers like the APGA Tour and Steph Curry’s Underrated Golf Tour, and the sport’s utilization of technology like AR/VR, Toptracer and in Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy’s upcoming TGL golf league.

Rounds played in the U.S. last year were 15% above the average of the 2017-19 period prior to the pandemic, according to the National Golf Foundation, while the number of on-course participants increased to 25.6 million for a net gain of 500,000 over the previous year. 

Not only that, but a record 3.3 million people played on a golf course for the first time in 2022. Newcomers continue to be more diverse than the sport’s overall participation base with beginners 45% more likely to be non-white and 35% more likely to be female.

Malbon isn’t just leveraging collaborations across a variety of industries to stand out, but continues to expand into its community of like-minded golfers with tournaments hosted across the U.S. as well as its Buckets Club, an NFT project that provides owners with real-life perks ranging from early access to drops or discounts on merchandise.

Malbon also partnered with Youth on Course, a 501(c)3 non-profit that provides young golfers with access to courses for $5 or less, for an art contest where the winner will work with Malbon’s creative team to design a collection set to launch in September with proceeds benefiting the non-profit.

In February, Malbon, which is also available in Korea, partnered with 21-year-old LPGA pro Yealimi Noh—its first pro golfer sponsorship—in anticipation of the brand’s inaugural women’s line set to debut later this year.

Malbon, which can also be seen in PGA Tour 2K23, is opening a store on Melrose Place in Los Angeles in June and another in Coconut Grove in Miami.

“We’re trying to inspire younger people to participate in golf, so that’s why it’s very helpful to do things like with PGA 2K,” Malbon says. “If you’re playing golf in a video game or you’re watching it on TV or you’re watching the Netflix show or you’re going to a tournament or you’re in an art contest for a golf brand, you’re participating. 

“It doesn’t have to be going to play 36 holes a day to participate. I think that’s what’s going to keep kids like my son Remington playing golf.”

NOTE: First appeared on Forbes SportsMoney

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