Before founding the men’s golf apparel line Holderness & Bourne, Alex Holderness and John Bourne left gigs on Wall Street to pursue interests in e-commerce. Bourne dropped private equity for a digital strategy leadership role at a Fortune 500 company and Holderness gave up investment banking at Goldman Sachs for a finance role at an e-commerce shopping start-up. But what truly brought the North Carolina-bred Holderness and Long Island-raised Bourne, who met at Yale’s School of Management, together was the game of golf.
“We share a deep affinity for golf and a respect for its history and traditions,” says Bourne. “As grad students with access to Yale’s legendary C.B. Macdonald course, we probably played more golf than the rest of our classes combined.”
After school, the friends continued to play but bemoaned the fit and style of the golf shirts they wore. “They always seemed to fall into one of two categories: classic or hyper-athletic,” explains Holderness. “The classic shirts were always cut much baggier than we preferred and didn’t wick moisture well on hot days. The athletic shirts lacked the understated style we associate with the game.”
The two wanted to find a classic style with modern fit and performance, so they took matters into their own hands and started designing shirts made from American materials. “It’s not the cheapest way to enter this business, but for us it has definitely been the right way,” explains Bourne.
The duo spent more than a year researching both fabric mills and manufacturing partners before finding well-established outfits that had the experience to help execute their vision. “We currently source fabric from a mill in California that uses American cotton grown in North Carolina and Georgia, and the shirts are tailored in New York,” boasts Bourne. Their first offering, the Links Shirt ($90), is constructed with an innovative cotton-synthetic blend. “We’re taking a modern approach while paying respect to the foundations of style and etiquette that made the game so great in the first place,” says Holderness. “To us, classic doesn’t have to mean retro or anachronistic. We love the old Golden Era golf courses, but we’re not so hung up on the past.”
The brand plans to introduce other items such as tailored-fit sweaters, long-sleeved golf shirts and ultra-soft jersey knit shirts into the line soon. Below, the design team chatted with DuJour about the exciting launch.
How do your shirts differ from a typical golf shirt?
The Links Shirt has distinctive features: a classic collar that actually stands up thanks to better construction and removable collar stays, a reinforced side gusset for durability, no useless pockets and no garish logos. We also differentiate thanks to our fit. It’s tailored but not tight—an Athletic American fit without all of the excess fabric. We also designed the shirt with a slightly longer torso so that it actually stays tucked in. As any golfer will tell you, this solves the fairly annoying problem of needing to re-tuck after almost every swing, which is especially common if you’re sizing down to achieve a more tailored look.
Are these shirts an easy sell for golfers?
We think that they should be. Until now, golfers have been forced to make a frustrating choice between classic style and decent fit. Guys seeking classic style have had to settle for loose, blousy fits. Guys seeking athletic fit and fabrication have had to settle for shirts with loud, immature styles and the plastic sheen associated with pure synthetics. We offer the best of all worlds.
Your shirts are label-free. Why was this an important decision to you?
As with a lot of guys we know, we’ve become jaded by the exhaustive branding we see everywhere in apparel. We never thought it made much sense to act as a walking billboard for a brand. Our suits and dress shirts aren’t overtly branded, so why should our casual shirts be? Great quality and style speak for themselves. Turnbull & Asser, for instance, doesn’t put a logo anywhere visible on its shirts, but instead offers a distinctively cut collar that sophisticated dressers often notice and appreciate. We’re taking a similar approach.
How is the Links Shirt meant to be worn?
Thanks to the blended fabric, they look just as good on the golf course or tennis court as they do in an urban setting. For the guy who likes to throw on a blazer, as some clubs require, these shirts are ideal. Due to its blended construction, over time the fabric acquires a softened, broken-in look. We love it, but we’ll also be releasing the Links Shirt in other fabrics soon for guys who tend to have a strong preference for either cotton or performance synthetics.
And now for a little rapid-fire Q&A—what is your favorite round of golf ever played?
Holderness: Bandon Dunes with a big group of buddies this spring.
Bourne: Same round. Happy to say I was there for that trip to golf heaven.
What are your favorite courses?
Bourne: Alister MacKenzie’s masterpiece Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz, California and The Creek Club in Locust Valley on Long Island where I grew up playing (also the first round I played in one of our shirts).
Who’s your favorite golfer?
Holderness: “Harvie Ward. Few will recognize his name, unless they’re from North Carolina or have read The Match by Mark Frost. Ward was a highly decorated amateur golfer from North Carolina, most famous for winning two U.S. Amateurs and a British Amateur, and for participating alongside Ken Venturi in an epic showdown against Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson at Cypress Point back in 1956. Ward is a somewhat unheralded legend of the game.
Bourne: Ben Hogan, who overcame tragedy to become the dominant player of his era. Besides his tremendous talents as a golfer, he had great style, was a consummate gentleman and a devoted husband—truly an example on and off the course. In today’s game, I have been very impressed by Jordan Spieth. He exhibits composure on the course and respects the sport. Golf needs a new star, and I am rooting for Spieth to take up the mantle.
All photography by Shawn Michael Lowe Photography.