One Nation Under Golf: New Apparel Company Swings to the Past
The impact of his grandfather’s famed golf tournament made such an impression on Ryan Engle that the event’s tenets of gentlemanly camaraderie became more than a life ethos; they grew into a career.
From 1973-2002, Engle’s grandfather, T.K. Liken, held an annual tourney/celebration/bash at Indian Wells CC in the Coachella Valley, the last seven iterations of which Engle was able to take part in. Today, close to 50 years on, Liken’s golf philosophy of class dressed in swank lives on, threaded to the future via San Clemente-based apparel outfit Nation Golf Co.
Engle — a former pro surfer and world-renowned surfboard shaper — founded Nation Golf informally in 2008, when he debuted his first Nation Desert Classic tournament, an Indian Wells CC homage to his grandfather, with a cigar-chomping likeness of Liken as the logo and the event’s goodie bags included prototype Nation Golf shirts.
As the now-annual May tournament grew in popularity, Engle recognized that an earnest swing to the past could “sew” a new legacy.
“We’re not following forecasting trends or the fashion sense of today’s global market,” Engle says. “We’re looking to the past and working to carry on what we believe has been lost. Authenticity is the key. Even when people aren’t looking to sniff out a phony, they’re sniffing out a phony. When it comes to the vintage aesthetic, if you’re gonna truly pay homage to anything, you need to do it right.”
As part of the effort to revisit the halcyon days of Esquire and a time when Old Spice wasn’t sold on self-mockery, Engle believes what he breathes. To wit: The Nation headquarters — which customers are encouraged to visit for free order pickup — includes the Boardroom, a faux wood-paneled lounge dressed with Arnold Palmer images and an open bar.
“There’s this cloud looming over the traditional aspects of golf,” Engle adds. “I hear that; but it’s not all bad, and nobody is carrying it on. Frankly, that’s where we come in. There’s a light on many aspects with the fellowship and the gentleman’s dress code, and it really is amazing what you can accomplish when you’re dressed nice and your shirt is tucked in.”
RIDING THE CREST
Amid Nation’s budding success (and a newborn daughter named Palmer), Engle has seen fit to distance himself from his surfboard work and ride the apparel wave in full.
And he’s not alone in searching for the crest. Two years ago, Adam Hawk, then the executive producer for The Jim Rome Show, was led to Nation via his own search for classic golf attire.
“I’d been looking for vintage golf fashion for a long time and was led here,” says Hawk, now Nation’s CMO and minority owner. “And I thought it was amazing. It led to a hand-shake deal in a sauna — with towels on — at Indian Wells CC.”
Come the summer of 2021, Hawk, akin to Engle, saw fit to amicably exit the pinnacle of his respective profession and turn a side-hustle into a vocation.
“My fire for radio started to burn out, while my fire for this … it was like throwing gasoline cans on it,” Hawk smiles.
Of Hawk leaving his Rome job, Engle quips: “Either he sees something special here, or he’s an enormous idiot.”
Unlike most (if not all) golf/ lifestyle apparel brands, Nation aims to grow organically. As an extension of its belief system, Engle and Hawk are giving air to the attire via outreach, including “The Fellowship,” a new weekly video program/ podcast, and Nation’s “Swing Lube,” a Kolsch-style beer brand (made by L.A.-based Indie Brewing Company).
“ON YOUR TOMBSTONE, IT’S NOT GONNA SHOW THAT YOU, ‘SHOT A 69 ON AUGUST 17.’ NO, IT’LL SAY, ‘HE WAS A HELL OF A GUY TO PLAY GOLF WITH.”
“We just had a customer come in and say, ‘You guys thread the perfect needle of having respect for the tradition of the game with-out it being uptight, exclusive and unobtainable for many people,’” Hawk says. “We’re not here selling country club memberships; we think of the brand as class, mixed with some class-clownery. Most of the year, we’re municipal guys. We just like dressing up for golf and paying respect to what golf embodies.”
At Nation, embodiment comes by way of authenticity.
“In this day and age, people want to know who they’re voting for with their wallet,” Hawk adds. “And there’s a loyalty that comes with that, as people want to feel like they’re purchasing something from us, not some faceless company. We write personalized notes on every order, we lick every stamp, we pack every mailing.”
Crediting his grandfather for the blueprint, Engle aims to never stray from the logo’s own tournament mantra: “To meet and enjoy the fellowship.”
Those words serve as com-pass for a Nation Golf culture.
“You pour yourself a drink, light yourself a vice, get out there on the course, rub elbows and make it an experience,” concludes Engle. “On your tombstone, it’s not gonna show that you ‘Shot a 69 on August 17.’ No, it’ll say, ‘He was a hell of a guy to play golf with.’ “That’s the impression and impact we want to make as a brand.”