By Jeffrey A. Rendall; Images Courtesy of ECCO USA
USA – “It’s better to look good and play bad, then to look bad and play bad,” remarked Jeff Street, General Manager of the Golf Division for ECCO USA.
It’s also nice to feel good while playing bad. That I can personally vouch for – and strapping on some good comfortable golf shoes goes a long way towards achieving that goal. ECCO’s a good choice to help out in this regard.
Because knowing footwear is also knowing ECCO, the four decade old Danish shoe company established all those years ago by founder Karl Toosbuy, who just wanted something comfortable to put on his feet. Toosbuy was tired of the soles of his shoes molding to his feet, so he coined the phrase ‘the foot should lead the shoe,’ and that’s what’s been driving the family owned and operated company ever since. (Ed note: Toosbuy passed away last year (2004), and now the company is in the hands of his daughter and son-in-law.)
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“When people ask what are the main features and benefits of our product,” Street explains, “the production methods are such that the end result is a comfortable shoe that’s ready from the time you purchase it. Where our competitors might say they’re comfortable, I’m not sure the consumer buys into that when they wear them right out of the box on the golf course and come home with blisters and an aching back.”
If you’ve played golf an appreciable amount of time and have worn out pairs of golf shoes over the years, you understand what Street is saying. Most golf footwear will eventually break-in – and I can honestly say, I’ve never had a pair of golf shoes that was flat-out un-comfortable after wearing several rounds, but it often takes some time to soften them up. And they don’t always last very long, either.
So what accounts for the ECCO difference? Isn’t a shoe a shoe? Don’t they all need a period of adjustment to our individual feet?
Street says it’s the process that gets ECCO shoes ready to go from the start. “ECCO boasts a very unique manufacturing process, where we essentially control everything from the cow to the shoe. We manufacture and tan and create our own leathers – and we don’t buy any leather from other manufacturers. So we control the quality from top to bottom of the shoe. If you start out making shoes with poor leather, the best production methods in the world won’t help you.”
To clarify, the ECCO process begins with the slaughtered hides – they don’t actually ranch cattle for their shoes (even though they do own a herd of very expensive prize cattle, which are used for showing and beef uses – but don’t end up as ECCO shoes.)
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Street says there are a number of specific treatments that must be applied to golf shoe leather that don’t necessarily need to be put into street or tennis shoes – so the golf product is different even still. It’s more than just water-proofing, it’s protecting the shoes from the harsh chemicals and fertilizers found on a golf course, which can eventually break down leather if not properly treated.
Because ECCO perfected the leather treating process and developed a reputation for producing exceptionally fine leathers, ECCO leather is also exclusively used in Wilson Sporting Goods’ baseball gloves and in Coach Hand Bags. It’s also found in some expensive European performance cars (that shall go un-named) as well.
And although the company’s been around for a long time, ECCO basically only started mass-manufacturing golf shoes a few years ago. That too, was under the impetus of Karl Toosbuy – who again wanted comfortable shoes for his passionate hobby.
“Golf was an off-shoot for Mr. Toosbuy. He was a golf nut and he’d worn other companies’ golf shoes the whole time – and he kept getting blisters and shoes that hurt his feet. So he’s thinking, ‘I manufacture the most comfortable shoes in the world, and when I play golf, my feet hurt,’” Street said.
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But ECCO didn’t make golf shoes at the time (about ten years ago), so Toosbuy commissioned them -- basically said to his people, ‘let’s make a golf shoe for me.’ They did, but it was very expensive to make the first shoes, and they didn’t initially mass-manufacture them. Street says it costs about $30,000 to create an initial mold for a shoe size, so you can’t just decide to ‘build’ a shoe for wide distribution without investing some serious cash. Then, if you multiply that out times seven to ten sizes, it really adds up.
So ECCO started making golf shoes on a very limited basis, for Toosbuy and his friends’ enjoyment. It wasn’t until about three years ago that the company really decided to get into the golf shoe business from the ‘green grass’ side. When you think about how far they’ve come in those few years, it’s pretty impressive.
Like for all its other types of shoes, ECCO sought to create the finest, best looking and most comfortable golf shoes on the market. With several established companies manufacturing shoes already – ECCO would focus on the people who demanded the finest shoes, but not necessarily at the lowest prices. In other words, they weren’t about to sacrifice their unique process to try and build volume into their sales. Quality, comfort and style are the standards for ECCO, not sales figures.
And it’s all about shoes. “ECCO’s a shoe company,” Street said. “That’s what we’re good at – we don’t make clubs, we don’t make golf balls, we don’t make gloves or anything else. We make shoes and we’ve been doing it for over 40 years. And when people think of ECCO, they think comfort.”
Street continues, “Comfort is the result of good technology. I think the golf industry has taken the word ‘technology’ and blown it way, way out of proportion. It’s almost smoke and mirrors, because when it comes to shoes, it’s really pretty simple. You can make up all sorts of spike stories, and we can make them pink or green or blue, and we can even print your picture on the bottom of the shoe if we wanted to.”
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“Our technology is second to nobody’s, but it doesn’t mean a thing unless we can manufacture a shoe to perform right out of the box,” Street concluded.
There’s also the European influence that ECCO brings. Despite the fact that much of ECCO’s inspiration remains overseas, the Yankee impact is still very evident.
“We’re very tuned in to the American market,” Street said. “We’re into American colors and I believe that’s why younger people, women and men alike are really seeing ECCO as ‘Wow, these guys are cool, they’ve got style, and they’ve got rich, beautiful leathers in their shoes.”
Thus far, the LPGA seems to have adopted the somewhat distinctive look that ECCO offers – but it’s only a matter of time before more PGA players take a gander as well. European Ryder Cup Team members Thomas Bjorn (Vice Captain) and Colin Montgomerie walk their rounds in ECCO shoes, and Juli Inkster and 2003 US Women’s Open Champ Hillary Lunke (amongst others) wear them in women’s events.
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For us, we didn’t have a hard time adapting to ECCO’s fashions, because in addition to some revolutionary looking styles, they also have very traditional looking selections as well. We found them to be comfortable right out of the box, as Street promised, and they’re true to the manufacturer’s warranty – waterproof in every situation.
Also true to the promise, they’re not cheap. But as always, you tend to get what you pay for – and that’s doubly true when it comes to accessories such as golf shoes and gloves. We’d compare them favorably with other high-end shoes, and recommend that the next time you’re in the shop, take a glance at the ECCO line to see if they’re something you might want to try.
You can’t go wrong – and besides, as long as you’re still going to play bad no matter what you wear, you might as well look and feel good while doing it.
ECCO Golf Shoes
Available at higher-end Pro Shops and Retail Stores.
Phone: 800.886.ECCO (3226).
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