Bringing Style to Golf. It was more than 20 years ago that Nancy Haley discovered just how frumpy women’s golf attire really was. It was the mid-80s, and she was a young working mother in her 20s with two children at home. She was working as an interior designer, furnishing model homes for a local developer, when she took up golf with her husband, already an avid golfer. Haley’s first exposure to golf was at age 16, when her dad told her he wanted to take her out to play. “I said to him, ‘Dad, only dorks play golf!’” she recalls. True, she didn’t know much about golf, other than what she had picked up in conversation with others. So it was not surprising that when she began playing, Haley was amazed that a sport that intrinsically requires so much finesse should so blatantly ignore — indeed even flaunt — bad taste on the female front. “I just could not believe how ugly the clothes were for women,” Haley recalls. “Everything was so cutesy and so unflattering. The men’s golf clothing market was huge, and there were so many options. Women were largely ignored, and the clothing reflected it.” So here was the dilemma. Look like an outdated frump on the golf course or imagine a better option, one that was sophisticated, feminine and, yes, easy on the eyes.
“I would come home at night and go to my studio, where I did my design work. I drew outfits, which I hung all over the walls. Finally, my husband said, ‘Just do this already, make some of these designs,’” she says. “I started out very small, on the premise that feminine fabrics were the answer, things that could be worn both on and off the golf course.” Her dream was modest, but her accomplishments were impressive. From her studio sketches, Sun Daze, a company that catered to the women’s golf market, was born. Four years later, a men’s line was added; she changed her company name to Sport Haley; and the line became a hit within the trendy golf community. Manufacturing was centered in the United States, and clothing was sewn in factories based in North and South Carolina and Pennsylvania. By the time Haley sold her company, in 1996, a decade after she founded it, a slew of designers were focusing on the women’s golf market. Her pioneering efforts earned her a lifetime achievement honor in recognition of the fact that her vision led to an explosive market catering to lifestyle sportswear for golfers. When Sport Haley was sold, the company was doing $21 million annually in sales, a rarity in the golf industry, which typically boasts sales of less than $10 million.
After years of working hard and putting her heart and soul into growing a successful business, Haley now had no plan. She tried playing golf and focused on enjoying her retirement from the highly competitive business world. But a chance meeting with Clint Eastwood (yes, THE Clint Eastwood) changed her world. “My husband had been playing golf with Clint for years and would bring him Sport Haley shirts. After my retirement, we were at Mission Ranch in California, which Clint owned. We were there to play golf and tennis, and one night we were in the bar having drinks when Clint and I began talking. I told him I never again wanted to work that hard building a brand, especially because I didn’t really believe anyone recognized the Sport Haley name,” she reflects with a smile. At that time, Eastwood was caught up in the excitement of building Tehama, a golf resort in Carmel Valley, Calif., which represented the culmination of his own 30-year dream. “He turned to me and said, ‘We can start a sportswear line and call it Tehama.’ I closed my eyes, looked up, and he was already walking away,” she remembers.
“The next four days I never had an opportunity to talk with him again, and I was on pins and needles wondering if he meant it. Then a mutual friend called me and set up a meeting in Los Angeles for a few days later. I showed up at Clint’s business manager’s office, and both Clint and his manager were dressed from head to toe in Sport Haley clothing. I couldn’t believe my eyes!” Nancy HaleyEven Eastwood’s manager was amazed. “Clint was 67 years old, and he had never before promoted a product. He asked him why he would want to do this, and Clint answered, ‘I have confidence in Nancy. She built Sport Haley, and she can do this. I want to do this with her,’” recalls Haley. Five months later, a contract was finalized. “One of the big obstacles was compliance. If you recall, Kathie Lee Gifford had recently put her name on a clothing line, and there were huge problems with child labor that we did not want to face. So from the outset, we established very strict quality and compliance rules for our company,” Haley says.
The two partners invested equally in the business, then assembled 100 investors through a private offering. In its first year, Tehama realized $7.5 million in sales. Today, just 10 years after it began, Tehama is doing just shy of $50 million in sales, a fairy-tale story by any standard. “I think there were two reasons behind our fast success,” Haley says. “First, it had been a very short time, just one year, since I’d left the industry, and people knew and trusted me and my ability to offer highquality, good design. Also, having Clint as a partner brought an immediate recognition to the line.” A few years ago, companies such as Nautica, DKNY and Calvin Klein approached Tehama to license their names on the clothing. In the end, the company chose IZOD, which had recently broken off from Lacoste.
“We had the luxury of choosing whom we wanted to do business with, and we had a big advantage over bigbox retailers, who had tried and failed to make a profit in the retail golf arena. We can go to these customers, take their orders, and give them what they need,” explains Haley. Today, Tehama has upward of 4,000 accounts, including big retailers such as Nordstrom and Macy’s, country clubs and smaller retail boutiques. In addition to being able to fill small orders very quickly, Tehama offers in-house embroidery, so clothing can display the name of a particular country club. Haley staffs a large design team and approves all designs before they make it to market. She keeps a strict eye on fashion trends and is careful to ensure the IZOD brand remains distinct and separate from the Tehama look. In an effort to remain a step ahead of the industry, Tehama recently unveiled its Hang ‘Em Dry line (a takeoff on Eastwood’s Hang ‘Em High), a green concept designed to appeal to environmentalists and the younger market. The clothing is manufactured from carbon extruded from coconut shells.
Another innovative product is Tehama’s newly unveiled vitamin-infused shirts, which contain water-soluble Vitamin C. “When you perspire, your body releases sebum, which opens your pores and allows the vitamin C to be absorbed into your skin. The Vitamin C will remain in the fabric for many washings, so it provides benefit for many wearings,” Haley says. Another line that will be unveiled late this summer bears the name of world-class golfer Arnold Palmer. This line will appear in large department stores and will boast a more traditional look, reflecting his unique style. It is often said that hard work comes at a high price. Such does not appear to be the case for Nancy Haley, whose seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm have earned her praise from some of the nation’s most respected critics. She was recently recognized as Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in Retail and Manufacturing. Previous winners have included Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corp., Steve Case of America Online and Howard Schultz of Starbucks. In addition to this achievement, Golf magazine named Haley one of “The 40 Most Powerful People in Golf,” and Golf World Business named her one of the most powerful people in golf fashion. Haley was the only woman to make the top five on this list — in the company of Ralph Lauren. Such kudos notwithstanding, Haley is proudest of the award she received in January, the PGA Ernie Sabayrac Award, recognizing the contribution of manufacturers and distributors to the golf industry. Haley is the only woman ever to receive this award.
“This is truly a lifetime achievement award, and it’s about being a pioneer, pushing the envelope and thinking forward. I want to be known as someone who is first to come up with a concept that will cause others to sit up and say, ‘Oh my gosh, how did she think of that?’” Haley says with a smile. She has come a long way from where she started, and the game of golf has evolved right alongside her. She says, “It’s still a man’s world, and 70 percent of golfers are still men. When I started in this business, no one was looking at the women’s market, and women for the most part don’t take the time to play this sport. Men find the time to play, no matter what, and that’s why Tehama is so popular. You can wear the clothes to work and then go straight to the golf course without changing. “A lot of smaller golf clubs in the United States find it difficult to make women’s apparel a profitable part of their business because many of these clubs don’t have many women players. The way we help them is to bring in one color line and allow them to special-order just one of an item. This lets them test the waters and serve their members.”
Nancy HaleyIt has been 20 years since Haley started in the business, and for her, things just keep getting better and better. “I’m a Type A personality workaholic, and now I’m working to find the balance I need to keep going strong,” she says. “I’m looking for ways to move away from areas of the company that don’t ring my bell, but I’ll keep focusing on the big picture. This is my baby, and I have a huge investment in it. But I have so many other areas of my life that are important, and I’ll pay attention to that.” In that regard, Haley and her husband, Tony, are avid fans of bike trips, and each year they travel to different parts of the world to ride. They golf together during the week, and she is devoted to her two sons. Clearly, Haley has discovered what too few individuals can ever hope to learn in a lifetime of experience: “I am not one to try to do this or anything big by myself. I am not The Devil Wears Prada, and I rely on my team of superstars to help me succeed. I believe everyone who works here should act as if this is their own little company, and I am honored by the recognition I’ve received from the industry. I’ll continue doing my best, and I love every day of it!”
Written by ELLEN GRAY
Photography by KIT WILLIAMS