Conversations: Whim Golf

Golf has been held hostage, and Whim Golf is on a mission to liberate it.

What began as two oddly similar kids connecting at sleepaway camp in the Adirondack mountains quickly became an exercise in creativity. The two explored their shared visions, bartering with counselors for better socks and sweatshirts and designing “microbrands”, aka t-shirts they designed. Their friendship budded over Madden football, Mos Def, and Kodak disposable cameras. This was 2002, and these two are Will Gisel and Colin Heaberg. The two are the founders of Whim Golf, a design studio dedicated to the camaraderie and expansion of the sport of golf, with its very own clothing line.

Still together after all these years, the east-coast natives readily admit they had no idea what they were doing when they started Whim Golf in 2014. The education was the work. Mistakes were opportunities for learning. It was all trial and error, beginning with ideas that sparked their interest without the business sense that comes from years of experience. Their first project started as a million still-unused yards of fabric from India, produced into a few hundred t-shirts in Peru. Of that, they mailed 40 shirts out to friends and network connections, without ever selling the rest. They walked out of the experience with the mentality of “Okay, I guess we know how to do that now”.

It wasn’t until they experienced their eureka moment on the golf green that Whim Golf as we know it now began to take shape. Sports! What if they revolved their work around an adaptation of sport? Often found at the intersection of design, art, and culture, sports become a unifying force in many lives. They decided to streamline their efforts into an homage to tradition; to bust open the doors to the game of golf. Golf has been held hostage, and Whim Golf is on a mission to liberate it.

FREE GOLF FREE GOLF

Early on, the duo practiced inviting new people in with events. They built open-invitation putting greens that showcased their clothing line and stood on the sidewalk asking strangers to come through. They put themselves out on the street, herding in the unsuspecting masses. This is the antithesis of many other approaches to streetwear, shrouded in secrecy, elitism and holier-than-thou attitudes. For many, this also stands in direct opposition to the preconception of golf entirely. That’s how Whim Golf likes it. Their very first social media posts were dedicated to unlikely celebrities gone golfing; from the cast of The Office to Fred Durst. It’s clear they get a kick out of transforming the sport into its contemporary form— the one they have a hand in creating.

When people hear golf and immediately think conservative white guy, pleated khaki shorts, and sports car, it’s no surprise they don’t immediately feel like joining. Whim Golf makes it their mission to buck that archetype entirely. People from all different socioeconomic backgrounds wind up on the course, falling in love with the game for a multitude of reasons. They’re acutely aware of the classism and racism associated with country clubs and the association of these places with the sport overall. But they also know the side of golf that many of us don’t—and of the myriad stories of those who sought to stop diversity from being a part of golf, and failed.

Photo by Michael Remy

They tell us about Dr. George Grant, the first Black graduate of Harvard Dental School, an avid golfer. Back in his day, players would make a tee out of wet sand, but instead he developed and patented the first wooden tees we know today. Unfortunately, George Grant died young and never capitalized off of his invention, but another man claimed it as his own idea. They go on to explain that in the late 1990’s Wornie Reed, a college professor, went on to reclaim Dr. Grant’s legacy for him as part of a movement for civil rights. (You can read more about these reclamation efforts here.) They remind us that golf is one of the few sports that you don’t age out of as your body changes in your later years. It is truly an all-ages affair, Will’s grandma played until the age of 88. These are the stories of golf that Whim Golf designs for.


Photo by Michael Remy

How does this mentality of inclusion play out? It’s a 75 year-old avid golfer’s wife buying him a corduroy Whim Golf jacket on a cold summer day at the course. It’s three months later when the same jacket sells in New York City to a barely 18-year old Black high school kid, and the community they are both now a part of. It’s manifested in the connection to non-profit golf courses like Canal Shores in Evanston, Illinois. It shows in their efforts to help raise over $10,000 for First Tee, a Chicago organization that empowers local kids by integrating the game of golf into life skills curriculum. It’s through their dedication to showing what real golf looks like, both in the diversity of their agency team and representation of models shown wearing their clothes. It means a reinvention of what golf can be.

Above all else, Whim Golf is a labor of love with limited production capabilities. The staff work their fingers to the bone on each collection, which are funded by money made on the agency side of the business. Their one to one design mentality has them creating pieces that are recognizable, but with a twist. If they use a wild fabric, they keep the silhouette traditional and vice versa. Everything they do is with purpose, down to the name. It has beauty in simplicity and symmetry in its letterforms: W mirrors M, and H and I are symmetrical on their own. When asked if they’ll stick around Chicago they’re quick to provide their take on the design world here, likening the city to a warm spring puddle.

Photo by Brendan Carroll

It’s comfortable, dense, a little shallow but the longer you’re in it the smaller it gets, but often the deeper it goes too.

They wonder if they would get lost in the shuffle of Los Angeles, or New York City. Whim Golf is a golf company that won’t back down, and they’re here to let the world know that golf is cool not because they want to feel better about loving it, but because they genuinely want you to, too.

If you need something to wear when you’re out there rippin’ your mulligans, we offer our first collaboration with Whim Golf. In tribute to the most important (yet often overlooked) stories of golf we dedicate the front of our sage green mock neck to an embroidered sketch of Dr. Grant’s golf tee patent, with an oversized patch detailing his story on the side. The RealTree™ camouflage tee holder is your own personal pocket caddy and makes sure you’ve always got a piece of Dr. Grant’s brilliance with you, complete with fluorescent orange tees featuring the original tee patent number.


Photo by Michael Remy