Streetwear x Golf
How Eastside Golf is using streetwear and other professional sports to get new audiences into golf
When Olajuwon Ajanaku and Earl A. Cooper, the minds behind golf apparel brand Eastside Golf, say they’re trying to “grow the game,” they’re not just tossing around the phrase. These two Morehouse College golf alums are taking an innovative approach to a goal that golf brands and organizations have been trying to achieve for decades.
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“If you’re a golf company trying to grow the game, how are you going to do that by selling to existing golfers?” said Ajanaku. “We’re really going as far away from the game of golf as possible, and then trying to bring all those people in.”
If Eastside Golf’s strategy isn’t making sense yet, a new collaboration that they are unveiling with the NBA will make it much clearer. The line is called “Playing Golf After This,” and the slogan will be printed on t-shirts and eventually other apparel items branded with NBA team logos and colors. The Warriors, Hawks, Bucks, Suns, Knicks, Bulls, and Lakers will be the first team logos represented by the t-shirt release. The capsule will be available exclusively on the Eastside Golf website, where more NBA gear will be expected to drop in the coming months.
Michael Jordan lore sparked the “Playing Golf After This” concept for Ajanku. Instead of resting before and after games, MJ would frequently play 18 or even 36 holes, at the peak of his career nonetheless. Those stories highlight Jordan’s athletic prowess, but they also demonstrate his fervent attachment to the game.
Beyond the literal meaning of the “Playing Golf After This” catch line, Ajanaku wants to share the greater benefits of golf to potential newcomers. It’s no secret that professional athletes love golf, whether they’re retired legends or stars at their prime. Steph Curry, Tom Brady, CC Sabathia, you name it. Eastside Golf’s NBA collaboration is meant to get people thinking: Why golf? Ajanaku and Cooper are using a simple phrase on a t-shirt to help new communities grasp the beauty of the game they love.
“Let’s say you see Chris Paul walking down the tunnel, and he has on the Eastside Golf X NBA T-shirt. You’ll ask, what’s he doing after the game? He’s playing golf after this,” Ajanaku said, describing the inspiration for the line. “Let’s say you have a kid going to school. What’s he doing after class? Now he wants to be playing golf too.”
Eastside Golf wants to make golf cooler, but they’re not necessarily going about this mission by targeting existing golfers. Ajanaku and Cooper of course want to attract the attention of long-time players and golf establishments, and they have done that. Cooper is a PGA Professional and one of Golf Digest’s Best Young Teachers. If you stop by the pro shop at Whistling Straits, you’ll see Eastside Golf’s logoed sweatshirt. But the company truly sets itself apart through its ability to exist in two worlds. Eastside Golf apparel is also carried by rapper Fat Joe’s boutique, Up NYC. It’s not easy to find a through line between a major championship venue and a streetwear store in the South Bronx, and the brand has done just that.
Ajanaku and Cooper—who won a national championship at Morehouse College together—did not have a simple journey to this point in their brand’s success. Eastside Golf was Ajanaku’s idea. The name of the brand refers to the east side of Atlanta, where Ajanaku was born and raised. Upon graduating from Morehouse, Ajanaku wasn’t intent on using his accounting degree just yet. Desperate to try his hand at professional golf, he started to pitch to organizations, attorneys, or anyone who would listen to acquire a potential sponsor. Ajanaku spent two years trying to source more sustainable funds for the daunting path to pro golf, but had no luck. He won two mini-tour events, but eventually let go of the effort and took a job in commercial finance.
Nine years later, Ajanaku was about to take a new role in corporate America, but knew something wasn’t right. The golf dream was still on the top of his mind. An outlandish new idea surfaced: Ajanaku could create his own brand and his own logo, and become his very own sponsor.
The current Eastside Golf logo features a black golfer, mid-backswing, wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, and a gold chain. Ajanaku designed the popular logo to resemble himself. It was Cooper, Ajanaku’s best friend, who encouraged him to put the logo on a T-shirt.
“The logo has representation. It’s saying I can go to a public golf course in jeans, a sweatshirt, and a chain, and truly just swing my golf club and enjoy the game,” Ajanaku said. “It says, ‘I can be myself, I can wear clothes that I feel comfortable in, and represent how I want to be out on the golf course.”
Initially, Ajanaku put his logo on one singular T-shirt with a hand iron. When he first wore the homemade sample around Detroit, his residence at the time, he was overwhelmed by the number of passersby who stopped him to ask about the design. The aspiring pro knew he had created something special. He started the company in June 2019 and began shipping product by hand that November.
“I emptied out my savings, sold all my cryptocurrencies, used all my credit cards, the 401k, everything," said Ajanaku. "I took it upon myself to make T-shirts, sweatshirts, umbrellas, everything....The first 2,000 orders came from my apartment in Detroit. I packed them all myself with thank you cards, it was just me.”
The ultimate vision for the brand really started to take shape in February 2020. Ajanaku told Cooper he wanted to take Eastside Golf to the PGA Show, an annual golf industry trade show in Orlando. Cooper was hesitant at first, knowing the golf world and its old-fashioned tendencies as a PGA professional of seven years at the time. Despite those fears, the pair flew down to Florida, Cooper joining Ajanaku as an official business partner more than just an advisory friend. With a backpack of gear, the two former college teammates roamed the show floor networking with whoever they could and were pleasantly surprised at how well their idea was received by the golf world. They left Orlando with their first retail orders, several new contacts and a whole lot of added exposure.
Eastside Golf was starting to make a name for itself within golf, but the real opportunity for growth lay beyond that. Ajanaku received an Instagram message from CJ Paul, Chris Paul’s brother asking for two of everything from Eastside Golf’s website.
“The moment that really took us to the next level was Chris Paul. The night of the NBA Boycott, Chris Paul was wearing our gear from head to toe,” said Cooper. “I like to tell people it wasn’t just a sports story, it was a national news story.”
Paul’s Eastside Golf outfit made sales go through the roof, prompting the collaboration of their dreams to come to fruition. The viral moment caught the eye of the Vice President of Jordan Brand at the time, Gentry Humphrey, who introduced the two to Michael Jordan.The Hall of Famer fell in love with Eastside Golf.
“He said to us, ‘You two have a great story, and at Jordan brand, we like to tell the best stories," Ajanaku said.
That relationship led to Eastside Golf securing the first collaboration ever on an Air Jordan golf shoe. The Jordan 4 Retro Golf x Eastside Golf Shoe features gold and gray accents, as well as Ajanaku’s original logo on the tongue of the sneaker. It resells for upwards of $1500.
“The Jordan shoe came out and that made our business unique," said Cooper. "It was a golf shoe, but it dominated the sneaker culture."
It isn’t just Eastside Golf’s impressive collaborations and large social media following that sets the brand apart from other golf companies (The Eastside Golf Instagram handle has over 50,000 followers). Ajanaku and Cooper pride themselves on their strategy of growing the inclusivity of the game
“A lot of the time other companies are run by folks who have had a career outside of golf, and say ‘Hey, I’m cool, let me try to bring my coolness to golf.’ But we’ve never left the game. We’ve been in it. The game is catching up to where we are,” Cooper said.
Ajanaku and Cooper are two ambitious golf and streetwear enthusiasts who just want new communities to appreciate and enjoy the game that shaped them as young adults. Long term, the partners are hoping to expand Eastside Golf’s realm beyond apparel. A non-profit scholarship fund for black and diverse PGA Professionals and a golf teaching academy are two of the lanes they’re interested in exploring down the road. In the meantime though, the power of Eastside Golf’s logo continues to carve new pathways on its own.