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Golf Digest Logo Editor's Letter

Success looks cozy on golf's most stylish couple, Stephen and Erica Malbon

April 18, 2024
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Joe Pugliese

I first met Stephen Malbon 10 years ago at golf’s annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. I had attended enough of them to know the unofficial dress code for men: navy blazer, tie, khakis and the most deceptively comfortable dress shoes you could find for traipsing the harshly carpeted miles between appointments on the convention floor. Always on Friday, the final day, when the foot traffic thins considerably from its midweek peak of like 31,000 as folks cut out early to play golf and/or fly home, veterans ditch the tie, and the rebels who really want to project casual exasperation unbutton two buttons on their Oxford.

So, who was this unshaven dude in a cream cable-knit sweater, baggy athletic pants, flat-sole sneakers, tortoise-shell glasses and tired eyelids resembling those of the anthropomorphic golf-ball logo staring from his bucket hat? The combined effect was like he had just pulled an all-nighter at some badass croquet tournament. The sea of sameness into which this stylish man had been marooned was clearly his nightmare, but he wasn’t scared.

We took a table in the media center, and Malbon shared with me his vision for a new type of golfwear brand aimed at more than financial solvency. He wanted to attract kids and people from all walks of life, show them that the essence of golf was different from the stiffness and exclusion many likely assumed. His golf clothing would take inspiration from the worlds of skateboarding, hip hop, modern art, and yes, even crusty old Mayflower money. “Through golf I’ve been lucky to make friends from every corner—investment bankers, doctors, graffiti artists, plumbers,” Malbon told me. “What I love about golf is that you put together four people who’d never hang out together in real life, and by the back nine they’ve become each other’s support group.”

A former art director at a culture magazine, Malbon was then moving to Los Angeles and starting his practice of golf as a cultural unifier. What started as a loose text thread among some half-employed entertainment-industry types booking one or two tee times on public tracks on Fridays soon blossomed into a thriving golf community with daily action and an unofficial clubhouse in the Malbon Golf store on Fairfax Avenue, just yards from the Supreme skate shop and a hydroponic grower of cannabis. “Hoods off da street” and members from Bel-Air Country Club would come in and buy the same hat.

“It all happened a little faster than I expected,” Malbon said this past summer at the opening-night party of his new store location across town in Melrose. He was referring to not just the success he shares with wife Erica, who runs Malbon womenswear, but of the wider moment golf is enjoying. “Seems just about every big celebrity plays golf these days. We just need to recruit who else, Drake and Rihanna? There’s not many more to go.”

Their party was Thursday of the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club, and it was a funky scene. About one of every three people I talked to had also started (and were without fail, sporting) his or her own line of golf clothing. Over the next two days, many of these same folks gathered at a studio in Culver City to produce the images for the 28-page gallery, guest-curated by Stephen and Erica Malbon, that kicks off this first “Style Issue” of Golf Digest.

“Hopefully, we’ve inspired a lot of young people to realize that golf is actually really cool. At the same time, hopefully, we’ve inspired a lot of the old guard that young people aren’t all hooligans,” Malbon says. “When people discover they share that mutual respect for how hard it is to hit a golf ball and keep finding it, they start to apply that respect toward each other as well.”

It’s said that clothes are an instant language—or what you communicate to people before you even open your mouth. I’m not certain what I’m going to wear to the PGA Merchandise Show next January, but working on this issue has inspired me to up my game. I think you’ll feel the same way.