The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am can be hard to watch. The tournament has a strong PGA Tour field competing against a beautiful backdrop but with a very distracting sideshow: the amateurs.
Because of his iconic Caddyshack role – and partly because of his strangely aloof on-course demeanor – Bill Murray always seems to get a lot of camera time at Pebble Beach. He contributes mightily to that sideshow feel, but this year, it served as a window into a side gig that has a potentially brilliant twist.
Murray brought crowdfunding to the golf industry in a very visible way. It will make for an interesting test, and if it goes well, fellow start-up clothing brands (but ones without the deep pockets of an established Hollywood legend) could be the ones that really benefit.
Murray and his brothers (who all grew up playing golf and caddying in the Chicago suburbs) launched the clothing company William Murray Golf in 2016. The company-stated mission is to instill “energy and a little irreverence” into a game they say can sometimes feel stiff. The clothing line is heavy in bucket hats and nearly everything is in a large, loud print, which is not surprising given Murray’s persona. Then again, there’s also a traditional Murray tartan that appears on shirts, shorts and cuffs.
The style Murray debuted at the Pro-Am — men’s bell-bottom pants that he termed “Bill-bottoms” — was so out there that he used his Pebble Beach air-time and a clothing crowdfunding company, Betabrand (www.betabrand.com), to test the waters first.
In an interview with Adweek, Betabrand founder Chris Lindland explained his company’s role in the project. Lindland did not respond to this publication's requests for an interview.
“William Murray Golf wants to sell as much golf stuff as they can, but for ideas [like bell-bottoms] that are a little more out there, more experimental, the cost to perform that experiment is profound,” Lindland told Adweek. “By performing this test on Betabrand, where the crowdfunding mechanism will give them confidence, they can make more.”
Betabrand’s role is two-fold.
First, supporters voted on the style that Murray would wear at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. That style, which features a background of caboose blueprints with peonies printed on top to honor Murray’s mother, then became the one that Betabrand offered for crowdfunding. By the time the tournament was complete, the “Loosie the Caboosie” design had 93 backers and still 26 days to gain funding and support. Through Feb. 19, funding for the pants had exceeded its goal by 54 percent.
Since the design garnered enough interest, the bell-bottoms will come to life and initial backers receive a discount on the first run. If the design had failed, then backers would have been refunded their money and Bill-bottoms would have just been a bad dream.
Murray’s business plan garnered a lot of interest over his week at Pebble Beach, but don’t discount the role that his pro-am appearance played. He has become synonymous with that event. It remains to be seen whether he can generate enough interest and funds to truly bring the bell-bottoms trend to golf.
The interesting part of the experiment is that Murray is blending markets. The bell-bottom trend may be most recognizable by older golfers who aren’t familiar with the concept of crowdfunding. That idea speaks more to younger, tech-savvy players who may have turned to companies like GoFundMe to launch their own small-business concepts.
Murray’s product is relatively expensive, too – perhaps too expensive for what it is. One pair of pants retails for $118 on Betabrand, but backers receive a 15-percent discount.
Crowdfunding has worked in some markets, most notably the outdoor industry, but it remains to be seen what it can do for Murray. The real test might come from the competition, which would test the waters without a golf culture icon promoting the product.
Julie Williams is a former college golfer and Golfweek writer who teaches eighth-grade English and coaches a high school girls golf team in Cocoa Beach, Fla.