Hear how the lifestyle line and its first-ever ambassador look to shift the style and spirit of America’s most corporate and commercial sport through authenticity and inclusivity.
Having a ‘head down approach’ is often associated with a blue-collar grind far removed from the lavish luxuries of a country club. At 35 years of age, Wyatt Worthington II has embodied that Midwest mantra while fighting for his way into golf’s good graces.
This weekend in Tulsa, the Ohio club pro kept his eye on the prize and his chin up as he competed in PGA play. Whether looking down at the ball or looking ahead at the fairway, Worthington’s hat was in plain sight. A white cap with a Black golfer, the brimmed item illustrates a man with his head down in the midst of his back swing. Decked out in blue jeans, the embroidered golfer is still yet fluid, emphasized by a gold chain also in motion. The hat is made by Eastside Golf, who last week signed Wyatt as their first official ambassador.
Not only is Eastside Golf outfitting Wyatt in PGA play, they’re a crucial connection in funding the next phase of his career. One that still needs more backing to truly take off.
“If you can’t even afford to get to the tournament and pay the entry fee? It’s going to be tough to play in it,” Worthington told Boardroom. “I need help and financial support. I’m forever grateful to have Eastside in my corner, but we still need more resources, access, and opportunity because people don’t know how expensive this sport is and what it takes to get inside the ropes on a week-to-week basis.”
Those resources aren’t far, rather they’re in plain sight. At this weekend’s PGA Tournament in Tulsa, the subject of sponsorship is marquee as always. With coverage coming from ESPN and CBS, sponsors use all 18 holes of Southern Hills Country Club to sell everything from sedans to investing advice. Industry titans like Titleist, Ping, and FootJoy will each see their names canvas the course and the athletes alike, signaling where the game of golf has long-lived and profited.
However, on Wyatt’s hat, back, and feet, Eastside Golf will compete with tradition and old archetypes in the same fashion as their first ambassador. For the founders and the pro, proving themselves on the links is nothing new.
Doing so loudly at the game’s highest level? Now, there’s a barrier they’re still looking to break.
The Long Game
To say Wyatt Worthington II, a man who holds a day job, has had to work twice as hard as his peers in not hyperbole.
“He shot the course record in college,” notes longtime friend and Eastside Golf co-founder Earl A. Cooper. “And he still had to qualify for the golf team.”
Regardless of what the game gives him next, Eastside Golf will be on his back and by his side.
“This is a multi-year deal,” states Cooper. “We’re committed to him. The PGA Championship is a great moment, but we’re in it for the long haul. Last year, a lot of sponsors were just there for the moment, but when he missed the cut? The phone went dry. Me, Olajuwon, and the whole Eastside Golf team are people he can lean on and count on whether he comes in first or he comes in last.”
As Friday’s round in Tulsa came to a close, Wyatt missed the cut, but it won’t stop his path nor his new sponsor. Showing up is half the work, and showing out is the eventual excellence for staying committed on all fronts.
“He’s his true authentic self on and off the golf course,” says Cooper. “He represents a face that a lot of the community at Eastside Golf and African Americans can look up to and see themselves. For Wyatt, it’s been an unbelievable grind with a ton of sacrifices — but there’s resilience. We feel blessed to be in a position where we’re not just putting clothing on his back, we’re putting a couple dollars in his pocket, and using our platform to elevate his story.”
With Wyatt on course, literally and figuratively, Eastside Golf continues to gain momentum on their bigger mission while rewriting the rules.
Speaking Through Style
Everyone defines style differently, but sometimes it’s best to defer to the experts.
“Fashion is how you talk about yourself without speaking,” international icon J Balvin recently told Boardroom. While the Spanish-speaking singer broke the language barrier through sonics and outfits to inspire a global audience, Eastside Golf looks to change conversations in culture through its own aesthetic messaging.
While it might be the Air Jordan collaborations that make noise, it’s Eastside Golf’s symbolic emblem that speaks strongest.
“Subconsciously what that logo does?” Eastside Golf founder Olajuwon Ajanaku begins to tell Boardroom. “If we’re really getting deep, let’s say a police officer sees Eastside Golf and loves the brand. A Black man gets pulled over, but he has on Eastside Golf. ‘Oh damn, you play golf?’ This man could be a golfer…like me!”
Over the course of his life, Olajuwon has lived this analogy in manners and settings few – or perhaps many – could truly understand.
“I’m from East Atlanta, graduated from college, played professional golf, was in finance for almost a decade, and am a Black man,” Olajuwon notes. “I feel the logo is going to bring more people to think Black people can play golf and it’s not just a white sport. I’ve seen example after example of people seeing the logo and having this aha moment like, ‘Damn, I can really be myself when playing golf.’ The logo speaks to so many people on so many levels and can change the way people see Black people in general.”
For Worthington, the ambassador representing Eastside Golf on the game’s biggest stage, the shift in conversation is already taking place.
“You go into these high-end country clubs and you tend to think things are snobby and tight,” Worthington says. “With the logo? It’s been quite the opposite. There’s older white gentlemen showing appreciation for the sweater and it kind of threw me off! Like, you guys rock with these? Word! People love what Eastside is doing and it’s been nothing but love.”
This external embrace means the world to Wyatt, but it’s still the internal efforts taking place at Eastside Golf that matter most. From storytelling on apparel to growth through hiring, Olajuwon keeps the same energy in every facet of the brand.
“I’m always about digging deep and that’s what makes us different,” notes Olajuwon. “I’m probably the only CEO in golf that tells Black stories throughout the year and advocates for diversity in golf throughout the entire year and not just in February. We’re able to play at our own pace. When we first started, it was bootstrapping and getting it how we could. As we’ve grown, we’ve hired a COO and an executive assistant. We’re hiring accordingly.”
In a public-facing sense, the latest ‘hire’ is Worthington as their first official ambassador. As Olajuwon alludes, it won’t be their last.
“He’s Only 16!”
For fans of another bootstrapping enterprise, Rocafella Records, the above quote signals memories of an accomplished yet fanatic Jay-Z praising Young Chris during an on-air freestyle when the rising rapper was just a teenager. When this same sentiment comes out of Olajuwon’s mouth, he’s discussing someone different.
Proving different in the modern and flattering sense, the 16-year-old athlete is already making a name for himself on the course and in the brand.
“He just shot 65 in Eastside Golf,” Olajuwon smiles. “Him winning, Wyatt being in the tournament, and us raising money for golfers? That’s what this is about: getting more golfers of diversity that we can sponsor.”
While Eastside Golf looks to lace Wyatt, Matthew, and more individuals, the brand’s growing roster will eventually include outfitting an entire team roster.
“We haven’t done anything yet, but as far as the Morehouse Golf Team? They will be sponsored by Eastside Golf,” shares Olajuwon. “I’m going to be the one to design it and it’s got to be cool. I’ve always wanted to do that and it’s gonna be dope to dress Morehouse. It’s gonna be a hot second, but I’d say November.”
For now, Matthew looks to add youth and esteem to the famed logo before back-to-school season starts. Whether rise or fall, it will still be Wyatt serving as the first face of the brand.
2022 & Beyond
At the time of the interview, Earl and Olajuwon are walking the walk of Eastside Golf but in different locations. Earl is in Tulsa with Wyatt, while Olajuwon is wrapping up apparel meetings in Atlanta focused on their Spring ’23 collection. By the end of the year, Eastside Golf looks to outfit golfers of all abilities from head-to-toe, amplified by upcoming drops set to release at the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the BMW Charity Pro-Am.
On top of that, Eastside Golf has a deal with the NBA and is currently in conversations with “another major league.” Ideation is taking place so that Eastside Golf will be available for gamers to wear in PGA 2K. The momentum mounts this November, as both Earl and Olajuwon will play in the Charles Schwab Pro-Am. It will likely come after a late summer/early fall launch described as a “big collab” that is “going to change the game.”
“This brand is not narrow-minded,” notes Cooper. “When people try to do that, you miss the power of this brand and the power of golf. Everybody can be connected. This brand is taking the game of golf everywhere else while giving back to its core at the highest stage.”
The brand, led not just by Cooper and Ajanaku, but their logo and pieces, has the power to shift the conversation of a sport (and culture) that’s long been corporate and exclusive.
“Golf has never been introduced to culture the way that we’re doing it,” says Olajuwon. “We have accounts like Whistling Straits where we’ll have a sweatshirt with their logo on the sleeve. But we’re selling that same sweatshirt at Fat Joe‘s boutique in the South Bronx! So you’ll see a 15-year-old Black boy and a 70-year-old white man in the same sweatshirt.”
Head down, chest out, Eastside Golf continues to play the game at its own pace.
“It’s a platform,” Cooper closes. “We’re not just here trying to sell clothes.”
Through partnerships and ambassadors, changing the game is exactly what Eastside Golf aims to do.