As a young golfer, Michael MacFarlane spent his days hitting the greens and working to improve his game
Now an account executive for Polo/Ralph Lauren, MacFarlane is the go-to person for the latest trends in golf fashion. He spends his days visiting posh country clubs and high-end golf courses on the East Coast, selling the hottest items his company has to offer.
How high-end are some of his clients? Last year, MacFarlane was part of a team from Polo/Ralph Lauren that worked with the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team, which was comprised of the best professional golfers the country has to offer. “We don’t distribute to every golf course,” MacFarlane said. “We deal with private country clubs and high-end golf resorts throughout the country.”
MacFarlane and Polo/Ralph Lauren worked closely with the Ryder Cup team—particularly team captain and five-time PGA Tour champion Tom Lehman—to outfit the players for the biggest of professional golf’s competitions. When the players you are dressing are named Tiger and Mickelson, you’ve reached major heights in your industry.
“It was great. Tom Lehman is a genuine, polite guy,” MacFarlane said. “They let us have a lot of leeway as far as what the team would wear. It was great watching the event on television and seeing the Polo brand displayed on a worldwide stage.”
It wasn’t just what the U.S. players wore while lining up their putts during the Ryder Cup; MacFarlane and others from Polo/Ralph Lauren helped select apparel for all the events that took place throughout the week. They worked with the Ryder Cup team to choose the tuxedos, sports coats, ties, and even custom belt buckles for the dinner and gala events associated with the tournament.
“It was very fulfilling to be a part of that process,” MacFarlane said. “It was a team effort that involved a lot of people working together. At end of day, to be able to sit there and watch that hard work come together and see those world-class players out there with your work on display, you can’t describe that feeling.”
Golf has always been a part of MacFarlane’s life. Growing up in Portsmouth, R.I., he worked during his teen years as a starter for Green Valley Country Club. Green Valley owner Ron Raposa and golf pro Gary Dorsi—both URI graduates—gave him his first chance to work in the golf setting, and he was hooked from the start. “I was lucky to have that opportunity to work with Ron and Gary at Green Valley,” MacFarlane said. “Without them giving me my first chance, who knows what I’d be doing today.”
At URI, MacFarlane played on the varsity golf team and majored in marketing while also taking classes in textiles, fashion merchandising, and design. One of his classmates, Leslie Preston ’96, who also happened to live a few doors down from him in Heathman Hall, convinced him to try combining his interests. The two married on October 6, 2001.
“I had some classes with Leslie, and she was the one who said, ‘You know, you really have an eye for fashion,’” MacFarlane said. “She convinced me to combine my passion for golf, fashion, and business. She was the one who said, ‘Go for it.’”
So he did. After graduating, MacFarlane landed a job as director of golf retail with Park Place Entertainment. Now known as Harrah’s Entertainment, the company operates several of the world’s most powerful casinos. Through that job, MacFarlane dealt with Polo, and when an opening for an account executive came about in February 2001, he jumped at the chance. Now six years later, his sales territory covers the entire Northeast region.
“I still get on to golf courses three or four times a week, but most of the time I am in various pro shops merchandising the apparel and helping the golf pros increase sales,” MacFarlane said. “I’ve been invited to play a majority of the major courses, but I get more enjoyment out of making sure the pro shops look great and represent the Polo brand properly. When I see someone wearing our apparel on the golf course, that is what gets me excited.”
At one time, a golfer’s outfit gave an indication of social status. “Years ago in the days of Bobby Jones, people dressed up to play. They wore shirts and ties on the course because it was a sport for society’s elite,” MacFarlane said. “As years passed, the golf course became a place where people could express personal style. If you wear a suit Monday through Friday and want to be relaxed and colorful on the weekend, that’s okay as long as you maintain respect for the game. I love seeing people push the limit a bit on the golf course.”
Just like fashion in any sport, golf fashion has evolved. The clothes that many of MacFarlane’s clients wear are picked as much for style as they are for performance. Whether playing under the hot sun or in a misty rain, players need to feel as comfortable as possible when staring down a chip shot that may have large sums of money at stake. With this is mind, Polo/Ralph Lauren is working with Luke Donald, the No. 8 ranked golfer in the world, on a luxury performance golf line that is due out this spring.
“Texture and fabrics are so important in the game today,” MacFarlane said. “Our clothing can impact the sport. Just as if you were going skiing or snowboarding, you need to know you are dressed properly for the links. You also need to consider the elements, from sun protection to moisture and wind.”
As much as MacFarlane has learned through the sport, it’s the people he has crossed paths with and the friendships he has made that mean the most to him. “I’m lucky to work for a company with such strong name brand recognition,” MacFarlane said. “Polo/Ralph Lauren is very strong, and my experience here has led to so many great friendships. I wake up every day and can’t believe this is my job—it’s more fun than anything.”
By Shane Donaldson ’99
Photo Courtesy of Michael MacFarlane