Yes, I have a wandering eye. I have moved from one pretty thing to another. I check out the curves, the details, the accessories. I enjoy going into a busy place with a pretty one on my arm. I reflect on my exes from back in the day and wince that I could have been so stupid to have been with that. If mine is hanging out with others, I’ll generally snicker at the ugliness of all that surrounds my jewel.
I admit it—I’m a bit of a tart for golf bags.
Just in the last decade I have been with Titleist, Sun Mountain, MacKenzie, Stitch, Jones and Nike (for the blink of an eye). I have had bags with legs and without, made with leather, canvas and waterproof synthetics and even with velour linings. Various models have had compartments or attachments for umbrellas, water bottles, iPhones and range-finders.
Ever the traditionalist who’d rather walk than ride, my bags have tended to the lighter weights and fewer gee-gaws, though I’m constantly in a balancing act between simplicity and lusting for modern creature comforts.
If you play golf in the summer in the South, you’ve got to have a slot for a water bottle. I’ve wrestled with legs or no-legs; I don’t like the artificial element of the legs, but as I get older, not having to bend completely over to pick the bag off the ground has some appeal. I once carried an apple-green, double-strapped bag but got a sore left shoulder with the pretzel motion of putting my left arm through the second strap, so now I’m a confirmed single-strap guy. And I flat don’t get why someone would carry a bag with a huge advertisement for the seller down the side.
In recent years I’ve enjoyed and supported the products of the MacKenzie and Jones golf bag companies, both headquartered in Oregon and both building cultures and marketing campaigns around nature and old school values. The MacKenzie bag is named for a caddie that tour pro Peter Jacobsen took around St. Andrews in 1985; it’s modeled after the slim pencil bag the caddie used when confronted with Jacobsen’s gargantuan tour bag. Jacobsen returned home and started a company that, through several iterations, still makes handcrafted leather bags. “Enjoy the walk” and “The course is calling” are two of the catch phrases from Jones, which enjoyed its heyday in the 1970s and has made a recent resurgence under new owners.
I made the acquaintance in the spring of 2015 of an innovative company in Cary called Stitch Golf that makes stylish leather and knit head covers and accessories under the “Dress Your Game” hash tag. Company founder Charlie Burgwyn—a design, style and details wonk if there ever was one—flirted briefly in 2014 with fabricating and peddling a utilitarian and soft-spoken carry bag in British khaki and green camouflage designs.
But he found the five-slot opening too narrow and the clubs prone to getting stuck when he tried to pull one. So he set off over the next eighteen months to design a new bag, one that would resonate with simplicity and minimalism and accommodate his personal golf lifestyle—walking and carrying, playing with a caddie, or hopping a cart for a twilight round with his kids.
“I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of a minimalistic, small, sleek golf bag,” says says Burgwyn, a former Class A PGA club professional. “A golf bag doesn’t have to be a survival tool. You’re using it for four hours. It doesn’t have to be a massive storehouse of everything you own. What is the purpose of all of these things people are adding to the bag anyway?
“Golf clubs are meant to be carried, golf is meant to be walked. It was about taking golf back to its roots.”
Burgwyn picked the brains and sought the ideas from a golf-savvy group of new partners and investors the company took on early in 2017—principle among them Brad King, Rick Hopkins, Alex Sossaman and Chris Knott, the latter knowing something about style and design as he founded the Peter Millar clothing brand in 2001. Burgwyn bought a dozen walking bags and tried them out and compared features. He took a couple that he liked to caddies at Seminole and Pinehurst and asked for feedback on making them better. He canvassed the bag section at Golf Galaxy and was aghast to discover that bags had an average of seven spots with the brand name embroidered or emblazoned somewhere. He traveled the world to find the best materials and factories.
The result was unveiled earlier this year—the SL1, short for “Superleggra,” an Italian word for “super light” and the trade name of a construction process for sleek sports cars. The bag weighs 3.5 pounds and comes in white, navy, green and black. Its single strap features a tacky material under the strap, so it’s comfortable and secure on your shoulder, but the leg-stand gives it enough structure that it rides well on a cart. The PVC fabric is water and dirt-proof. There’s a handle attached to the bottom that’s wide enough for four fingers of the left hand to reach back and grab while walking down the fairway. And the coup de grace from minutiae-land: One side pocket designed to hold a water bottle is lined with insulation to keep the water cold.
“We were in the field, testing the product, listening to people,” Burgwyn says. “And I followed my heart in terms of what I like from a design perspective. It all starts with, ‘Is it meaningful to me?’ I fell in love with this bag. I really did. This bag is uniquely different from everything else in the market.”
The Stitch name appears in one spot—in plastic relief in an orange tag, two inches wide by one deep.
“To me all these other bags became obnoxious and overstated,” Burgwyn said. “This product is so elegant I only put the branding in one space. That’s all it needed. The orange tag is noticeable, but it’s understated. I want people to ask, ‘Who made this bag?’ because it’s a great-looking golf bag.’ It’s not about Stitch. I wanted it to be about the bag and the experience you have with the bag.”
I generally carry thirteen clubs just to shave a little weight, and I never have more than a half dozen balls, some tees and small containers of sunscreen and insect repellent. If the weather’s dicey, maybe an umbrella or jacket. All told my bag weighs around seventeen pounds, and the weight is distributed perfectly on my shoulder. A veteran caddie at Cypress Point recently responded to Burgwyn’s query of “How’s the bag feel?” with “What bag?”
What bag, indeed. The very essence of minimalism, I’d say.
My Stitch bags have plenty of traveling to do over the next eighteen months as I sleuth out the best golf walking experiences in the Carolinas and beyond for this blog and a forthcoming book from UNC Press. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments and ideas.