At first glance, the idea of forking out £250 for a pair of golf shoes sounds pretty extreme but let's just examine that concept a little more closely. It's the sort of sum that golfers will routinely spend on one club and yet your shoes are probably the single most important bit of equipment you can buy. If the club doesn't suit your swing or you have a bad day with it, there are another 13 in your bag with which you can compensate.
But if your shoes are uncomfortable or let in the rain, you're going to have a miserable round of golf, no matter what else is going on.
And it is here that the Ecco World Class shoe is hoping to tempt you. The shoe is made by a new process, created by the company, and they think it's going to revolutionise the market. They also say that if you want longevity of performance, you'll have to pay.
Per Aagren, the general manager for golf, Ecco, explains: 'There are two different ways of building a shoe; the most common being that you have a separate upper and sole and stick them together but we produce the other way. We put the sole and heel in a mould and we inject polyurethane liquid that fills out the mould and bonds the outside to the rest.
'Polyurethane is an oil-based material that has a 100% memory so it will always go back to its original position or shape and you can't wear it out. It's also the most shock-absorbing material you can use. Nobody else is using this process for shoes because it's expensive. We have invested between £350,000-400,000 in materials and moulds. It's the way Ecco chooses to do business and we are now selling the machinery to others.
'If you have ever had a pair of golf shoes that leaked water, it will have been between the sole and the upper, as they start to separate from each other. You will also sometimes see a faint yellow mark between sole and upper, and that's simply the glue that has been used to bond them together.
'With our shoes we don't have separation of the outsoles, and we guarantee that.'
Ecco's history as a shoemaker goes back 40 years (it's the seventh largest casual shoe manufacturer in the world) but it has only been involved in golf for half that time, simply because the company founder was obliged to wear other makes when he played golf and concluded he could do it better than they did.
Per Aagren explains: 'Golf is very important to us but we want to be the number one premium brand, rather than in volume. Our production process is so good and rigorous that we cannot go for high volume, cheap price shoes anyway. And of course, if we want to establish ourselves in that position, we need a premium product.
'From cow to shoe we control the whole production. It starts with the leather - we use the best we can find, a rare calfskin, and it ends with our guarantee - we offer a two-year warranty. We want to sell 50,000 pairs to get back the investment and [at the Open Championship in July] have already sold 20,000, when our target for this time of the year was 3,000.'
As it is a Danish company, it's not surprising that Thomas Bjorn is its most high-profile Tour signing but around 100 LPGA players are wearing Ecco, with another 40-50 in Europe, because the company sees the men's and women's markets as equally important.
'I don't have to give them money to wear the product,' Per Aagren says, 'with our women's range we used a bit of fashion and variety of colours. Our heritage is not in golf so in this market we have no limits and no preconceived ideas.'
The shoe is certainly stylish and comes in a saddle style, with black on white and either a silver or bronze highlight. There is a Gore-Tex membrane between outer leather and inner lining to allow the foot to breathe and keep out moisture, and the tongue is an integral part of the shoe.
There are a few nice touches, such as a complimentary shoe bag and a few spare soft spikes (which are fitted as standard) along with a set of metal spikes if that is your preference. But the most useful addition is two pairs of insoles, with a different thickness of under-padding. If, like me (and most people) you have feet of different sizes, it's a real boon in getting a perfect fit.
Breaking the shoes in proved a bit more time-consuming than usual. My usual practice is to wear new golf shoes around the house a couple of times, for two hours at a stretch, before donning them for two or three dog walks, of between 30-60 minutes. Only then do I feel safe to go on the course because if you've ever had a blister at the furthest point from the clubhouse - which I have - it's not an experience you would want to repeat.
My home course does not have two loops of nine but does return to the car park after six holes and the first proper time of wearing these Ecco World Class I was grateful for that because they had to be changed. The right heel had begun to rub and there was pressure across my insteps, just forward of the laces. The shoes also creaked a little. Sorry, but there's no other way to describe the noise they made. However, next time out I wore them for the full round and they're now completely broken in.
The real test will come in a year's time and beyond, when I'm able to see if they live up to their warranty for keeping out the water but first impressions are favourable. The shoe is stable, comfortable and in the extremely wet conditions we have had to endure this summer, have kept my feet bone dry. I have waded and dragged my way, on many occasions, through long, thick and wet undergrowth - the kind that usually has my feet damp within minutes - and emerged every time looking smug and satisfied.
People are usually prepared to pay a premium if they can be sure of getting a better product and in this instance, Ecco may have succeeded in providing exactly that.
Martin Vousden, 10 handicap.
|| 24 - AUGUST 2004