Though it has a reputation for exclusivity, a new generation of golfers are out to prove that the sport can be for everyone. And at the forefront of that mission is Eastside Golf.
After years of playing the sport competitively, its founders Olajuwon Ajanaku and Earl Cooper decided to devote themselves to opening up the sport, and challenging the preconceptions that surround it. Cooper, a top PGA coach, and Ajanaku, a PGA minority champion, have primed their careers in the golf space and are now funnelling that dedication into their brand to continue this pursuit of inclusivity.
Since 2019, Eastside Golf has been hard at work raising awareness of their brand, putting together its own events with other avid golf enthusiasts like Matt Senna, and participating in the 2021 Zurich Classic Pro-Am. During that specific tournament, Olajuwon and Earl were paired up to play with PGA sensations Cameron Champ and Tony Finau in a practice round. They even made an appearance and joined us in Miami, FL to play in our HYPEGOLF Invitational, held on May 13.
Since its inception, Olajuwon and Earl have seen success, with their Eastside logo being spotted on some of the biggest names in sports, particularly in basketball; NBA Superstars like Chris Paul, Steph Curry, and basketball icon Michael Jordan have all been spotted donning the brand.
It’s this connection with basketball that led to one of Eastside’s more recent highlights – a forthcoming collaboration with Jordan Brand. The Eastside Golf x Air Jordan 4 G, releasing on August 7, is the first-ever collaborative project Jordan brand has ever done in the golfing sphere. To dive deeper into this project, Eastside Golf took a moment to speak with HYPEGOLF about their love and association with the sport, playing golf with Michael Jordan at The Grove XXIII, and their long-anticipated Jordan 4 G collaboration.
HYPEGOLF: You’ve both grown up playing golf, and have been playing professionally for quite a while. How did you both meet and what is the reason for starting Eastside Golf? Does the game give you a better perspective of how to start a brand?
Olajuwon Ajanaku: We both met at Morehouse College in 2009, where we were on the golf team and a part of the National Minority Championship team in 2010. After college, Earl went his way and become a certificated PGA Professional. I turned pro for two years and won a couple of mini tour events, but the cost of sustaining a professional golf career became prohibitive. I transitioned into a corporate role and built a professional career in Commercial Finance, where I worked for 9 years.
My desire to return to professional golf grew, so I started Eastside Golf to ultimately fund my career – instead of asking for sponsorship dollars, I created a business, opting to create an entrepreneurial route to my path back to professional golf.
The logo I created is supposed to be me, and it was made to purposefully stand out in the crowd. When Earl saw the logo, he encouraged me to put it on a shirt, and we instantly saw positive, inquisitive reactions, and demands for more apparel. The energy and feedback we received showed us that we were on the cusp of something big, and that the idea of Eastside Golf was quickly growing into a business.
What separates Eastside Golf from other similar brands in golf?
O: Without overstating or simplifying the obvious, our brand is built from the lens of two Black men who have achieve a level of excellence within the game of golf. What separates us from other brands is that we don’t shy away from who we are, we lead with it. We love the game, respect the history and culture and at the same time, desire to see it grow into something more beautiful. In addition, our brand can move in several spaces, just like we do. It’s always golf course ready, but it’s also day party ready, office ready or hanging with friends ready.
Can you go into depth on the design inspiration behind the colorways? What’s the meaning behind the “Be You” canvas?
O: First looking at it, our main colors are white, cement navy, and navy. We modified the cement to have navy blue speckles instead of black speckles but definitely want ours to stand for hard work and we from the pavement. We had our accent gold pieces on the shoe to give the flair the Cuban link chain does on the logo. Then this is the first Air Jordan 4 G where they let any embroidery on the tongue. To have it be our logo is too dope. And at first, I made the logo just to be me as a pro golfer.
Then the “Be You” canvas was actually made a month after I made the logo. I worked with an artist to make it because I wanted the logo to be realistic. I wanted it to show what can come true just by being yourself. The problem in today’s society is people & the next generation don’t see what is possible so how do they know its an avenue you can go down in any capacity.
I put a large crowd on there to show that they have an interest in seeing this black man play golf. I wanted to show it was power in that. I also lost my father this past December 2020, so near the bottom of the canvas, I added my father so now he is on all the canvases sold and on the bottom of a Jordan IV. He has an afro with an orange shirt. He definitely was someone who believed in my dream wholeheartedly.
Also, it shows so many meanings by just staring at the canvas. I hope hard work, authenticity, and confidence shows in this piece. I also felt it was a great idea to add the canvas on the bottom of the shoe to tell the story.
How was it playing Grove 23 and spending time with MJ?
O: It was great, I had a really good conversation with him, and he completely supports us and Eastside Golf. If you want to be motivated, but definitely have a good time, he’s great guy to be around.
E: Playing Grove 23 was amazing. From the moment you arrive it’s a 5-star experience and the pro shop is crazy! The course fun and in great shape plus it always a fast round because the carts get up to like 30 MPH. Spending time with MJ is special, and you cherish every second. He believes in the Eastside Golf brand, and that is empowering when you have someone like that believing in your company.
Did you ever dream of having a Jordan shoe?
O: I definitely used to dream of designing my own shoe! I used to create shoe designs on paper when I was younger. I had a whole sketchbook. It’s wild to design these myself and tell a story of how golf can change lives. I always use to day I want to “Be Like Mike”.
E: No, having a Jordan collab is beyond my wildest dream.
“Perceptions can change overtime, and we feel that the perception about golf is ripe for change.” – Earl Cooper, Eastside Golf
What else are you wearing on the course? What is in the bag?
O: I definitely have on some Eastside Golf either a polo or sweatshirt with some joggers. Then my shoes are Jordans or Nike every time with matching accents. In my bag I carry a TaylorMade 11 degree M5 Oban X shaft, TaylorMade M3 16.5 Hybrid, Mizuno Limited Edition MP-20 3-PW, Titleist SM7 wedges 52, 56, 62 and an Red Ball putter.
E: That a simple answer, Eastside apparel and Jordan golf shoes. I have mix set of clubs I play with several different brands.
Who are your mentors and inspiration? Which current young golfers on the tour are you rooting for?
O: I have several people who have helped me get to where I am today, but I would say my mom is the largest source of inspiration. I’m also inspired by gentlemen like ET HipHop Eric Thomas, Les Brown, Ray Lewis and Nipsey Hussle.
E: I have several mentors who have helped me get to where I am today. My dad is the first mentor and greatest inspiration. I also would have to cite Steve Stoute, Ken Chenault, Reginald Lewis and Nipsey Hussle as others who provide inspiration and who I look up to.
What is your dream foursome to play a round with?
O: Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Teddy Rhodes.
E: My dad, Obama and MJ.
Where do we see the game of golf going?
O: Golf is going to continue to grow because there are so many ways to participate in the sport without needing to join a country club and play 18 holes in a day. In addition, the game is going to reflect more of society, which means it’s going to look more diverse, in players, fans, and business – in every aspect. As a result, I see golf going to a space where it’s welcoming to all people. I see people using it as a tool to further themselves, and one day seeing the next “MJ” or “TW” coming to completely revolutionize the game and inspire the world once again.
Why do you feel golf is becoming more popular among a younger audience?
E: When you can see yourself reflected in something, you’ll identify with it more and are more open to trying it out. Golf has had a great surge of young talent both on the PGA TOUR and LPGA Tour, which absolutely makes an impact. But I also think golf brands are starting to understand that reaching a newer younger audience means going to where they are. We believe that 100% and are betting our brand’s growth on it.
The best way to grow golf is to go outside of golf. There’s a great chance a consumer will buy our products having never ever swung a golf club, and that’s ok! That’s the point! You build that connection, you show a bit of themself in your engagement, and you help them build that confidence to give golf a try. We’re providing that mirror by sharing who we are on a personal level through our golf and lifestyle apparel brand.
How do you navigate through this misconception of golf lifestyle and how do you battle through to evolve golf?
E: Perceptions can change overtime, and we feel that the perception about golf is ripe for change. Part of changing a perspective is in awareness and exposure, and the Eastside Golf brand is doing just that. We are showcasing our love for the game, our creativity when it comes to apparel and imagery with the brand, and our authenticity as Black men who love golf – that resonates with people. Honesty and fresh perspectives are what it’s all about.
People are beginning to see that what they thought about golf is no longer the case, they can see a piece of themselves in our brand, and by extension, in the game – that’s attractive. In short, we’re going to keep showing up, keep being ourselves, and keep having fun while doing it.