At the Masters, Eastside Golf and Mercedes-Benz Showed How Inclusivity and Luxury Can Coexist

Less than a year after the brands announced a formal partnership.

Golf
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Just over a year ago the mayor of Atlanta Andre Dickens sat in a small room in Firethorn Cabin, an exclusive retreat at Augusta National Golf Club and the legendary home of Mercedes-Benz’s VIP Masters experience. Out on the fairways, Jon Rahm was on the way to winning his first green jacket. But behind the walls of Firethorn’s classic southern facade, the mayor, dressed head-to-toe in Eastside Golf, sat down with Mercedes-Benz USA’s head of marketing Monique Harrison.

“I remember asking him, tell me what you know about Eastside Golf and tell me why it’s important,” recalls Harrison. A short while later, Dickens and Harrison invited Eastside Golf co-founders Olajuwon Ajanaku and Earl Cooper to meet two hours west of Augusta in Atlanta. Now, it was time for the gregarious young men to be examined just as closely as recent Masters champion Jon Rahm.

“We wanted to better understand their business goals,” says Harrison. “What were they hoping to achieve? Exactly how did they want to break barriers and how would a company partner with them to do similar things?”

At the time, Eastside Golf had already established its credibility in golf and streetwear through collaborations with Jordan Brand and close relationships with the likes of Chris Paul, CC Sabathia and other big name athletes and entertainers. But Harrison wanted to help Ajanaku, Eastside Golf’s founder/creative director and the man represented in the brand’s swinging chain logo, take the brand to another level. “I remember this because we had never been asked this question,” he says. “I’m gonna be honest with you, usually we know all the answers. But she asked us ‘what is it that you guys want to do that you could only do with Mercedes?’”

“Whether you’re at the Masters or whether you’re at the Phoenix Open, just be your true, authentic self.” – Earl Cooper

The answer became clear in Augusta over the past two weeks, starting the weekend before the Masters when Eastside and Mercedes hosted a community day at a local public course. “Grow the game” has become one of the most overused terms in golf in recent years, but Eastside Golf and Mercedes’ community days are structured in a way to connect all walks of life while making the game less intimidating for newcomers. “It’s for those that maybe have never picked up a golf club, maybe they don’t know how to book a tee time,” says Harrison. “It’s come as you are; all barriers are lowered.” In other words, and as Eastside Golf’s central message goes: be authentic.

To further expand Eastside Golf’s reach in the community, Harrison identified a key demographic the brand had been missing out on: women. Although golf fashion has been shaken up by challenger brands like Eastside, women – particularly women of color – are still bereft of options that don’t look like they’ve been collecting dust on a clothing rack for 10 years. “Women are now entering this sport in numbers that we weren’t before,” says Harrison. “So when you look at women coming in and Eastside Golf offering the inclusive side of it along with [Mercedes-Benz], that’s really where I see the growth in the game.”

The collection launched to coincide with the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, played the week before the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, where women weren’t allowed to be members until 2012 when former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and investor/philanthropist Darla Moore joined.

Designed for mixing and matching, the nine-piece capsule included navy track suits, banded crop tops, skirts and buckets hats decorated with Eastside Golf’s spell out logo, its “Be Authentic” motto and of course the iconic Mercedes-Benz star. Cooper recalls the collaborative process with Mercedes, who obsessed over every detail to make sure Eastside’s first-ever entry in the women’s golf apparel category was done right. “When you talk about the opportunity to collab on product, that’s not happening with everybody,” hey says. “This is a coveted brand, the star isn’t something that everyone gets access to.”

Speaking with Ajanaku and Cooper though, it’s clear that the automotive brand’s support of their alma mater Morehouse College is the most meaningful gesture of all. Spots at the Mercedes-Benz Masters Experience, which include luxurious accommodations in a nearby gated community and access to hospitality at Firethorn Cabin, are not given out lightly. And each and every member of the varsity golf team, including recently appointed head coach Edgar Evans Jr., were a part of the experience.

“I’ve just been so impressed at how everyone has treated the boys. They don’t treat them like they’re with Eastside,” says Earl Cooper. “We’ve shown up in other partnerships and were told ‘Earl and O are taken care of, but other than that, we don’t care about your employees.’”

As Earl and Olajuwon become more and more involved with their alma mater, with the support of Mercedes, their hope is that providing the team similar experiences to the one they enjoyed at the Masters will make them feel more welcome in environments where people who look like them haven’t always been accepted.

“As we mentor these young men, they’ve seen us in multiple settings. They’ve seen us at the Eastside Golf Invitational that was presented by Mercedes-Benz. Then they saw us at homecoming when we donated a vehicle with Mercedes-Benz…the biggest thing that we’re about is whether you’re at the Masters or whether you’re at the Phoenix Open, just be your true, authentic self.”

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