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Short Game: Lee-Bentham signs up with Galvin Green

Rebecca Lee-Bentham signs on with Galvin Green apparel

Brent Long

ORLANDO – Galvin Green is coming to America.

The privately-held Swedish company that makes high-end golf clothes and waterproofs has solidified its brand in its home country and throughout Europe. It's especially rooted in Britain and Ireland, where it has 43 per cent of the rain gear market.

Now, Galvin Green's sights are set on the massive and lucrative U.S. market.

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Company executives are in Orlando this week to coincide with the annual PGA Merchandise Show.

While they don't have an exhibit within the Orange County Convention Center, they are still meeting with prospective clients and business partners.

Chief executive officer Christian Nilsson, who has been with 30-year-old Galvin Green since 1999, says the company will open a U.S. headquarters this fall and roll its products into private-club pro shops next year.

Its strategy is quite different than many apparel companies looking to expand sales globally. Rather than saturate a new market, splashing its way into the big-box golf retailers, Galvin Green will limit its distribution to about 100 or 150 of the top U.S. private golf clubs.

Nilsson's reasoning: Limited supply keeps the brand exclusive, elite private clubs tend to have "serious" golfers as members, and Galvin Green is in no hurry. He doesn't want demand to get outpace distribution abilities.

"We are not really in a position where we need to rush into things," Nilsson said over beers on a restaurant patio near the convention centre.

The company will be following more or less the same template as it did in entering the Canadian market last decade. Under the leadership of Toronto-based Galvin Green Canada president Jonathan Wong, the company has placed its products in the pro shops of about 175 Canadian private clubs.

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Wong said he's added 16 new clubs for this season. "The brand's getting out there."

Galvin Green, with its bold colour schemes, elegant logo and high price tags, is established in Europe but not as well known in the United States.

But even that is changing. Awareness is building on this continent. Swede Peter Hanson wore Galvin Green last year in his breakthrough season, which included a high Masters finish and lots of TV time.

Another sponsored player, rising Danish star Thorbjorn Olesen, received similar exposure when he played the third round of the Open Championship with Tiger Woods.

While those two players aren't dressed in Galvin Green this year, sponsored player Jamie Donaldson has picked up the slack. The Welshman already has a win this year on the European Tour.

The company is hoping a Canadian can take the brand even more into the minds of North American golfers.

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It signed Rebecca Lee-Bentham of Toronto this winter. The 20-year-old will wear its clothes this year in her sophomore season on the LPGA Tour.

Nilsson said he loves Lee-Bentham's youth, freshness and potential. "She comes with a clean slate. She's not – how do I say this? – linked to another brand."

He also noted it's advantageous to have another female sponsored player, to balance the brand name's masculine image. (Caroline Masson of Germany wears Galvin Green on the Ladies European Tour.) For Lee-Bentham, the Galvin Green sponsorship is another sign that she's arrived in the big time of ladies golf. (Working with an agent at Richen Sports Management of Richmond Hill, Ont., she has also secured deals with TaylorMade and Investors Group for 2013.) She said she jumped at the chance to wear the clothes this year on tour not only because of their "classy look" and layering concepts, but because of a possible competitive advantage.

The company's rain gear, all featuring Gore-Tex linings, is regarded as unparalleled. "I don't mind the rain," she said with a smile, kitted out in a red and white Galvin Green jacket and skirt. "I have Galvin Green."

Lee-Bentham, who regained her 2013 LPGA Tour card by tying for first place at its Q-school last fall, said she hopes to have a breakout season to advance her career and her new sponsor's U.S. initiative. "I really hope to help them. ... Play on the weekends, get some exposure."

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