Q&A with John Ashworth

John Ashworth’s designs and dedication influence the game he loves

John Ashworth has held virtually every job imaginable in the game of golf, including his work as a celebrated designer of timeless golf apparel. While Ashworth’s resume includes success in many aspects of the game, one of his greatest talents is his ability to collaborate on several projects at once. Currently expending all of his design energy on growing the LINKSOUL line of clothing, he also had time to help lead the charge to keep his local municipal golf course out of the hands of an opportunistic businessman. We caught up with the design legend and San Diego everyman and asked him about his clothing line, the upcoming Ryder Cup, and his heroic efforts in saving his beloved muni track, “Goat Hill.”

Where did you grow up? 

Southern California. I was born in LA; we lived in Gardena a couple of miles from the LA Watts Riots of 1965. Soon after that happened, my parents packed up their six kids and moved south to San Diego County to the rural town of Escondido. I was six years old at that time.

The Sixties were a crazy time to be a kid, what were your impressions?

My first memory was the JFK assassination. I remember standing up in the front seat of my mom’s car while she was driving (seat belts weren’t such a thing back then) and it came across the radio. She pulled over to the side of the road and cried, and then all the images of the funeral and John Jr. saluting are the first memories etched on my personal hard drive. Growing up back then there were only three TV stations, but the 5 o’clock news was just as shocking then as it is now. Graphic highlights every night of the raging war in Vietnam, violent riots for civil rights and a new counter culture rock and roll movement exploding. It was all a bit scary and overwhelming to a kid. In retrospect, it was actually a much simpler world in comparison to the digital reality in which we live today. Back then — no cell phones, no computers, no social media, no gadgets, people moved at a more deliberate pace, looked each other in the eye more, took the time to connect, spent more time outdoors.

How did you first get into the game of golf?

When I was eight years old, my mom gave me an ultimatum: either go to Sunday school or caddie for my dad. In the late 60s, it became our Sunday morning ritual, my time with dad. He was a quiet man, but the most honest man I’ve ever come across. He was a great dad and he loved his golf right up until the day he died of cancer in 1989 at the young age of 63.

What were those games like, watching your father play?

That was my first real exposure to the culture of golf. My dad had a regular foursome every Sunday morning at exactly 7:30 a.m. The foursome was two school teachers, a doctor and a high school principal. They were all members of the men’s club, all single digit handicaps and all walked. San Luis Rey Downs was open to the public so it was a mixed bag of regulars and visitors passing through.

And then you were hooked?

Hook, line and sinker … I loved everything about it. My senses were on overload, surrounded by the colors and textures of a golf course void of houses. It was a like being in this never ending park with an acoustic audio track of random silence and quiet conversations of grown men interrupted by the crack of persimmon woods and metal spikes on occasional concrete. Little did I know then that I was signing up for a lifetime of adventure in and around the game of golf.

When did you know golf was going to become your career?

It was just an evolution; I never strayed very far away from the game. The real world just was never a good fit for me. Golf was a ticket out of the rat race of the real world. My golf apprenticeship in a nutshell includes junior golf, high school golf team, college golf team, driving range worker, resort caddie, grounds crew, assistant golf pro, Tour caddie and just about everything in between. Then somehow I found myself making clothing that I would want to wear instead of silly looking polyester clothes that I couldn’t stand but was made to wear for our college team. And the underlying desire was to promote golf and try and show people how cool golf really is, ‘cause I felt that a lot of non-golfers think golfers are ‘geeks’ and golf is a game for old Republican rich guys, and that it is lame, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Do you consider yourself a designer?

I suppose you could say that, but I don’t really consider myself a ‘designer.’ I wasn’t formally trained in clothing design, I had no idea what I was doing when I started, and unfortunately Google didn’t exist in 1986.  I learned the trade from the school of hard knocks and pounding the streets in the garment district in L.A. and asking a lot of stupid questions. I’ve always been very particular with clothing and had a certain style I’m comfortable with, so I try to create that style in ways that is easy to understand and put together for guys and to help them look and feel good. There are a lot of moving parts to our business and a lot that goes into making a quality garment and I take pride in making exceptional clothing.  I consider myself more of a collaborator; if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s surrounding myself with very talented people. Like most things, it takes a great team and along the way I’ve learned my craft and worked  with some talented and great people. Especially now with Linksoul, I feel like I have an all star team.

Tell us about your new brand LINKSOUL?

Linksoul is more of a philosophy than a brand. It is the collective life’s work of a group of people that care about each other and enjoy collaborating. Taking our years of experience and creating timeless clothing with attention to detail and have it be accessible. We come from a long line of golfers, craftsmen and artists. The word “Linksoul” comes simply from the term “Links Soul”, which was an expression of the combination of virtues we found through playing golf … and now seek in whatever we do. We’re looking to expand beyond the current definitions of “business as usual” when it comes to making and selling goods and participating as a socially and environmentally responsible company within the community. It’s no longer just about golf, it’s about everything — but golf is still mandatory on Fridays.

Sounds like a tall order?

In the end, everyone must discover the passion and enjoyment on their own terms. Everyone is different in that regards.

Tell us about the Center City Golf Course, better known as Goat Hill, and how you essentially saved that course.

Well, it wasn’t just me.  A group of friends and I decided to make a stand and fight to save our local muni, basically one of the first golf courses in San Diego County; it was opened in 1952 as a nine -hole regulation par-36.  The course was redesigned in the early 90s by Ludwig Kuenig into an 18-hole short course and became known as “Goat Hill” to locals. We made a stand and we won! It was awesome and hopefully this can happen more around the country so we don’t lose these important courses that serve to teach beginners and juniors the game of golf.  We’ve officially renamed the site Goat Hill Park. It is loved for its ocean views, fresh breezes, authentic atmosphere, and raw golf feel. It’s quirky but super fun but and sort of an acquired taste; you’ll have a hard time finding a more challenging short course with as many unique holes anywhere in the country.  Hope to see a bunch of new faces out at the Park!

And were they just going to demolish it?

Yes, pretty much so. The city was about to do a deal with the owner of Salt Lake City Reals soccer team to build a minor league soccer stadium and private soccer academy on the site. The local neighborhood got wind of this and went ballistic, and we had a city council meeting for the ages and basically squashed that deal. It was epic to have the whole community rally to save their golf course. Now we just have to do something very special at Goat Hill Park and maybe it can be an inspiration and a blue print for other cities and towns around the country to make a golf course the center of the community as a sustainable non-profit to serve their citizens and especially the youth.

And where does it stand now?

Well, it’s been a journey for the last two years, but the city has agreed to a 30-year lease with two 10-year options if we meet certain criteria, which calls for $3.6 million in improvements to the property over time, including a renovation to the golf course, improve our agronomy and irrigation practices, (building) a new clubhouse and event space, and adding a community garden. We decided our approach would be different than most, it’s altruistic and completely community-based. We will be the home of the North County Junior Golf Association, and we will operate as a non-profit with the goal of being sustainable and hope to be profitable once we fix up the site in order to provide scholarship opportunities for our local youth that become involved in our junior programs and caddie academy. We have our hands full, as the place was extremely run down and had been poorly managed for the last five years. But we have a great team and a plan to put a lot of love and elbow grease into the place. What’s cool is the volunteers and local tradesmen have been pitching in already to fix things up. It’s going to be a real community effort. If anyone is interested in donating to the cause, they can contact us at  HYPERLINK “http://www.goathillpark.com” www.goathillpark.com

You seem way too positive about the game, aren’t we losing golfers?

I’m generally an optimist; I think the state of the industry is going through a hangover period from the roaring 90s. Everyone in the golf industry is complaining about the lack of growth in the game. The stats say a course is closing in America every 48 hours. The mantra has become: ‘how do we grow the game?’ I wish the PGA and the USGA would take a stand and save or create more community based short courses like Goat Hill Park. The world needs more beginner friendly ‘feeder’ courses that are affordable yet sustainable. They don’t take as long to play and it’s easier to teach people the fundamentals in a less intimidating setting. But beyond all that, make a municipal golf course a recreational and social place to hang out. It doesn’t matter how good you are or become.

How important is it for the U.S. to win the Ryder Cup this year?

It’s always a blast to watch the drama unfold and I suppose it would be good for the U.S. team to win, but in the big scheme of things, I don’t think it’s all that important who wins. It should be just a goodwill match for the good of the game.

You’ve designed clothing for the Presidents Cup, have you been asked to help with the Ryder Cup?

When Fred (Couples) was captain of the Presidents Cup , we got to do the uniforms, which was fun, and the Ryder Cup asked us to submit design boards a few times years ago. But they never chose us, which was a bit disappointing at the time.

You once said Freddie Couples was the coolest golfer you know, is that still the case?

Freddie is one of the coolest, no doubt, but I’d put Peter Beames right up there in the same category.

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