I remember my first pair of True Linkswear golf shoes. It was a pair of the original Tours – the ones that looked like clown shoes. At the time were among the hottest shoes in golf. Forum folks and bloggers were raving about them, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The True Tours remain to this day one of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn.
The Tours were soon followed by two pairs of PHX’s and a pair of white wingtips – all just as comfortable as the original with enough styling to make them stand out. With Ryan Moore a co-owner and Tour advocate, True Linkswear created a unique brand identity and had carved out a nice little niche for itself.
And then it all went south.
As comfy as all of those shoes were, after maybe 3 or 4 months and maybe 15 to 20 rounds they were useless as golf shoes. The treads on the original Tours did make it through that first season, but the soft spikes on the subsequent shoes simply didn’t last. A couple of pairs are still in service as casual footwear (if you see a guy walking around Minnesota in the middle of winter wearing white wingtips, be sure to say hi), but for golf? Let’s just say we’ve moved on.
My True experience certainly isn’t unique. True Linkswear freely admits to various quality issues and to losing its way over the past two to three years. There is a corporate reset going on at the Tacoma headquarters, and with two new shoes being released this month, it’s clear True Linkswear is trying to find its lost sole, er, soul.
Lost And Found
True Linkswear started up in 2009 and made its bones by making golf shoes that were just plain different – casual, spikeless and perhaps a little weird looking. It was a look that clicked with True believers. Until it didn't.
“It got to the point in the company’s evolution where they wanted to go more mainstream,” says True Linkswear Director/Partner Justin Turner. “New management was brought in and that was their focus – they wanted to offer spikes, they wanted stuff that looked more like what people saw on the shelves at their local sporting goods store or golf retailer.”
An outsider brand built on unique styling and comfort was seemingly trying to become like Nike, adidas or FootJoy. What had made the company stand out was getting lost in the golf shoe shuffle.
“I think we definitely got caught up in that,” says Turner, who has been with True for less than a year. “And I think the brand definitely suffered for it.”
“We definitely got away from what made us unique and drew people to the brand. We started looking like everyone else and our core customer started to feel like we moved away from what we did originally. I think there were some folks who were disappointed about that.” – Justin Turner, True Linkswear
The tale of how True lost its soul is as old as business itself – a small enterprise seduced by overnight success and unprepared for rapid, early growth. The guy who invented the wheel probably found himself in the same predicament.
“I think there was a lack of focus and a lack of strategy of what we were trying to build as a brand,” says Turner. “It was like ‘hey, people are buying our shoes, let’s keep selling them.’”
At one point you would have needed an abacus to keep track of True’s shoes, between the Motion, the Game Changer, the Classix, the Element, the Element Pro, the Oxford, the True Lyt, and the Vegas – not to mention the Women’s and Junior models and all the different colorways.
Things are a good bit simpler out in Tacoma today.
How simple? Try two shoes simple.
The New True
When Henry Ford introduced the Model T, he said you could get one in any color you wanted, as long as it was black. The new True isn’t quite that austere, but it’s close.
The new True Linkswear line consists of two models and two models only: the True Original and the True Outsider. Both are targeted towards men with no specific women's models.
Style-wise the new offerings are almost plain compared to some of True’s recent editions. Both are offered in only three colorways: black, white and a gray-blue. The True Original is a definite throwback to the original True Tour, with a wide toe box and a similar, distinctive sole.
“We definitely had that shoe in mind when we went through the design process,” says Turner. “ We asked what did people like about that shoe, and how can we update it for a modern styling? We wanted to appeal to our core, original customer but also want to bring as many people to brand as possible.”
The Outsider has a little more of an athletic golf shoe look to it, and is what Ryan Moore is wearing on Tour. The Outsider features an EVA midsole for more cushioning, while the Original has a much thinner midsole, which True says is designed for more feel. Both shoes feature what True is calling the Cross Life Tread in hopes that you’ll wear them doing damn near anything.
“The Cross Life Tread is designed for golf and giving you all the traction you need,” says Turner. “We want to make shoes you can wear anywhere –specifically for golf but also anything else you’re interested in doing. We’ve had folks testing them on backpacking trips, hiking through Zion National Park.”
If you take a look at True’s redesigned website, you’ll notice a very different look, feel and attitude, all the way down to the font. It’s certainly targeted to a younger demographic who prefer a casual look while walking the course with a Jones bag on their shoulder.
“As we were white boarding this out, we thought about what we want to be and what we stand for,” says Turner. “We started listing not only what we enjoy about golf, but what we enjoy about life, as well. A lot of that was experiencing being outside, walking the course, hiking and being with friends.”
True is all in on that, with the requisite hashtags #enjoythewalk and #fairwaysandchill.
Turner also says True has addressed some of the quality issues it has experienced over the past several years.
“We’re sourcing higher quality materials, and our new manufacturing partner in China – their background is in hiking footwear and fly fishing footwear, so they’re used to making products to stand up to pretty extreme use.” – Jeff Turner, True Linkswear
Turner says the Original and the Outsider will be the two core shoes for True going forward, although another model is planned for a Christmas release. Some additional colorways may be added in the future, but one thing you won’t see anytime soon is another spiked shoe.
“We’re really focusing on that on/off course type of shoe that you can wear literally doing anything. We do not have any spiked shoes on our road map.”
Another thing you won’t see is a retail presence – the new model is direct-to-consumer via the True Linkswear website. Turner says the company will eventually - and carefully - return to retail, starting with a few green grass accounts and eventually a brick-and-mortar partner, but that’s a ways off in the future.
“We’re trying to have a strategic approach this time. We want to grow, but we’re really focusing on what’s best for the brand long term.”
Thoughts, Price, and Availability
True Linkswear has some work to do. The company had created a market for itself. It generated- plenty of online buzz and a legion of hardcore fans. But the brand has seemingly gone dark over the past two years. You could say things started going a little sideways when True introduced ho-hum spiked shoes, while the short shelf-life of the soft spikes, along with other quality issues, certainly didn't help matters any.
Give the company credit, though. Rather than doubling down and trying to out-Nike Nike, True has essentially reinvented itself and is trying to create a new brand identity that resonates with a targeted consumer. Differentiation, be thy name, and success, as always, won't be measured in market share but in profitability and steady, sustainable growth.
Will they be successful? As the cliche goes, time will tell.
Both the True Original and True Outsider are available now on the True Linkswear website. The Original sells for $149.00 and the Outsider for $169.00.