Montana Pritchard/PGA of America
It’s amazing in the equipment world how a “sky is falling” moment can sometimes become not so big a deal as time moves on. One such instance is the rainsuit debacle that befell the US Ryder Cup team during the 2010 matches at Celtic Manor in Wales.
You remember that, don’t you? Those black Sun Mountain rainsuits with bold striping on the sleeves and players’ names on back were all the talk during Day 1.
Heavy rains plagued the early action, and word began to leak out that some US players were claiming their rainsuits were not keeping water out and that the U.S. had purchased some replacements from the pro shop. Lisa Pavin, wife of US Captain Corey Pavin, was called out by some media outlets, as she was heavily involved in the design of the suits, which did not include Gore-Tex waterproof material.
During a rain delay, Captain Pavin was asked about the suits: “Well, we were disappointed with the performance of them, and you know, we just fixed it,” he said, not exactly damping the situation. “They were not doing what we wanted them to do, so we went out and bought some more waterproofs. A couple guys liked them and didn’t want any other stuff, and other guys were not satisfied with the way they performed, so we switched them out.”
Sun Mountain felt pressure to issue a statement, which read, in part: “Sun Mountain has been designing and selling outerwear for more than two decades. We have provided rainwear to 3,000-plus PGA of America Professionals and over 150 tour players, and supplied outerwear to numerous US teams. … Sun Mountain has staff on the ground at the Ryder Cup working in conjunction with the PGA of America on this issue.”
I had a good relationship with the president of Sun Mountain Sports, Rick Reimers, and was able to quickly get an interview on the situation shortly after that year’s Ryder Cup. Here are a few excerpts from that discussion:
Golf Digest: There were a lot of assumptions that the amount of embroidery on the suit and its overall design were the problems. With that, Lisa Pavin took a considerable amount of criticism. Warranted or no?
Rick Reimers: That is misdirected. I found one of the extra jackets here, and we opened it up. I thought perhaps it was leaking through the stripes on the sleeve or the large appliqué on the embroidery. But when I looked at how we sealed it, I doubt it. These areas were sealed completely. I don’t see how rain — even heavy rain — could get through those.
GD: So what do you think happened?
RR: I have a few theories. When the rain is heavy enough and the wind is blowing, the exterior of the fabric gets to a point I call “wetted out.” That’s where the garment no longer sheds the water. It doesn’t soak through, but it remains on the garment. Then, with the wind, it becomes somewhat plastered to you. You feel the cold, and you presume you’re wet although it is unlikely the rain went through the fabric. It’s also possible that rain from the players hats dripped down into the back of the jacket or front of the jacket and the players got wet from that. We noticed that the few players who wore bucket hats in the rain said they did not have a problem with the suit, so that’s another possibility.
GD: What kind of evaluation can you do to help get an answer to why the suits didn’t perform as hoped?
RR: We’re examining everything. We have a hydrostatic tester here at Sun Mountain and during tests and re-tests of one of those garments this week, it doesn’t leak. We examined the embroidery in all areas. That doesn’t appear to be a problem. We also performed our own test by having someone put the garment on and stand in a shower for two hours. It was a little inconclusive, but interesting. The person was wet underneath in areas, but the garment didn’t leak. The test subject told us he felt the overspray ran down his neck into the sleeves and that’s how he got wet. But where the garment was exposed face on, no water got through the garment.
The debate went on, and it didn’t help that the US team lost 14.5 to 13.5. But a closer examination of the matches shows the Americans won the first session 2.5 to 1.5 and stood up 6-4 after two sessions, basically negating any claim that faulty rainsuits impacted the outcome. In the years that have followed, Sun Mountain has not taken a hit to its reputation, continuing to be a major player in the areas of golf bags, travel covers and, yes, rain gear.