KARSTEN JURKSCHAT JUST had an ah-ha moment. We’re sitting in his 1993 Range Rover Classic during a Brooklyn summer scorcher. He’s telling me about growing up in Australia. When suddenly it hits him — and me, too — that he was pretty much destined to shake up the golf world in the manner he has been since he launched Gumtree Golf & Nature Club.
“I learned how to sew as a kid from my German grandmother,” he says. “She was this phenomenal seamstress. She made my mum’s wedding dress, she also made all of our clothes growing up. I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ farm, learning how to sew from her. My grandpa, my Opa, had paddocks out back and he made a little golf course out of corrugated iron, reinforced bars from a building site, and some like high-vis tape for the flag — just hammered them into the ground in different parts of the paddock amongst the cows. We had a couple of old clubs and we would just play this little three-hole paddock golf course.”
In his early 20s, Jurkschat went to design school and played in bands, touring around Australia and doing graphic design work for surf brands and musical acts he’d meet on the road. His schedule didn’t lend itself to a full-time job, so he worked with his dad in the garden when he wasn’t touring. It was the final piece in a trifecta of skills that led to him eventually creating Gumtree Golf & Nature Club in 2020.
Since then, GG&NC has risen in the ranks among golf-sicko favourites. Jurkschat began with a simple principle: don’t add to the mass production of junk that comes along when a sport booms and an influx of brands overtakes the market. Instead, Jurkschat spends more time considering what he’s making things out of, not necessarily what they’ll become. Recently, that resulted in buying 1970s tent from a farm in Vermont and turning it into a limited collection of head covers. They sold out in 11 minutes the day they dropped.
Now, Jurkschat is releasing his most special offering to date an extremely limited collection of 20 one-of-one Japanese lace-linen shirts, each adorned with mid-century state flower patch sourced from across America (and with a little help from Kelsey Parkhouse of CARLEEN, whose work you can catch most recently in The Bear season 2).
I popped over to Marine Park Golf Course in Brooklyn for a chat last weekend, where Jurkschat was shooting his campaign for the limited drop by setting up a “flower stand” in the golf course parking lot. The shirts, which hung from the Land Rover like some sort of Christmas-in-July menswear manger, are stunning. I slipped one on over a ribbed white tank as a reprieve from the heat, and the double-diamond perforations gave me a million little reasons to appreciate the breeze. Its cropped construction and camp collar round out what would already be The Perfect Summer Shirt, but the flower patch is where it really shined. Pennsylvania’s Mountain Laurel brought me back to kindergarten in Pittsburgh.
When the sun got too hot, we hopped into the shade to talk about the why. And it all starts in the one place no golfer wants to hit their ball — the ocean.
Esquire: You and I were just talking about ‘Barbarian Days’ and the parallels between surfing and golf, can you tell me how that sort of inspired this brand?
Karsten Jurkschat: Growing up in Australia on the coast, doing a lot of surfing, I worked in the surf industry a little bit and it was just always so apparent that surfers and surf brands and just everybody in that industry has such a connection to the ocean. It’s very obvious to everybody involved in surfing, and even surfing commercially, that the ocean is the reason that we get to do this thing that we absolutely love. And that isn’t really taken for granted ever. It’s almost treated like a mythical Greek god in a way. They actually call the ocean Huey, which is their adaptation of the God of the sea. And a lot of surfers will talk about praying or talking to Huey to kind of attract some swell so that they can go surfing…
Ok, yeah, wow, that.
Yeah, and surf brands also treat the ocean with respect; they’re all very eco-conscious, they’ll give money back to the environment, they’ll do beach cleanups. So when I got into golf, I kind of looked around and I thought, well, the forest and nature and these beautiful parks that the golf courses are situated on are essentially our version of the ocean. They allow us to play golf. They allow us to go and walk for hours in nature and have some time in our own heads. But that connection isn’t there like it is in surfing.
I thought that was really strange because it feels like a very similar bond. The golf industry has focused a lot on performance, and the technical nature of the sport, and has lost a little bit of focus on some of the other things that make golf so special. Things like the diversity of flora and fauna, and all the different ecosystems. Traveling to different states to play golf or different countries is like going into different worlds. Golf courses in California versus the golf courses in Arizona versus golf courses in Tuscany or in the Alps in Germany. It’s like it’s the same sport, but it couldn’t be any more different if you looked around. That’s just such a cool thing about golf. I want to celebrate that.
What’s the moment where you flip from, ‘This should exist in golf’ to, ‘I should make this exist in golf?
When I started playing golf pretty seriously, I always felt like I was putting on a bit of a golf uniform, to be honest. I always felt like golf was pretty much polos and polyester. I really desperately wanted something that was a little bit more fashion-forward and that lent itself to this element of nature I was thinking about.
And then, I just had a realisation one day that I might have to be that person to make it. I have a background in design and photography from Australia, spent 10 years as a creative director across America, and had all the skills. In my 20s, I worked as a landscape gardener with my dad for two years, so I have all this knowledge of plants and the different species and how different ecosystems work in an environmental sense. And I also learned how to sew as a kid from my German grandmother who made all our clothes growing up.
It became kind of this trifecta of skills. And I thought, “You know what? I actually have everything that I need to probably make this a reality and have an authentic story behind it.” So coming up with Gumtree, all I needed to do was put the pieces in place to make it a reality, which for me was the branding and then a couple of early products, which I all sewed and made myself in Brooklyn.
Talk to me about the evolution of those first few products that you sewed in Brooklyn to where we’re at today with this very, very limited drop.
I wanted to do products that were handmade and really special because I thought there’s a bit of a fast-fashion element to golf traditionally. And to me, there’s no reason why there can’t be things that exist in golf that you might keep for years and years. So I set out to make a couple of those things.
I really wanted every single thing to have a story. There’s an idea behind the product, and the materials are either sustainable or have been upcycled from something. So that kind of led me beyond where I started toward more special, limited-edition drops such as the head covers that we made out of a recycled tent from the ’70s. It’s like a 50-year-old waxed canvas farm tent from Vermont, which was then upcycled into a limited-edition set of head covers, which were all one of one, and finished with olive green paracord in Brooklyn. And each one was specifically different.
I really felt that that was where I wanted the brand to go, pieces that were almost like little pieces of art or things that people felt were like a special addition to their golf bag or their golf life that you couldn’t just get out of Golf Galaxy or online.
That led me to thinking, “How do I get into even more fashion related clothing that can still have that handmade feel, but can also still feel at home on and off the golf course?” That’s where I am now with these state flower shirts, which are all, again, one-of-one shirts. Every single shirt has a beautiful vintage state flower patch with really intricate hand embroidery, and some of them are up to 80 or 90 years old.
The patches themselves?
The patches. They’re sourced from the 1940s to the 1960s and ’70s. There was a big kind of Americana boom, obviously, coming back from the war, plus there was America’s bicentennial at the end of that. And there was this trend of people embroidering these beautiful state flowers and being really proud of where they lived. They embroidered them on tea towels and in the corners of tablecloths and all these old textiles.
What was your approach to bridging the gap between your menswear influences and golf’s influence on the brand?
Well, that’s the thing. I look at the menswear space, especially what’s happening in New York, and I personally just feel such a connection to things that feel organic — textiles and upcycled items that still feel very fashion-forward. From a golf perspective, this lace, with the breeziness and the loose fit, felt like the best version of it for golf. From a functional perspective, my member sweatshirts have that same boxy crop. No waistband, just straight across the bottom, chopped off, and then restitched. And I just feel like that fit for golf, for me, is just the perfect thing. You can swing easy.
The only thing that I feel like is holding golfers back from wearing stuff like that more is dress codes. You can’t tuck in a boxy, cropped shirt.
I think that’s going to start changing more and more, and I think it’ll start changing when there are some pieces out there that feel premium that also aren’t tucked in. You know what I mean? Because I think you should be able to wear whatever you want on a golf course, no matter what. If you have this beautiful, one-of-a-kind lace shirt that you could easily see in some boutique on Mulberry Street on a golf course, it adds to the premium feel. And I think that if a few people like me start putting these products out and giving people the option, perhaps we can shift the persona of that, the stigma of that a little bit together.
Showing them, 20 shirts at a time, that elevated doesn’t necessarily mean tucked in.
A hundred percent. Yeah. I mean, there’s so much amazing stuff happening in golf right now that there’s just so much opportunity for growth, even though it has already grown so much since the pandemic. I’m really excited to push further.
What is your message to golfers, with this capsule and everything else?
Take a walk and take a look around. I think it’s really, really rewarding going out and playing golf and shooting a low score. But some of the memories that have stuck with me the most throughout my travels golfing and my times playing golf are things that I’ve noticed when I was looking around on the golf course. Like the differences in flowers or the crazy animals that you sometimes see in different places of the world on the golf course. Once you start looking around and noticing these things, it’s a different game.
A version of this article by Ben Boskovich originally appeared on Esquire US.