Imagine you're the owner of a shoe company with a penchant for making comfortable kicks and you take up golf, only to discover that golf shoes are murder on your feet. What do you do? If you're Karl Toosbuy, the founder of Danish shoemaker Ecco, you challenge your son-in-law to solve the problem.
His dutiful relative by marriage and the current chief executive officer, Dieter Kasprzak, took up the task with the R&D department of Ecco, which had fostered the reputation for making comfort shoes in the early 1980s when it added polyurethane to the soles. Even in such capable hands, problems peculiar to golfing kept designers at work for a couple of years before they came up with a suitable product, according to Per Aagren, head of global sales for Ecco Golf. When the first product hit the market, in 1996, it was only in three sizes: one that fit Toosbuy (now deceased), a second for Kasprzak and the third for the shoe's designer.
"We sold 852 pairs," says Aagren, who adds that the various moves a foot has to make during a round of golf makes a golf shoe much tougher to create than a dress shoe. "It has to be a walking shoe, with lateral stability for the swing." Plus, the shoes take a beating—golfers have been known to put the shoes away wet after a soggy round, or sometimes store them in the trunk of a car, where temperatures can reach extremes.
Ecco's position is that the biggest reason for shoe failure is the use of glue to marry the upper to the outsole. Eccos are bonded, so there is no glue to fail. Each shoe—made in company-owned facilities from start to finish—is anchored by six layers of support, including an internal stabilizing shank piece that provides support during the swing, a shock-absorbing leather inlay sole and an extra layer of shock-absorbing material in the heel. The sole is built to absorb the force of walking and swinging and to preserve your knees. It also has an air-circulation system to keep your feet dry.
All this comfort comes at a price—$400 for the company's premier World Class line, which was launched in 2004 and features full-leather uppers and a Gore-Tex coat to stay dry. But don't think the comfort shoes look like the doggy clogs worn by Ben Stein—Eccos are sharp and stylish, and some versions have designs that can even be described as hip.