How a former college golfer is changing the status quo of womens golf apparel
By Kayla Gutierrez
How exactly does a former collegiate golfer turn into a young entrepreneur looking to change the dynamic and culture surrounding women’s golf apparel brands?
Katie McCarthy can tell you.
The 24-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio, pivoted during the coronavirus pandemic and founded Kilo Tango, an upstart women’s clothing company that’s flourishing by the day. Everything that goes into the brand starts with McCarthy’s connection to golf — to her, it’s why Kilo Tango is more than just a business but something that is close to her heart.
“I’ve always been surrounded by the game,” McCarthy recalls. “Some of my favorite childhood memories were with my family on the course, and I distinctly remember moments with my dad at the driving range near our house.”
McCarthy began playing in junior golf at the age of 10, finishing second in her first tournament. It would be a great launching point for much more.
“I was kind of shocked, honestly,” remembers McCarthy. “That second place finish is a memory that has resonated with me my entire life, and one of the main reasons why I’m so invested in the game. Golf has always been something I enjoyed and I am thankful to my parents for not forcing me to play. I guess that’s why I love the sport so much.”
The junior golf events would multiply on the calendar throughout McCarthy’s childhood and after high school, it was on to Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania — the Division III school offered her a spot to play on the women’s golf team while she pursued a degree in business management.
2020 was the year.
A pivot triggered by a pandemic
What promised to be a stellar finale to a college golf career took a turn for the worse when McCarthy’s senior season came to a halt as the world grappled with COVID-19.
“The pandemic dramatically affected my last year of college,” remembers McCarthy. “I moved back home, didn’t have a senior golf season, and graduated virtually. I never returned to Gettysburg, which was very disappointing and upsetting for me. That was not the way I imagined finishing my college career.”
Life is funny, but it has a way of bringing out the best in us in the most unexpected places. Katie did not know it, but her life was about changing.
“A lot of my girlfriends started getting into golf during COVID, and as the only real golfer in the friend group, I was naturally their go-to for golf fashion advice,” says McCarthy. “My friends always had trouble finding the right clothes that were both athletic and classy, and could be worn on and off the course; something flattering and current while respecting the dress code.”
That’s when it hit her.
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“I distinctly remember sitting on a barstool in a friend’s apartment talking about the idea of starting my own golf brand,” remembers McCarthy. “At the time it was just a big idea, but the next night I stayed up so late researching how I could make it work. I was so committed to the concept, and I certainly didn’t want to get into the habit of having an idea and not doing anything about it.”
McCarthy would soon become obsessed with achieving her newfound dream. After graduating college, McCarthy didnt know she would be starting her own business. The next year was filled with planning, research, and building something unique.
“When I started, it took a lot of intense planning to make sure everything was exactly what I envisioned,” says McCarthy. “I had to learn a lot about the clothing industry and, being young, sometimes people would try to walk right over me.
“I understood the golf industry, though, and knew I had what was missing from the women’s market — I was eager to fill that need, too. I spent countless hours trying to figure it out, and didn’t have the time or patience to doubt myself. Each lesson felt like a win, like Wow, I somehow did that, let’s figure out the next thing.’ I was learning something new every day.”
By 2021, McCarthy’s idea was a reality: Kilo Tango had entered the golf apparel scene, ready to roll. The company had plans to make its official first debut at the 2022 PGA Show and with only a few samples, there were no expectations — McCarthy and her team looked at the global golf gathering like a learning opportunity for Kilo Tango to capitalize on the excitement about showcasing new products.
Then, another curveball: last December the McCarthy family received devastating news: Katie’s mother, Jenifer, was diagnosed with breast cancer just weeks before the 2023 PGA Show.
“Believe it or not, but my mom actually asked the doctors, ‘Can’t my surgery wait until February? I want to be at the PGA Show for Kilo Tango,’” says McCarthy. “Her dedication to the company and helping me succeed is one of the main reasons I am able to do what I love. My mom is the most positive person I know, and she is also my best friend. I couldn’t be any more blessed to have her in my corner.”
The doctors agreed, and Jenifer was able to move her surgery to after the PGA Show — something Katie is forever thankful for. McCarthy used her difficult news to motivate her family and friends, despite it being a difficult diagnosis.
Kilo Tango received a lot of positive feedback at the 2022 PGA Show about their products, and that interest has only grown this January in Orlando. It was daunting for a small company like Kilo Tango to compete against larger brands, but McCarthy received a lot of love and support from everyone who came by the Kilo Tango stand.
“When people ask how many employees work for Kilo Tango, they’re usually shocked to hear it’s just me doing the design, marketing, sales, logistics, finances, and everything,” says McCarthy. “Of course, I wouldnt be here without my consultant, Lauren, and my closest employee, my shipper and receiver, and my right hand — better known as Mom. I’m really lucky that my family was always super supportive of my dreams and helped in any way they could. They are the reasons that all of this was possible.”
McCarthy uses Kilo Tango’s catchy motto “Course to Cocktails,” as her North Star, representing everything she embraces as a female golfer: she respects the tradition of the sport, but also loves how much the game is evolving.
Her goal is to create clothing that can be worn by golfers on any occasion, from a 9-hole round on a course to a glass of wine on a patio with friends. The clothing is fun and feminine, and all women feel great when they play. Kilo Tangos luxury polos, skirts skorts, shorts, and dresses are ethically sourced. They are made in the USA from durable fabric and quality material. The brand also offers a unique line bespoke accessories such as leather headcovers, golf towels, and high-ponytail and needlepoint performance caps with the Kilo Tango logo cleverly displayed.
And now, all of McCarthy’s friends who were wondering back in 2020 what brand to sport on the course have something they can turn to in their closet. But it’s not just them — Kilo Tango and its motivated founder are changing the apparel game for every woman seeking something fresh.
The last few years were a wild ride with highs and lows at every corner. But Kilo Tango is finally starting to find its stride. . . McCarthys vision made an idea a reality.
“Sometimes I look back and ask myself, ‘How did I do that?’ and honestly, it still feels surreal with how far we’ve come in such a short period of time,” says McCarthy. “I’m glad I went for it when I did. Now, I’m most excited to be a part of Kilo Tango’s growth and the future of women’s golf — I hope our clothing makes more women feel comfortable to go out and pick up golf.”