Golf is unwavering adherence to certain principles and golfing etiquette that, while not part of the rules of the game, remain central to how golf is played. Chatting audibly while people are taking their shots and standing on another golfers line on the putting surface are definite “faux pas”. But perhaps most obvious of all, it is a game that requires its own peculiar, understated golf fashion and its own golf dress code.
While golfing fashions may have altered over the years, strict adherence to the golf dress code has remained in place, certainly on privately owned courses. Indeed, probably the most often read phrase on any list of golf membership rules begins with “Gentlemen are not permitted to wear…”
Usually, the list of clothes that golfers are not allowed to wear on the course can be broadly described as hip and perhaps more controversially, the domain of the working class. Jeans, jogging bottoms, sports tops, collarless t-shirts and training shoes are all frowned upon and deemed unfit for golfing purposes.Golf cloting in 1986
There is a fine line here between ‘maintaining the traditions of the golf game’ and elitist snobbery. That line depends very much on your viewpoint. Many golf clubs adopt these rules simply because they are expected to. It is a tradition and therefore must be obeyed. The logic is applied here in much the same way as you are forced to spend every Christmas with whacky Auntie Gladys who still sees you as 8 years old and that your ideal Christmas present is a knitted hat and matching mittens.
A quick visit to any municipal golf course will reveal a different picture. Here the heretics of the golfing world not only play the game in denim, with t-shirts without a collar and even training shoes – but tellingly, and perhaps at odds with the belief that jeans on a golf course can only lead to anarchy. They also play the game with the same adherence to the other rules and regulations of golf, many that you will see exhibited on any private course (and may even be capable of hitting a good score)
Has anyone been on a municipal course and witnessed golfers fainting at the sight of untailored shorts? Has anyone ever witnessed a club golfer weeping into his Taylor Made golf glove because he has been outplayed by someone who has the temerity to wear a pair of jogging bottoms and trainers to the course? Is it really worth a two-shot penalty for a golfer who has the audacity to play in a t-shirt with a slogan on it?
The notion that to allow such golf clothes onto the course will erode the morals and standards of golf is even easier to ridicule when you see some of the clothes that tour professionals wear. John Daly spent a large part of the past two years wearing clothes that made him look like a Bengal tiger had swallowed an orang-utan. Ian Poulter’s dress sense has been described as ‘outgoing’ by polite commentators, less polite commentators think that on occasion, he looks like he lost a bet with friends and has been forced to wear this particular ensemble.
Rupert Bear would think twice about wearing some of the chequered patterned trousers that we’ve seen. Yet this form of attire is perfectly acceptable as they conform to the standards of golf, whereas a smart pair of designer jeans clearly does not.
It is also worth remembering that fashion and golf are now a multi-billion dollar industry. In the same way that each year a new generation of clubs and balls are brought out to improve your game, new golf clothing lines are brought out each year by the major manufacturers too. Ian Poulter has his own golf fashion line for those brave or eccentric enough to want to wear them. One wonders if the uniform adopted by golf is now partly due to its tradition in the game but also partly due to the large clothing and apparel industry that has developed around it. On the other hand, as Gorilla Golf Blog has reported in the past, there are some brash newcomers who are pioneering hip and stylish rags as well.
There is a balance to be found of course; golf is right to be proud of its traditions and it clings onto them with a vigour that is to be commended. However, maybe the sport needs to be a little more flexible with its approach to changing golf fashions, especially in times when as the English Golfing Union reported in 2010, 60% of clubs in the UK have seen their membership numbers falling. Attracting new people to the game is not easy when you condemn 95% of their wardrobe in a single missive. It is hardly inclusive to adhere to the rules so inflexibly.
Golf needs to adapt to the fashions within the society as a whole. Ian Poulter and John Daly may not choose golf clothes to suit many people’s taste, but at least they liven up the proceedings. They have taken the stringent golfing rules and interpreted them in a new, individualistic and lively way. Golf needs this to attract new players to the game and into clubs. Therefore, the efforts of Poulter and Daly, should be applauded. In particular Daly, like the great Arnold Palmer before him, is a working class golfing hero. His antics on the course have often come close to crossing the rule/golf etiquette line, such as driving a ball off a beer can in a pro-am event. However, he makes the golf game seem less regimented and the fact he opened up his choice of attire at the Open Championship as a result of a vote amongst his fans on his website, made the game brighter and more accessible the common golfer.
Tradition is a key element of golf and should be retained, but with a degree of flexibility. Would golf clubs prefer to go to the wall and lose members, rather than let a man in a neat, stylish and collarless (heaven forbid!) t-shirt play on the course? When golf clubs finally understand this paradox of claiming they are more open to all than ever before, yet their code of conduct and golf dress codes preclude the typical leisure wear of the vast majority, they may start to understand the disconnect and the decline in membership numbers.
Treading that fine line is not easy, which is why golfing fashions and trends need to be flexible. If not, otherwise clubs may very well continue to alienate the very members they are seeking to attract.