Here’s a quick one for you; how much of the R&A’s golfing bible The Rules of Golf, is devoted to the importance of the golfing dress code? One section? A chapter in its own right? Is it interwoven throughout the pages?
The answer is nothing, not even a single mention. There is no rule or law regarding golfing dress code in the Rules of Golf whatsoever.
Instead, what we perceive to be the “Rules of Golf” are actually more the “Rules of Golf Clubs”. There are two arguments for the implementation of a dress code on the course. The first is the line taken by golf clubs, which usually translates into something like this:
Golf dress code is a vital part of the club as it sets high standards in behaviour and appearance for all our members. Furthermore, it builds character, promotes responsibility and maintains the famous traditions of golf.
This indeed sounds very noble, but we could put another slant on this:
Golf dress code is a vital part of the club as it means that it is another effective barrier with which to discriminate against people who we may not want here. We use this code as a means of implementing a form of class-elitism, dating back many hundreds of years when the game of golf was played only by the wealthy gentry. We would very much like to harkens back to those days and only allow people with a comfortable six-figure salary onto our course, but sadly we have to give the frightful oiks a chance to play, not to mention women and those with disabilities, due to some bothersome legislation about equality and accessibility. However we will only do so if they play to our rules and pay our exorbitant green fees for the privilege.
I find the fact that almost every private or semi-private golf club has a dress code very strange. To me, this is an issue less about preserving the heritage and traditions of golf, but more about a form of snobbish middle-class elitism. I play on many municipal courses and I am yet to see the game descend into anarchy because the person in front of me was playing in a collarless shirt or, heaven forbid, shorts that are higher than an inch above the knee.
The golf clubs use of the dress code to try and allow those who seek to use their facilities is, of course, their own choice, but for me the focus is entirely wrong.
Now, here’s where I shock you. I think there SHOULD be a dress code for golf, but the reasons for it should have nothing to do with such nonsense about tradition and heritage.
Quite simply, there should be a dress code because it can make you feel and play better.
I’ve played many rounds dressed in what many clubs would call “unsuitable golf attire”. I have also played many rounds in accepted golfing kit and I have come to the inescapable conclusion that if I want to play better, then I should make the effort to look and act like a golfer, not like someone who is ‘having a go’ at the game.
For me, it is a mindset issue. If I play in a comfortable pair of trainers and jogging bottoms, then I cannot shake the notion in my mind that this is somehow a “practice” round. My play is notably slacker, I won’t persevere with holes and my attitude is akin to someone experimenting.
Yet, when I take the time to don the slacks, polo shirt, jumper and golf shoes it is as if a transformation occurs. I stand on the first tee and I feel as if I belong. My concentration is sharper, I swing with more thought and concentration, I think about each shot more and as a result, my golf play improves dramatically.
There is also the fact that for playing golf, the accepted dress code is very comfortable. You do a lot of bending and movement in golf and trousers are far more comfortable to do this in than jeans. Golf shoes give you far better solidity in your stance when making a stroke than trainers, A polo shirt and jumper offer you far better ability to rotate and move the upper body than a tracksuit top or hooded top. It is for this reason we should be encouraging people to wear “golf” clothes, not because of some outdated class-based discrimination.
Unfortunately, these ‘codes’ are part of golf’s poorer side. It makes a judgement upon people that is entirely baseless and unfounded. It assumes that people who do not conform, are “not the sort we want here”. In other areas of society, that is called prejudice.
The answer is simple, judge golfers not on what they wear, but how they play and behave. In doing so, you may discover that some of the well-heeled members often behave quite appallingly out on course or in the club house, whereas that bothersome oik in the wrong shoes and trousers, is actually a perfect gentleman.
Images by Gorilla Golf Blog©