Friday, 16 August 2013

Dress Standards At Golf Clubs

If you log onto any golfing forum, there is one topic that is guaranteed to polarise opinion and promote numerous points of view, some reasoned, some extremely dogmatic. That subject is dress code standards at golf clubs. This is a complex issue and the arguments cover not only what is or isn't acceptable on the course itself, but clubs attitude to standards in the clubhouse too.

Let me make it perfectly clear from the outset, I am a bit of a traditionalist but with a nod to modern values. My dear old dad use to tell me from a very young age, irrespective of whatever sport I was playing "that if you look like a player then you are well on the road to being one. Look good, feel good." It's an adage I've taken with me ever since and I like to think that I always appear on the first tee smartly turned out and ready to play. I have three distinct parts of my wardrobe. Clothes for work, clothes for socialising and clothes for golf and personally I like to going to the golfing section and picking something to wear. It is part of getting ready to play in the same way as packing my golf gloves and balls.

The first argument put forward, especially by those on the side of wanting a more relaxed attitude is cost. I agree that the cost of golf shirts, in the same way as the cost of replica sport shirts, is extortionate and that the main brands are making a huge killing on a £40 golf shirt. There is the counter-argument that a lot of R&D goes into creating modern fabrics that keep the golfer cool, warm and probably smelling like a walking floral display if the hype is to be believed. I live in England though and don't play in the heat or humidity of the Arizona desert, Turkey or the golfing playgrounds of Spain and Portugal. If we get a month of sunshine that is summer these days. I don't need these all singing all dancing fabrics although of course I do own some. For those on a budget, there are plenty of smart, well made, brands available for £15 or less. Similarly, we have trousers that wick moisture away, have a tailor cut and come in a rainbow of colours that would make that iconic peacock of the loud clothes Ian Poulter and his 1970's predecessor Doug Sanders spoilt for choice. However you can pick up trousers in supermarkets or sport super-stores at a fraction of the price and are perfectly functional and so I reject the argument that it's impossible to dress properly on a budget.

Poulter and Sanders, two golfers never going to be missed out on the course
The argument extends to jeans or cargo pants. Many argue that they wear these regularly, possibly even at work and by being able to step out of the car onto the tee dressed like this makes golf more convenient and accessible. I disagree. A lot of municipal courses, usually the gateway into golf for many, and places where it is thought by many, golf snobs if you will, that anything goes, have their own dress codes which are well policed and maintained. Yes, I've played at places where jeans, football tops and even flip flops on the course are de rigueur and while it may be a huge leap of faith, whenever I've seen this I know a six hour round and no chance of being called through will follow. That isn't to say these don't have their place and for them getting traffic on the course and cash in the tills is more important and I can see where they are coming from.

The driving range is an interesting tangent. Some argue these should be havens to quiet practice and golfing contemplation and will dress in golfing gear. Many rock up after work and still want to work on their game and hit balls in their working attire. Others use these as a playground, and just rock up to hit balls and let off steam and for them dress standards are no consequence. With no rules and regulations anything goes. Personally I am more interested in working on faults or drills and yes I prefer to dress in golf gear, including golf shoes as I just feel more comfortable.

I am all for new golfers finding and enjoying this fickle game. The number of club members are down in these austere times and clubs are closing and we need to make it as open and easy for people to go out and have fun and play golf regularly. This is essential for the existence of courses and the lifeblood of the game for years to come and yet many still feel threatened or put off by the arcane rules around dress. That is wrong. However, it really isn't that hard as I've shown to pick up a pair of trousers and a polo shirt cheaply and I'm sure we are all agree that golf shoes are a given. These don't have to be top of the range either and for the social golfer or newbie, there are plenty of cheap models out there which offer comfort and even a degree of waterproofing. How hard is it to keep these in a bag in the car and spend five minutes changing into when you arrive. Would it be acceptable for Kevin Petersen to walk out at Lords in jeans?

However, this is mainly the hors d'oeuvre to an even bigger crime. Not wearing white socks with shorts. Now I've no idea where this rule came from but it does seem fairly universal. Why? If I had a natty pair of navy shorts why shouldn't I choose to finish it off with blue socks? There was a classic example on one of the online debates that outlines why the topic promotes such passion and why golfers old and new get frustrated.

"I played in an open competition a month ago and the guy in the group in front was about to tee off when the secretary comes running over "you can't wear black socks with shorts you will have to buy some white ones from the pro shop if you haven't got any." The player goes running in to shop to buy some so he could actually play. I just thought how pedantic to do it when he was just about to tee off. The lad then had a nightmare off a round. Clubs need to change certain rules. Times are changing. I am all for dress codes on the course being realistic but some rules are still outdated." Exhibit A. How can that be good for the reputation of the club in question.

That brings us neatly (or not) onto that other hideous transgression, the untucked shirt. Again my preference is to be traditionalist and tucked in as I find flapping material off putting as I swing and it doesn't take much to put my fragile swing out of sync. No-one wants to see masses of flesh on display, male or female, as they whirl their driver like a dervish. It isn't that hard to keep the shirt tucked. Golf isn't a physical impact sport and if you really can't keep it in your trousers (ooh er missus) buy a bigger size. No need for it in my book I'm afraid as it just looks scruffy and unkempt .

A familiar poster in many a changing room across the country. Do we really need to be spoon fed or are rules still being ignored and flouted?

Of course golf clubs have their own dress codes. I have played many courses over the years and I always check their website to check their own take on both and off the course. My take on this is very simple. You either accept the dress code rules the club has in place and comply or don't visit. Don't expect the club to change their standards to match your own.

This extends from the course into the clubhouse. This is arguably where there is the greatest divide in the modern game. A lot of golf clubs are now relaxing dress codes in the 19th and allowing denim and trainers in providing they are "smart." This is ideal, not only for breaking down barriers and moving dress codes forward, but for making it easier for the wife and children to come along and enjoy a drink and bite to eat without being made to feel uneasy about whether they comply to rules. The more people that use the clubhouse the more money the club makes. Simple economics. The problem of course comes with that word "smart." What one person thinks looks good will put others off. You can buy ripped denim by world famous designers. Are they smart? Then there is the argument about socks or no socks. How can one insignificant piece of attire seem to cause so much angst in the golfing fraternity? Smart loafers, trainers or sandals. With or without? The club will have made a decision. Stick with it whether you agree with it or not.

Now I said right at the outset that I'm a traditionalist with a hint to the modern. I am quite traditional about how golfers should dress on the course but off it I am happy if a club wants a more relaxed atmosphere. I know many places where some older members can't embrace this change and will regularly challenge what they consider flagrant breaches of a stringent policy. Usually, the steward will intervene and explain that times have changed. I'm sure some of these older members aren't aware that jacket and tie is no longer required after 7.30. Times are a changing and as the demographic of clubs change to a younger membership I feel that these standards will continue to relax and evolve.

Of course there are some places that have their own take and time has stood still for decades. There are several in my area such as the Berkshire and Sunningdale where a jacket and tie is still required for lunch. If I am a guest for the day I am happy to comply even if it is a complete pain in the rear end having to come in, change, eat and then change back into golf clothing again, especially if the turn around is tight on time. However, I am there as a visitor, these are the rules and usually the quality of the food on offer makes the hassle seem insignificant.

On the subject of jacket and tie, many clubs are doing away with this. Gone are the days of needing one to use the club in the evening, and that can only help encourage people to treat it more as a social club or local pub and go in for a drink and socialise with friends. Nothing beats sitting on the patio in the summer sun with a cold one and watching the evening players come in.

My club plays a number of friendly fixtures with other clubs in the area. In the old days, these would involve the match and then a full blown meal afterwards suited and booted. This would add several hours onto the end of the day and with time being precious and the constraints of family life becoming even tighter, many members were opting not to play. These days, many of the games are started with a brunch before going out, and players wear their golfing attire and sandwiches and chips are served as soon as the last group are in with players no longer required to do change. Some clubs even have spike bars and so you don't even need to change out of golf shoes providing they aren't caked in mud or soaked. It works much better and numbers are starting to increase for these fixtures. Yes, we still have some matches that are more formal and jacket and tie is still required. I accept these are still important and of course there are other dates in the calendar where in my humble opinion, a jacket and tie fits the occasion perfectly and I would be sad to see these phased out.

So where does it leave us? Dazed and confused or chilled and relaxed. On the course I would say standards are pretty unified, if you take the fly in the ointment, white socks, out of the equation. As a visitor look like a golfer on the course and you won't incur the wrath of the Major or the secretary. Off the course, follow the published rules and you will be given a warm and hospitable welcome. As a member, just look around you and see how others dress. If there are plenty prepared to embrace the modern way with louder colours and you feel need to do the same then chances are you won't have any issues. Maybe the look won't work if you are 50, bald, over weight and struggling to break 100 every time but if you can face the wisecracks from your playing partners and those in the bar then why not.

When you join a club, most will explain what they expect in terms of dress and most publish details on the website. Again if you follow your peers I doubt much can go wrong although there will always be those trying to push the boundaries to suit their own ends or make a point. With many clubs being a lot more relaxed these days it shouldn't be hard to find something you feel comfy wearing and doesn't offend the club's fashion police.

I've probably only scraped the surface with this and undoubtedly all of you with have your own views on what is and isn't acceptable. Hopefully you'll let me know but don't shoot the messenger. These are just my own views on what I think. It is a hot topic and very divisive and no doubt you'll all have your own experiences, positive and negative and is very much something golf clubs need to consider whether they want to or not, at some point. There will always be those that prefer to keep the older standards and attitudes especially in the clubhouse and without question you buy into this ethos when you sign up and pay over the membership fees. That is fine. It isn't for me on a regular basis (although I doubt I'd ever have the opportunity to join these places anyway) and I'm quite happy to abide by these rules as and when I visit.

I'm happy to be a member of a club that has relaxed the rules and the atmosphere inside the clubhouse has become more sociable. More are using it without playing a game, and can dress socially to boot. I hope we can draw the line somewhere and we don't go too far and let things like football shirts in. It is still a golf club at the end of the day and I like to make that divide. I can go to the pub if I want to dress like that. Still each club is different and you just need to find one that fits your own requirements.

I look forward to your thoughts and have retired to a secret bomb proof location awaiting the results. Let the fun and mayhem begin!

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