Golf dress code debate: It’s a battle you can’t win


Fashion has evolved over the years – and golf’s dress code has changed with it. You can’t stop it, writes Steve Carroll, so you may as well embrace it

Twenty or so years ago, back in the days when I had more hair, I got my first mobile phone.

It was a brick of a thing even by today’s big screen standards, could barely place a call without hanging up, and you could only talk for about 90 minutes before it needed an urgent date with a plug.

But it was still a lifeline. No longer did a night out depend on fumbling for change in a payphone, or whether we all happened to be sitting at home at the same time.

It went everywhere with me. Except to the golf course, where taking it out of a pocket ran the risk of getting frogmarched off the property.

Fast-forward two decades and I can sit scanning the internet in the clubhouse bar and no one will pay me any mind. At a lot of clubs, I can even take a call without so much as a raised eyebrow.

Rewind with me once more. I can recall a vivid ‘discussion’ about why I could buy Tiger Woods’ red mock turtleneck shirt – he’d just done the Tiger Slam – in the pro shop but couldn’t wear it out on the course.

This was the height of stupidity to me. You’ll sell me the offending garment, but dictate how I can use it?

Do many clubs still stipulate collars only? Some of the most conservative – and I’ve looked them up – refer to “golf wear”. That’s quite a broad church now.

So I chuckle when something appears about dress codes and social media gives itself a collective aneurysm. Everyone should save themselves the stress.

If you look back through golf’s illustrious history, it’s always been a moving feast. Men have gone from hunting coats, to tweed and tie, to polo shirts, and now – it seems – to high tops. Women from crinolines, to trousers, to skorts and leggings.

I imagine each of those steps was met with dismay from traditionalists.

Some things, of course, fall by fashion’s wayside. I crack up when the – how can I say this politely? – more “mature” players among us moan about Tyrrell Hatton’s hoodie when they gave us the abomination of tank tops and bell bottoms.

People talk in extremes. They move from it being caps in the clubhouse to bare chests on the 1st tee as if it were somehow inevitable. A descent into chaos.

Did anyone see Scott Harrington at The Players earlier this year? He was wearing the trifecta of things to get the dress code zealots worked up: a hoodie, trousers that ended at the ankles and if he was wearing socks you couldn’t see them.

He’s no longer an oddity, despite what those typing furiously into their keyboards may think. At one recent PGA Tour stop, the hoodies outnumbered the midlayers.

I think that’s because change is generational. A manager at a high-profile club recently told me golf consists of 70- and 80-year-olds telling 40- and 50-somethings how to attract 20- and 30-somethings.

Well if that’s true, it’s not a surprise the experience jars. But young people are the future and they think differently. Is that such a shock? My life experiences are as contrasting to my parents, as theirs were to my grandparents.

The millennials and Gen-Zs some love to disparage are just the same. And as we’re moved aside, as we most surely will be, they will take on the mantle and they’ll wear what they’re comfortable in.

Now you’ll never see me flashing any ankle on the course, but neither would I presume to dictate that others can’t.

And so I issue a plea, though I fear it will fall on deaf ears. Instead of acting as if you’re the guardian of a long-gone age of neatly pressed slacks, why not engage with those coming up behind and get them on board?

Or acknowledge things change, and that angry resistance is inevitably futile.

Maybe we’ll find a happy medium. Or maybe golf in the 2040s really will be ready for shirts that aren’t tucked in. The sport will survive whatever.

But scowling into the ether like Grandpa Simpson shouting at a cloud isn’t going to do you any good.

It’s ultimately a battle you can’t win. Time will see to that.

Do you agree that it’s time to just accept dress codes are changing? Let me know in the comments below, or you can tweet me.

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