Knickerbockers in a knot – the attire debate

From the early days of the plus-fours and ruffled cravats, to today’s bright colours and plaid ensembles, golf and fashion have long been intertwined.

That’s not to say that golf fashion has necessarily been “fashionable”. Just look at golf photos from the 1970s (or some of the blokes on tour today) and you’ll get my drift.

Attire on the golf course has been a contentious subject of late. The Inside Golf mailbag and inbox are full of letters decrying the “imminent demise of Neat and Tidy”, while last month’s cover photo of a “scruffy looking” Aaron Baddeley even got a fair amount of unhappy reader letters (see page 87).

In the continuing struggle to retain members, and attract the ever-important junior contingent, some clubs are beginning to relax the traditional dress codes. White socks and collared shirts still reign supreme, but it seems that more clubs are starting to “turn a blind eye” to the more creatively-attired players these days. It’s a neon-coloured grey area.

There are two sides to the argument. Traditionalists argue that the standards of Neat and Tidy attire MUST be adhered to in order to preserve the traditions and essence of the game. They contend that if we relax the dress codes – even a smidgeon– then the entire game may spin out of control into the equivalent of a no-holds-barred, “golfers gone wild” frat party.

On the other side of the fairway are those who claim that the game is entrenched in old-fashioned, elitist attitudes and antiquated traditions that have little appeal to the younger generations. They say that if we fail to capture the kids’ attention, the game will dwindle in popularity until it is equal in regard to, say Olympic Trampoline.

Dress codes in nearly all sports have regularly adapted to the times. From the AFL, to (Twenty20) Cricket, to American baseball to the NBA… uniforms have regularly reflected the fashion and styles of the younger generations. It’s seen by some as a “necessary evil” in order to ensure the survival of the sports.

Golf is no different. I’m sure there was a similar outcry centuries ago when a small band of golfers eschewed their kilts and animal skins to don (heaven forbid) ties, knickerbockers and morning coats. And what about those heathens in the 1920s who (gasp) stopped wearing formal jackets on the links? Or the “Free-thinkers” with the radical concept of NOT tucking their long pants inside their socks; or those who wore bowties, V-neck sweaters and even (double-gasp) short pants!

When you think about it, today’s accepted “Neat and Tidy” attire – namely the short-sleeve collared shirts, pleated shorts and golf caps – would have golfers of the 1900’s covering their niblicks in shame.

I’m not saying that we need to allow singlets and budgie smugglers on the course – on the contrary, I firmly believe that young golfers and beginners need to respect the traditions and the culture (and attire) of the game. But if we really want to keep our game alive, surely we can open up our minds a little, and maybe let our white socks drop a bit? There is certainly a compromise out there.

See you on the fairways (in a collared shirt, of course).

By Richard Fellner

Winner of multiple Australian Golf Media Awards – including "Best Column" for his monthly Starters Box column as Editor for Inside Golf Magazine – Richard Fellner is the quintessential Golf Tragic—having played the game for over 40 years (but has never gotten any better.) He has played and reviewed courses all over the world, and has interviewed many of the great players of the game (including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Greg Norman). Richard is a member of both the Australian Golf Writers Association and the Golf Society of Australia, and he is a regular guest on many Australian "sports talk" radio shows and networks, including ABC Grandstand, SEN 1116, Melbourne Talk Radio 1377, 2GB and others.

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