A Primer on Golf Fashion: From Knickers to Snickers in 300 short years
Barefoot golf is a time-honored tradition in Hawaii, and old photographs show members of the Hawaiian royal family shoeless on the golf course circa the 1890s. I’ve tried it, and can vouch for its great appeal: The sun-warmed grass feels spongy as it tickles your feet, and if your golf ball lands in a bunker, it’s a totally sensual experience having the sand squirm up between your toes. Made me aim for the traps!
On the flip side of that equation, I once played golf with a guy from Tennessee (western Tennessee, for those of you who are sensitive about it) who showed up to the first tee box in cowboy boots with golf cleats on them … and shorts. He was a very happy guy — perhaps a little too happy — who delighted in the admonishing looks his getup got.
Like comedian Bill Murray, whose outlandish costumes have been part of the entertainment at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for years, my friend from Tennessee was “just funnin’” as he put it, in that sweet-as-syrup accent that people from Tennessee have (western Tennessee, he continually reminded me).
In between barefoot golf and spiked cowboy boots, one finds all manner of fashion on a golf course, some you might wish to try, others rather questionable.
Back in the early days of the game, golfers looked extremely dapper. Paintings and old black-and-white photos of course scenes and tournaments show that the golfers were stately-looking men, dressed to the nines, often hitting the links in tweed coats and ties, flatcaps, knickers and knee-high socks.
In the 1920s and 30s, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen set the tone, sporting crisp white shirts with starched collars, bowties, snazzy sweaters and fancy leather shoes. Even through the 1940s and 50s golfers could be counted on for spot-on fashion, Sam Snead, and Ben Hogan being two examples, with Snead’s swanky porkpie hats and Hogan ushering in an era of relaxed, yet totally spiff country club fashions, a look further advanced by the young and very dashing Arnold Palmer.
Then in the 1960s and 70s, all hell broke loose in golf fashion. With the notable exception of Gary Player who, like Johnny Cash, dressed all in black, fashion in this era gave us a reputation as bad — very bad — dressers.
The worst offender, unfortunately, was one of the highest-profile players: Johnny Miller. Not that he was alone in his dearth of taste. Miller’s contemporary, Doug Sanders, was known as the “peacock of the fairways” for his unsightly outfits. But Miller set the “mod” bar high (or is that low?) with hideously checked pants, thick white belts, neon sweaters, bowl-cut hair and other fashion faux pas we look back on now and thank our lucky stars we weren’t photographed wearing. (Not that we didn’t wear them.)
In the 1980s and ‘90s, Payne Stewart’s creatively matched plus fours and Hogan-style cap were the throwback highlight of any tournament in his not-so-flashy era; matched on the other side of swank by the ever-cool Greg Norman with his straw hats, blond locks and rugged Australian good looks (and, so all the ladies told me, nice tush).
Most of today’s pros are somewhat conservative (read: bland) in their fashion choices. Quick, tell me what Brandt Snedeker wore at last week’s tournament? Jimmy Walker? Adam Scott? How about Rory? Exactly. A pair of blah pants and a blah shirt. They are all nice-looking guys with absolutely no fashion statement to make.
Alternately, a precious few are fashion plates, and often precisely scripted for all four days of a tournament — especially the majors — by their respective apparel companies. In the well-dressed camp is Tiger Woods, always impeccably outfitted and proudly logoed. Count Ricky Fowler in the trendsetting camp, his trademark bright orange duds and duckbilled cap copied by countless kids from Long Beach to Long Island.
In the questionable camp are Sergio Garcia, who often wears orange and plum together (or some such combination that makes my eyes go crossed); Ian Poulter, who roosters his hair and wears costumes to match; and Camilo Villegas, who you’d swear went to Johnny Miller’s yard sale.
offer here a story I read recently which quoted “leading British eye surgeon” Professor Sir Ian Ball: “I’m very worried about Ian Poulter. He’ll never make it to the top as long as keeps wearing those clothes. Of course, he often wears daily multifocal contact lenses both for vision and protection, so that may help a little. Then look at Johnny Miller back in the 70s. A brilliant player in his early career, but when the fashion bug caught up with him, he was never the same again. You just can’t play when your brain is confused by excessive stimuli.
“Jesper Parnevik is another example. The more eccentric his dress, the worse he plays. Not to mention the effect it has on his playing partners. Just ask Mark Roe about that disqualification in the 2003 Open. He’s a fine professional, but he managed to sign the wrong scorecard. Only a man suffering severe disorientation would do that — it was clearly down to Jesper’s trousers.”
To be fair, there are those who feel that golf could use more players like Poulter, Garcia and Villagas, and wish that Parnevik were but the tip of the wild-and-crazy fashion iceberg. One such company is Loudmouth Golf, whose stated goal is a much zanier golf future.
Loudmouth founder Scott Woodworth says, “We all grew up watching Johnny Miller in his shocking red pants and white belt, and Jack Nicklaus in his plaid polyester Sans-A-Belts. But when the time came for us to golf decades later, what sartorial choices were we given?”
The fashions Woodworth thus created include eye-popping disco ball trousers, lime and forest green argyles and brazen barcode stripes among the many fun (or obnoxious, depending on your point of view) choices. If you’ve seen John Daly in recent years, you’ve seen Loudmouth. They could have picked no better model, ‘nuff said.
Meanwhile, after I ship this article to my editor, I’m headed out shopping for cleated Motocross racing boots and finding a seamstress who will sew Astroturf to the seat of my zebra-striped lederhosen. I’m determined to set the next fashion trend in motion.