Why does it bother you what I wear?

The Scoop

Denis Pugh, renowned coach and Sky Sports Golf pundit, tells Steve Carroll that what we wear on the course, or in the clubhouse, should not matter

“There was a club a few years back – and I’m talking 15 or 20 years back – that had a rope that separated the casual bar from the formal bar.”

Denis Pugh is delivering his coup de grace to what he views as the ridiculous notion of dress codes at golf clubs.

“It was the sort of rope you’d see in a VIP area at nightclubs. If you were one side of the rope you wore your golf clothes, if you were on the other you wore a jacket and tie.”

If this seems an extreme example of a club’s dress code policy, and you’re relieved times have moved on, then think again. It remains as emotive an issue as ever.

A casual look at the comments following Dan Murphy’s passionate arguing for the removal of dress rules reveals many players believe the issue to be at the very heart of the game.

Pugh has received plenty of stick too, his Twitter profile swamped with indignation each time he has posed the very simple question: why does it bother you what I wear?

We spoke to the European Tour coach, and Sky Sports Golf pundit, to explore his views and see whether we might be reaching a tipping point…

dress codes

You’ve been very active on social media about dress codes and critics think you’re prescriptive on the issue. But that’s not the case, is it?

My view is just based on the fact that I find it inconceivable anyone else’s dress would affect how you would enjoy your game.

It’s the game of golf that we play and if someone wants to play it in a pair of underpants and a string vest that’s his problem. It’s not my problem and it’s his choice.

He may look like an idiot to the rest of the world but if he wants to display that he’s an idiot, then so be it. I am happy that he wants to play golf, personally.

If I am playing golf I don’t find what someone else wears at all distracting. But people clearly do and they are very snobby about it.

As soon as you go ‘I’m not a snob, but…’ then you are a snob

Do you understand why people get so passionate and upset about maintaining dress codes?

Yes, I do. Basically, they are snobs – in the purest sense of the word. That’s not a derogatory term. They just think their opinion is better than others. It always comes down to it on Twitter – ‘I’m not a snob, but…’

As soon as you go ‘I’m not a snob, but…’ then you’re a snob. You are putting across that your opinion is better than someone else’s. It’s not. Every one of us has got the same right to be here and some of us choose to dress a certain way.

dress codes

This is in no way to benefit myself. I am a conservative 63-year-old man, who dresses in a conservative way because I choose to. I don’t even own a pair of jeans, or a pair of trainers. T-shirts are what I wear underneath golf shirts when it is cold outside.

It’s not a self-serving thing. It is more to serve golf and I think that the game is much better than that – or it should be. But people want to impose their ideas.

It comes down to something like going to a restaurant. Would you rather go to a restaurant where the food was fantastic but it was very casual dining – which I have done in America where people have come to great restaurants basically in their beach clothes – or would you like to go to a poor place where everyone dresses smart? That’s the old school golf club argument.

When you see a golf club website and it has a list of rules about what players can and can’t wear, how do you feel about that club?

It disappoints me but I have been around golf for 50 years now so I am used to it. It disappoints me that those things still exist and it is not just in the UK.

My wife is actually a Supreme Court Judge in Germany – you can’t get a more establishment figure. She was told, while we were on holiday in Florida, that her shorts were too short. They had to be a stipulated length above the knee and she’d gone about an inch higher.

She was wearing her Munich golf shorts and that clearly offended the lady serving behind the desk at a golf club in America.

We’ve had practical experience (of this) and you just think ‘that’s so sad that people are worried about those things’ and golf clubs preaching their split down the middle figure where the guy on the left is correctly dressed and the guy on the right isn’t.

There are little signs that say ‘socks wrong colour’, ‘shorts too short’. Polo tops are okay but not football shirts. If you look at some of the designs of football shirts – with a collar that’s got, say, Carlsberg, on the front and there’s a golf top with Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren printed across the front – but that’s okay.

Some clubs I’ve seen (are saying) that no logos are allowed on a shirt above a certain size. You start thinking ‘Why? What are you trying to do here?’

I remember the days of the Tiger Woods turtleneck when you could buy the top in the golf shop but couldn’t wear it on the course…

dress codes

That’s the classic, isn’t it? When Tony Jacklin won the US Open in 1970, he wore a shirt that would be banned at most clubs. It was a T-shirt style. Gary Player won the USPGA in a black one. Now Nike athletes have got a button top – which they leave unbuttoned. There’s no real collar on the T-shirt and it’s pushing it to the limit.

I’m not Nike sponsored but I think it’s brilliant the way they are pushing boundaries to make sure young people enjoy dressing that way.

Why are your standards better than my standards, his standards or her standards?

Clubs often cite standards and tradition as a reason for dress codes. What is your view of that?

As soon as someone comes up with standards they have lost the argument, really, but they are just trying to prolong it by saying ‘well, you’ve got to have standards’. Why are your standards better than my standards, his standards or her standards?

That standards argument is the old ‘oh, well, but…’ I love the ‘but’ in an argument. It usually comes up with no reasonable thing and ‘you haven’t changed my mind because I’m so fixed in that mindset’.

I’ve actually stopped doing it on Twitter because it’s pretty pointless. You can find four or five different things I’ve learned on Twitter – dress codes being one of them – where people aren’t going to change their minds even in the face of all sensible logic.

From the Clubhouse

Do you think golf has got bigger problems in terms of standards – people who don’t repair pitchmarks or rake bunkers, for example?

That is the standards, if you want to use that word. Those sorts of ideas are to protect the game, not the individual.

That’s a different thing, where people say ‘if you don’t maintain standards you won’t maintain the rules of the game’.

Well, I’ve played with people who cheat who are wearing perfectly good clothes.

I’ve played with others, who are pretty casually dressed, and they still repair pitchmarks and rake bunkers and observe the rules of the game – while having fun.

Do you think dress codes are harming clubs? Do they prevent potential new members coming through the doors?

It’s debatable as to why the game is not growing. It’s pretty clear to me that one of the reasons would be that youngsters don’t really want to dress like old farts like me.

I quite accept that and I think that’s just one of the many factors. People would say: speed of play, cost of the game, rules are too complicated, it takes too long. There’s a whole list of reasons but dress codes are one of them.

If we had no dress codes and said ‘come as you are, enjoy your golf’ – that may not grow the game, just because of the other factors, but it would help. It is one of several steps that I think are needed.

dress codes

Allowing people to wear jeans on a course, for example, isn’t necessarily going to mean that people wear them either…

I can’t think of a worse garment to play golf in than a pair of tight denim jeans, but if someone wants to do it – go ahead. Have fun. Enjoy the game. It’s a great game.

I get abuse on Sky for wearing my diamond sweaters. They are quite nice. I’m not following fashion but I quite like wearing them. Who cares? It’s my choice.

It seems there are more and more clubs who are now loosening their dress codes. Are things changing?

I know they are at The Wisley, which is a modern golf club that was founded only 25 years ago. Some of that has been done by prompting and prodding but we have relaxed it down to common sense.

I’m still not 100 per cent sure they have got it right. There are some ‘standards’ that the older members cling to but it’s quite okay to wear jeans in the clubhouse now.

Golf shoes look like trainers, trainers look like golf shoes. So what’s the point in arguing that one for too long?

I think we are reaching a point where when the top clubs, or the perceived top clubs, do things the ones that are struggling might follow.

What I mean by struggling is that I can’t imagine the number of clubs that appear to be struggling financially – losing members – trying to say ‘we need stricter dress codes’. Which they do. I can’t think why.

I think they’d rather see it close than accept regular people: not their type, as they would put it. It is almost Terry and June for people who are as old as me – going back to the 70s situation comedies. The standards of that time.

I get abuse on Sky for wearing my diamond sweaters. They are quite nice. I’m not following fashion but I quite like wearing them. Who cares? It’s my choice.

People love to tell other people what to do – instead of just letting them do it and play the game.

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