What golf’s obsession with dress codes says about us

The Scoop

Our resident Foghorn, Tom Irwin, gets stuck into dress codes – or, as he prefers to put it, “the kind of crippling middle-class hypocrisy that blights golf”

I watched quite a bit of Glastonbury recently. Yes, I did enjoy Liam Gallagher and David Grohl. Yes, I am 40. I also stumbled across Ray BLK – a slightly more current R&B/soul singer.

Her song Doing Me struck more than a pair of cords – sorry chords – with me. Here is her take on clothes:

My dressing is expression so don’t judge me by my clothes
Some days I roll up in the hood and a trackie
Turning up your nose cause you think I look tacky
I go to a Michelin meal in my Reeboks
Ain’t gotta wear my wares and be flashy
A short skirt doesn’t mean that I want it
My appearance doesn’t represent my wallet
This is for the ignorant ones with opinions
Keep your two cents inside your pocket

Golf is a loving a bit of modernising at the moment. We are being dragged along by various pithy blogs and social media offerings.

One recently produced a doubtlessly well-intentioned piece encouraging us all to buy some Nike clothing and relax a bit when it comes to dress codes.

We were told that times are changing fast: collarless shirts are fine, untucked tailored shirts are fine, and wait for it, the old guard in their FJ classics are also fine. So far, so open minded. Then we learn that ‘beer-bellied louts’ with their ‘arses hanging out’ are not allowed.

Bellies, or arses, are not the problem. They are fine – everyone has them. The assumption being made was that the owners of said bellies and arses are pre-programmed to act like louts.

dress codes - Rory McIlroy

I know better than anyone that wearing smart clothes does not guard against ‘loutish’ behaviour and nor is the opposite true.

I have been arrested in a tuxedo and helped an old lady over the road in a football shirt. (At least one of those two things is true.)

So it turns out our hip modernisers are not as inclusive as we hoped. When it comes to clothing, it appears that anything goes as long as it is smart, trendy and ideally carrying a Swoosh.

Or, to put it another way, anything does not, in fact, go.

Focusing on clothing rather than behaviour is both a trad view, as the Youth like to say, and a modern incarnation of an age-old problem.

It is a kind of Blairite, vaguely-left-of-centre take on golfing dress codes. But in golfing terms, the equivalent of a right-on liberal nutcase.

It is a move towards the people – as long as they are the right kind of people. You know, the ones who don’t smell and that.

It is, I am sure unintentionally, an illustration of the crippling middle-class hypocrisy that blights golf.

In many ways it was ever thus. Over the years golf has modernised its dress. We don’t play in tweed, or jackets and ties, or heavy boots, or plus-fours, or even diamond-patterned jumpers anymore.

I am sure collarless shirts, shorts, short socks, denim and leggings will become passable at most clubs as time goes on.

Clothes, as Miss BLK rightly says, are personal. They change with the weather, your mood and, crucially, like my belly and arse, they don’t in any way impact on other people.

Miss BLK says she is “just doin’ me” and encourages us to “try doin’ you” and she is absolutely correct.

The virtue of golf is in the civilized behaviour it teaches us – like conversing with opponents and respecting and applauding their play. You have heard it all before.

dress codes - Tommy Fleetwood

We don’t need to be told what to wear because, like 99 per cent of humans, we know how to behave.

So please don’t just soften the dress code, crack it, smash it and let us #getonwithit.

Finally, please contrast your new favourite R&B star’s words with these taken from a golf club website. A club that is by no means the worst, that is open to all-comers, will take anyone’s business and really needs their money:

Dress Code

On the course, including all practice areas:-

  • Shirts must be designed for golf 
  • Shorts must be tailored and knee length
  • Socks worn with shorts MUST be white, low-cut white sports socks are acceptable
  • Golf shoes should be fitted with soft spikes from May until September. metal spikes are not permitted

The following clothing is not permissible on the golf course or practice areas:-

  • Combat/Cargo trousers or shorts (with patch pockets)
  • Denim clothing of any kind
  • Collarless T-shirts

In the Clubhouse:-

A casual dress code is operated. Clothing should be both smart and clean; smart denim clothing and trainers are acceptable. 

Torn or ripped clothing and flip flops are not acceptable.

Advice and guidance is available from the Golf Operations Team who are responsible for monitoring and enforcing this this code and as such their decision is final. Your co-operation in adhering to this code is much appreciated.

Not quite the same, is it? It doesn’t even rhyme.

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