29 Aug 2022 | Industry news |

The evolution of golf attire

by Contributor

Justin Thomas image
Justin Thomas is one of the best in the world, and one who is on the edge of what's traditional in golf attire. Photo: Getty

By Richard Allen

On a sweltering day in the 1970s a member of the uber-exclusive Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, USA, turned up for a game wearing – sharp intake of breath – shorts. Clifford Roberts, the irascible chairman of the club, spotted him and said: "Nice to see you Bob. What are doing today?"

"Well, Mr Roberts, I was planning on playing golf," the member said. "Really?" replied Roberts. "Where?"

Half a century on and shorts are still not allowed at Augusta National Golf Club but, for the golfing world at large, things have relaxed a lot. Where once shapeless industrial-strength tweed jackets and skirts were mandatory for women golfers, and cuffed trousers and cable-knit sweaters for men, in recent years the game has adopted a more relaxed approach to clothing. The post-COVID boom in golf has only added to that. According to Statista, 25.1 million Americans played golf last year, 800,000 more than the previous year and the highest number for 10 years. Notably, nearly 44 percent of golfers were under the age of 40, and nearly the same amount of people in their 30s played golf as those in their 60s. In Australia, according to Golf Australia, the game grew by 21 percent last year, with an additional 210,000 people playing the game. Demographics like that, in a sport that has become increasingly style-conscious, were always going to catch the attention of the world’s fashion houses. Shorts for men are now commonplace in the summer months and the days of skirts having to reach the ankle – or, later, the knee – are long gone for women. But don’t think it’s all plain sailing, particularly at private golf clubs. Nothing causes more heartache for committees of golf clubs, or takes up more time in meetings, than the vexing subject of clothing on the course. At most private golf clubs, jeans are still not allowed, nor – for men – are T-shirts or running shorts. Women golfers are subject to far fewer regulations, although jeans are still a no-no. Club committees realise they are treading a fine line here; making the game to appeal to younger people while keeping some semblance of tradition and history. They are well aware that once the relaxed-clothing genie has been let out of the bottle, it’s pretty much impossible to cram it back in. Much of the clothing revolution has been led by the professionals, and it’s not just with golf. As soon as Spanish tennis superstar Rafael Nadal turned up at the 2018 Australian Open in pink shorts and a gray sleeveless top – which happened to perfectly show off his striking shoulders and biceps – the tennis world was forced to adapt its clothing rules.

If it was OK for Rafa, it had to be OK for tennis. (That said, Wimbledon doesn’t look like relaxing its all-white clothing policy anytime soon; the official rules of the championships still state that players must wear ‘suitable tennis attire that is almost entirely white.’). Professional golfers – like Tiger Woods, Ricky Fowler and Justin Thomas among the men, and Sandra Gal, Paige Spiranac and Lexi Thompson among the women – began sporting chic, elegant outfits on the course; form-hugging clothes with tighter fits and bolder colours, which accentuated the athletic figures of the modern golfer. Fashion houses and designer clothing companies are now well and truly entrenched in a sport that has been dominated for years by traditional golf apparel companies like Nike, Adidas, Puma, Footjoy and Oakley. The new kids on the block are names like Under Armour, Lacoste, Uniqlo, Bogey Boys, Hugo Boss, Castore, Lululemon, J Lindberg, TravisMathew and Birds of Condor. No-one was really surprised when, at the most recent Ryder Cup contest between the USA and Europe at Whistling Straits, team USA players strode onto the first tee wearing hoodies by Ralph Lauren. "You have lifestyle apparel sitting on one side, and you’ve got performance or athletic apparel on another side," Travis Mathew CEO Ryan Ellis said recently. "Over the last 10 years, you’ve got athleisure, which bridges that gap."

- First published in the Australian Financial Review. Richard Allen is an author and a Golf Australia board member.

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