Monday, November 23, 2009

An Essay: Has Golf Become Too Casual?

(Photos the sole property of Getty Images)

Golf is a game. Golf has most certainly, in the past decade, become what the average human would consider a true 'sport.' But one should, in my opinion, dress for golf in a way that pertains more to the former than the latter.  To simply use the word 'dress' implies a certain amount of care and of purpose. Plenty of golfers put deliberate care into choosing a golf shirt the same way that plenty of businessmen put care into choosing a tie each day. Without that simple premise, a blog like this - and a million others like it - does not exist. 

We've found that golfers, on the whole, happen to be at least vaguely interested, one way or another, in style. They like a particular shirt for the way it fits, or the boldness of its color or the softness of its hand. They may not know why or how or who, but they know they're going to wear that beautiful shirt on Sunday when the money is on the line because they always play better in it or at the Goldman Sachs outing, because they always look better in it. 

As the loyal KC reader knows, we are fully in favor of experimentation on the course in terms of dress. That is proven again and again here with our open-mindedness. That being said, we're also phenomenally grounded in and inspired by tradition. We think golfers should look sharp out there, put thorough care into what they're wearing and dress 'for the day.' 

Take a company like J. Lindeberg - incredibly innovative: what many people consider to be the godfather of the rebirth of golf style - but one of the things Johan Lindeberg didn't want to lose sight of was the heritage of the game. JL has succeeded in creating collection after collection of golf clothing that calls to mind the Palmers and the Players, their charisma, their charm, their gentlemanly qualities - but also injected the sexiness, the brashness, the excitement - that had seemingly left the game for good in the 80's and 90's. 

Lindeberg may use technical fabrics and European-inspired styling, but the basis of each and every collection is classic tailoring and iconic menswear: cardigans, v-neck sweaters, waistcoats, wool trousers in classic English patterns, merino vests. Yes, you may see something that Camilo helped design that looks a little more Mick Jagger than Bob Ford, but I can guarantee you that a JL mood board is built around the premise that golf is an iconic symbol - one to experiment with, but never forsake.

Many collections, even those rooted in very traditional styling, like say, a Polo Golf, certainly feel the need to evolve as the game changes and becomes 'sportier.' They are masters of doing this in subtle ways - extending the hem on a golf short, cutting a polo shirt ever so slimmer, shortening a sleeve, blending in a moisture-wicking fabric - but they are never going to lose that customer that they've built over the years: the one that takes a true pleasure in dressing for the game. 

Even some of the newer brands that may not look so traditional are getting inspiration from the right places. I met this past week with Travis and Chris at Travis Mathew and although these guys may produce collections with the distinct, no-frills essence of Southern California, the designs are rooted in an appreciation of functional and stylish menswear pieces that also happen to work for golf. 

Creativity and experimentation, as we've said, are so important to personal style and to keeping people interested in clothing. That being said, I see some things that I simply can't condone. Sneaker-golf shoes, untucked shirts, mock-necks. No professional golfer should be wearing a shirt without a collar or have his shirt untucked on the course. Period. Johan Edfors has a tremendous amount of personal style and there very well may be a contingent of ladies who enjoy seeing his belly-button on every shot, but half the time he's playing, he looks like he's going to the beach. And the topic of mock-necks shouldn't even get airtime on an esteemed site like this one, but unfortunately there are plenty of guys out there still wearing them... We'll make it simple for you... DON'T.

The sneaker-style golf shoe thing I can live with if it is done appropriately. When Ryan Moore has worn a vest and a tie, I say, rock the Puma low-tops. It's like jeans with a blazer and slim tie, they offset each other in terms of formality. Go right ahead. But in the photo above, he loses me... Completely... You know what? Retract my statement. Ryan Moore could have just as much personal style on the course while wearing appropriate footwear - get yourself a FootJoy contract like a PGA Tour winner should and bring the vests back out of the closet. 

Overly 'techy' stuff falls into the cautionary category. I'll be the first to admit it, I initially had a huge problem with the insanely popular JL Troyan and Troon pants. I wasn't going out there in anything but cotton or wool. I've relaxed in my initial hesitation, because there are huge benefits to technical pieces in terms of non-wrinkle capabilities, the aversion to staining, etc. Although they aren't for everyone, polyester performance pants do have their place in today's game if they fit and behave like JL's and are built to look polished and as part of a uniquely "golf" look. 

I don't know - I guess I still romanticize this game so much: the idea of driving to the course on a crisp morning, sun-shining, a golf polo, a sweater, a crisp pair of trousers - top down on a classic car. Dew on the first tee, a clean pair of golf shoes. The lifestyle really. What it means to be a gentleman golfer. It's something very sacred to me. That romance and that intrigue will never leave the game for some, I'm content knowing that. Has golf become too casual? That depends how you see it. Has the clothing become more relaxed? Yes, that's fair to say and probably necessary given the changes in the physical game. Have the attitudes become more relaxed? Yes, I think that's also fair. 

There is no reason to fear change as long as the inspiration and the participation are pure. This is a clothing blog, but these broader topics are things to be considered, certainly. So as you pull up to the course, change your shoes, feel that distinct fall sunshine on your shoulders, remember that golf is only as pure as its current participants, its current state. It's every golfer's responsibility to carry on the tradition of this storied game. Dress like you respect it. Act like you cherish it. And most importantly, pass it on so we never forget it...



Anonymous said...

Great piece KC. Golf has a unique way of sorting itself out. Rules, behaviour and etiquette. The same must be assumed with regard to it's standard of dress. the ultra casual look will soon blow itself out, as players miss the opportunity to dress up for golf!

HTBATG said...

Spot on KC. The golf fashion world hit it's peak in the late 40's all the way through the mid 60's.

Crucial points that can never be reiterated enough are the following:

"No professional golfer should be wearing a shirt without a collar or have his shirt untucked on the course."

In regards to mock turtle necks: "We'll make it simple for you... DON'T."

I wish I could tell every golfer, potential golfer, and media outlet these words because it is the honest truth.

This is a must read for any golfer who truly wants to look like a true golfer.

Ken said...

Unfortunately, this goes far beyond the golf course and extends to the workplace in many industries. For that reason I fear we've crossed the line on ultra casual (dare I say sloppy) dress on the golf course and there is no going back. I would even be happy with small impprovements such as no cargo shorts and tucked-in shirt tails. But it seems that, in general, people have lost the notion of appropriate dress. The silver lining is that those of us who still take pride in our attire on the course will stand out even more.

Anonymous said...

Golf must tread a fine line between tradition and rounds played. In these difficult times we are seeing a "relaxation" of the standard that has made the look of golf so special.
Our industry must look closely, particulary in apparel to our peers in the Tennis Industry who once decided that anything goes and with that, lost the enire Tennis Apparel Industry.

Jimmy O said...

Folks no longer dress in a manner that reflects the importance they place on the event. Dining out is a great example. People dress in the same clothing for an upscale restaurant or a McDonald's. Perhaps if we "dressed to impress" the people we dine and play golf with, the standard of dress in both locales would improve.