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Dress Code Switch: Golf’s Unlikely Embrace of the Hoodie

Nearly two months post Ryder Cup, I’m still waiting on broad public acknowledgement of the striking sea change we witnessed at Whistling Straits. No, not the fourth U.S. victory since 1993. I’m talking about the addition of hoodies to the official American team kit.

The advent of this landmark bit or golf couture was in fact noted on both sides of the pond, but mainly as a means of telling readers where they might order their own commemorative hoodies. This, too, is a pretty telling development: The idea that golf’s famously staid, hidebound fan base might consider wearing something so fashion forward flies in the face of history, short and long term.

Could it be that golf is actually changing with the times?

Let’s review: What golfers tend to wear has been the butt of jokes and snide commentary for more than a century. The game’s inherent conservatism was initially the source of such derision. How else to explain the extraordinary staying power of kilties? Cultural pushback focused not merely on the tweed, the coats and ties in clubhouses, but the perceived exclusivity that spawned these fashion dictates.

More recently, the game was taken to task for a slew of obvious fashion don’ts: white belts, for example — something that emerged during the 1970s, when the spirit of Greg Brady was loose in the land. Sadly, this fad has made a comeback of late. Traditionally, golf cannot help itself in this regard. Despite its “best efforts”, it seemed golf would never shake its reputation an activity for old white guys in bad pants.

I’ve been in the golf business since 1992, and one of the first things I noticed was the game’s preoccupation with dispelling not just adverse couture tropes, but others: Golf’s inability to effectively welcome new players, for example. This was code for the game’s inability to attract female and minority players — a problem for a sport that wanted to grow, and yet another vestige of golf’s conservative and exclusive history.

The problem was, most of the new player development programs — and there have been dozens trotted out over the last 30 years — proved hard-blown exercises in lip service. Golf wanted to sound progressive and inclusive. But when push came to shove, the establishment was happy to welcome women, minorities and juniors into the game so long as they wore collared shirts and no one was obliged to play behind them.

Enter COVID-19, which has scrambled the assumptions of institutions far bigger and more ensconced than golf. As it happened, the pandemic resulted in a wholly unexpected boom in golf participation. Just one problem: A lot of these new players, attracted by the outdoor exercise, didn’t know how to play the game exactly. They certainly didn’t know what to wear. Or rather, they didn’t care so much what they wore. These new converts showed up in sneakers, gym shorts and hoodies — and pearls were clutched across golfdom at the mere thought of such a transgression.

Twenty-twenty proved a watershed moment for golf apparel. A pretty quiet watershed, it must be said. When a hoodie-clad Tyrell Hatton won the European Tour’s flagship BMW Championship that fall, folks took some notice. The powers that be at Wearside GC in Sunderland, UK tweeted: In light of Tyrell Hatton’s recent success and fashion statement and following discussions on this, can I draw your attention to the Clubs [sic] dress code and re emphasise that “hoodies” are not acceptable golf attire for Wearside Golf Club, no more so in fact than designer ripped jeans… Orthodox till they die up there in Northumberland, apparently.

Since that moment, however, the tide has turned. U.S. PGA Tour player Kevin Kisner was spotted wearing a hoodie in June 2021. Then the Ryder Cup was conducted, a year late, on the shores of Lake Michigan: If pervasive silence is any indication, this particular fashion statement has been completely normalized.

White America’s ability to absorb and appropriate formerly transgressive bits of culture knows no bounds apparently. As recently as 2013, the hoodie worn by young Trayvon Martin pegged him as a thug and resulted in his shooting death. Now Justin Thomas is wearing one, as part of official Ryder Cup team attire, and no one bats an eye!

One wonders whether such precipitous change would have been possible without COVID-19, the broader effects of which continue to show themselves inside and outside of golf. Were you aware Seattle-based rapper Benjamin Hammond Haggerty, known by his stage name Macklemore, has launched his own golf apparel line? He also fell in love with golf during COVID, apparently, and claims an 11 handicap. His new venture, Bogey Boys, does not appear to include any hoodies, just a bunch of bowling shirts and retro designs that seem ironically garish. Nevertheless, it would appear the pandemic didn’t just reinvigorate golfer participation in the U.S. It had rendered the game a notch or two more cool.

In researching a story for Golf Course Management magazine this past summer, I chatted with an Oklahoma public course operator who saw this change happening first hand, in real time. He noted that hoodies had been THE lightening-rod issue stemming from the COVID-occasioned participation bump. 

“All these things we used to take as religious convictions are now being questioned,” Jeff Wagner told me. “Like music on the golf course and the appearance of all these hoodies. Now that has ruffled some feathers. That’s new, but the sentiment isn’t. I saw a guy cry once because he was so offended that someone wore jeans in his clubhouse.

“I really hope that, post COVID, we acknowledge that adhering to snobby traditionalism comes with a cost, especially in public golf. I’m 40 years old, a tail-end Millennial, and I think these points of concern transcend the caliber of your club. On the spectrum of industries that stand to benefit from the redefining of things, golf is top of the list. If we really want to grow the game, this sort of adaptation is part of it.”

I don’t own a proper hoodie, but I have been known to keep a red, hooded, rain-proof pullover in my golf bag. A stiff wind, I’ve found, frankly wreaks havoc with any sort of hooded golf attire. It’s a pain in the ass standing over putts with that thing flapping around back there. I had assumed this was the price I paid to keep dry. Now I realize that, all along, I’d been answering the musical question, “What price fashion?”

Macklemore models a few selections from his now golf apparel line.

Azinger primes Ryder Cup grudge pump … Does it matter if he’s wrong?

Tommy Fleetwood mounts Ian Poulter after reclaiming the Ryder Cup for Europe (and its pro tour) in 2018.

Well, here we are again. Every few years it seems some U.S. golfing professional/personality blithely asserts that the U.S. PGA Tour is without peer. Full stop. This invariably gets under the skin of Europeans who, to be fair, have dominated for 25 years the event created specifically to settle this argument: the Ryder Cup. They and their tour have also claimed roughly half the major championships since the turn of the century.

As golf spats go, it’s run of the mill. There are decidedly more important things to ponder these days. But here’s the problem: The Euros have a point while Paul Azinger, this year’s jingoist rock-thrower designate, doesn’t.

And besides: With the Tour on hiatus and the Masters postponed, you’ve got something better to ponder?

All this came to a head, again, late in final round of the Honda Classic, two Sundays ago, March 1. Azinger, himself a major winner and former Ryder Cup captain, assessed on NBC the mindset of Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who had the chance to birdie the 72nd hole and force a playoff.

“These guys know you can win all you like on that European Tour, the international game and all that, but you have to win on the PGA Tour,” Zinger intoned from on high, in his booth, adding that Lee Westwood was another Englishman on the leaderboard with lots of worldwide wins (44 to be exact) but just two in the U.S. “They know that and I think Tommy knows that. It puts a bit of pressure on Tommy. But this is where they want to be. They want to come here, they want to prove they can win at this level.”

Lookit: Azinger’s job, or part of it, is to ratchet up the stakes on a Sunday afternoon. It’s also his job to pimp the U.S. PGA Tour (more on that later).

But the Euro response was swift, pointed and, it must be said, pretty spot on. Ian Poulter tweeted: “Paul please do not condescend or disrespect the @EuropeanTour and our players like that. We have slapped your arse in the Ryder Cup for so long.” Westwood himself called the comments “disrespectful”. The winning Ryder Cup captain from 2018, Dane Thomas Bjorn, called them “at best ignorant; at worst, arrogant.” Rory McIlroy, who, like Poulter, now makes his home in Florida, had this to say: “His comments were a little nationalistic,” McIlroy said.

Poulter’s fellow Englishman, Tyrell Hatton, put a bow around all of them one week later by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

Azinger, like many members and backers of the PGA Tour through the years, continues to confuse the wealth of a tour with the overall player-quality of a tour. Prize money is greater at U.S. PGA Tour events — this reality is what lures players like McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Poulter, Hatton and Fleetwood to play so many events here, to maintain homes here, to even join the U.S. PGA Tour in order to compete for all that money.

But bigger purses and better-heeled corporate sponsors do not make the preponderance of U.S. pros any better than those competing for smaller purses on the European Tour. That was mere theory in the 1990s, but it’s more or less an established fact today — one American golfers and commentators more or less refuse to acknowledge. For whatever reason, the European Union is turning out as many if not more, better competitive golfers today than the United States. The Ryder Cup proves it. The major championships prove it. For his part, young Tommy Fleetwood — with his 5 European Tour wins, his breakout performance at the 2018 Ryder Cup, his top 10 world ranking — fairly well embodies it.

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Welsh golf exceeds the hype, in unexpected ways
The 11th at Royal St. David's (photo courtesy of Brandon Tucker/WorldGolf.com)

Welsh golf exceeds the hype, in unexpected ways

Royal St. David’s Golf Club and its singular Welsh backdrop, Harlech Castle


The British Open is nearly underway, and naturally there are myriad reasons to visit the U.K. with your golf clubs and, well, none of them have much to do with the British Open or any of the courses that host the Open Championship. Look at Wales, which is right next door to Birkdale (to all of England, to be honest) and the Open has never been held there. Yet the golf up and down the northwestern Welsh coast is outstanding. What’s more, when you venture into this section of the British Isles, you enter a region so remote, so removed from modern resort and tournament conventions, that a golf journey there feels almost, well… Arthurian.

Indeed, a hefty chunk of the King Arthur legend is Welsh, drawn from early poetic sources such as Y Gododdin that are, like the Welsh language itself, pre-Christian. The Druids, the priestly class of the class, considered the Welsh island of Anglesey sacred, and this ancient, mystical feeling still pervades the country’s dark hollows, its untamed coastline, even its trees (The Celts thought them sacred, you know).

Here’s an example of how this world and the modern golfing world can interact:

About 15 years ago my girlfriend, Sharon, who would later become my wife, and I went to visit friends in Market Drayton, Shropshire, just over the Welsh border, in England, and not far from Birmingham. In fact, I was there on assignment, writing a travel piece re. where to play in the Midlands while attending the 1995 Ryder Cup (and we can see what sort of promotional effect that story had; when was the last time you heard of anyone visiting Edgbaston, Beau Desert or Hawkstone Park?).

Anyway, we decided to head west a couple hours, over the Welsh border to seaside Harlech, home to Royal St. David’s Golf Club. I had written a letter to the club secretary requesting the courtesy of the club (remember letters?), and he had kindly obliged. Still, we arrived in coat and tie, ready for an audience and perhaps a drink in the bar before teeing off.

Now, Sharon was a pretty rank novice at this stage. She had her own clubs and arrived at the club looking pretty darned smart in a turtleneck and one of my vintage sport jackets with the sleeves rolled up (remember the ‘90s?). Still, the club secretary was dubious. I don’t know whether he suspected her inexperience (none of us had handicap cards), or he was merely a mild sexist when it came to sheilas playing the course. Whatever the case, he followed us to the first tee to witness our inaugural drives. I’m not sure who was made more nervous by this, Sharon or myself, but she drilled one right down the middle about 230 yards and off we went. Come to think of it, that may have been the day I decided she was the one…

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Coats, Ties and Foursomes: Collegiate Golf in the UK

Coats, Ties and Foursomes: Collegiate Golf in the UK

For all the trans-Atlantic DNA we share with our British golfing brethren, it’s easy and, I daresay, somewhat natural to assume that college golf here in the U.S. is pretty much the same as it is over there. Not so.

Top players from the U.K. (and mainland Europe) routinely travel stateside to hone their games at American colleges and universities. Indeed, many of these men, women and their games will be on display later this month (May 19-31) at Rich Harvest GC, site of the 2017 NCAA Championships. But why do they make this trip in such appreciable numbers?

Because collegiate golf in the U.K. — like all college sports there — is decidedly low-key, even compared to the low-stakes Division III golf I played at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., during the early 1980s.

Yet, for my money, one can place collegiate golf alongside beer and period cinema as something the Brits still do better, with more nuance and panache, than we do. Yes, our universities turn out more tour professionals, but for the majority of college golfers, in both countries, that’s not the aim. It’s about competition and its sensible integration with the game’s social niceties — and no one does that better than the British upper crust, whose ethos dominated my university golfing experience abroad. Coats and ties, foursomes in the morning, singles in the afternoon, and no less than two proper English piss-ups sandwiched between them. You can have your vans, your matching shirts and golf bags. To Yanks, collegiate golf in the U.K. may look and feel more like a club sport, but having played both sides of this fence, I’ll go with the Pommies.

At mighty Wesleyan, a perennial golfing doormat, the exercise we underwent during the ‘80s remains recognizable: Throw on a pair of khakis and a golf shirt; pile into a van and meet a different college team, or two, at the course venue; play 18 holes of medal (maybe match play, on that very rare occasion); shake hands, tally up the scores, pile back into the van and drive home to campus. Big-time Division I golf schools don’t play many dual or tri-matches like these any more, I understand. More often they play various invitational tournaments whereby dozens of schools show up in one place, seven guys from each team play medal, and the best 5 scores count. We did this, too, though only once or twice a season.

Collegiate golf in England during the mid-1980s, when I played for the University of London, was nothing like this. Nothing. For starters, and perhaps most important, we rarely played other schools. Instead, university teams were hosted by golf clubs themselves, which trotted out their best players for a day of intergenerational match play and assorted reverie. Here’s a typical match-day regimen:

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The Curmudgeon: Golf’s Most Bracing Pod

The Curmudgeon: Golf’s Most Bracing Pod


We know how it is. You like your golf. You might even love it, but the game’s fawning media echo chamber leaves you cold, and often woefully ill-informed. Perhaps The Curmudgeon — the golf podcast that dares speak truth to power — is for you. Join host Hal Phillips and a panoply of journalists who aren’t afraid to put their access at risk. What’s more, you don’t have to wear a collared shirt to listen in.

Inside this Special PGA Championship pod:
• Should the Masters really be a Major?
• Sartorial Screed: The Case Against Cargo Shorts
• What are the spoils of Ryder Cup hospitality exactly?

2010.08.12 The Curmudgeon