There was a time when the golfer, setting out for a day’s sport, could pack with a degree of confidence.
For the game, a set of golf clothes. For the clubhouse, a jacket; a shirt with buttons, collar, and links-themed cuffs; a school, club, regimental or other tie of subdued colour, non-humorous design and free of propaganda related to sexual orientation, politics or Christmas; a pair of tidy trousers with belt, braces or the full set; and dark socks and leather shoes. Today, shockingly, there are golf clubs where you would be less conspicuous in flip-flops, pyjama bottoms, a Mohican hairstyle and a Black Sabbath T-shirt. And not having shaved for a week. Faced with such uncertainty, the traditional principles of functional golf clothing are worth remembering.
The trousers should be loose-fitting to allow complete freedom of movement, with hip swivel and knee snap; and must not get bogged down in the mud when playing out of a knee-deep water hazard. The obvious answer is the ‘plus fours’, a pair of trousers that end four inches below the knee (hence the name) and known in the USA, inexplicably, as ‘knickers’. The sock should meet the trouser and secure it, to exclude any risk of an ugly gap.
Above the waist, similar considerations apply, with the need for pockets. The Norfolk jacket has never been bettered. The more traditional long red frock coat is still common in Wimbledon, but exposes you to the threat of attack from the anti-hunt lobby.
To wear any such uniform today, however, risks branding you a fancy-dress golfer, or a member of a curious antiquarian golf society. That might be a good bluff, but there are quite a few real ones about and you might easily be handed a ‘cleek’ and invited to show off your skills, leading to almost certain exposure.
The best that can be said is that these days almost anything goes. Shorts are widely worn in the summer months, and it is no use pretending otherwise. The tie is rarely seen, bared knees proliferate, and the long-sock rule, where it is still enforced in plush suburban locations such as the RAC, has ceased to be a serious attempt to maintain standards and become little more than an excuse for a reprimand.
Embrace freedom! Forget that golfing cliché, the diamond-patterned Pringle sweater. As long as you are not dressed in anything too bright, no one will notice you. Bear in mind that your clothing on and off the course, your golf bag, its contents and all other costume props must strike one considered style note. Shun if possible all logoed clothing or brands that employ the vulgar external label (unless you have a good sponsorship deal on the go), and make understatement your keynote. But stuff a tie in your pocket, just in case.
The same goes for golf shoes. Nothing is as it was. Even spikes have gone soft. The two-tone perforated Gatsby, with matching bag and glove, will identify you as a cheat, a fraud and a hustler of dubious provenance, but (spikes permitting) there is still a place for the external flapping leather tongue that conceals the laces (or absence thereof).
Prioritise comfort, while bearing in mind that a winter shoe with a summer trouser is not a good look. Spiked rubber ankle boots are available on the Continent, and are worth taking to Ireland.
Glove, in fact. The golfer wears only one – in the rear trouser pocket – with one finger protruding defiantly, or two in a V configuration. Left or right pocket, depending on the coded socio-sexual message you are intending to send out.
Let variety be your watchword. The golf bag is there to be filled, and have hats attached to it. A brightly coloured baseball cap has sponsorship potential and annoyance value, and a long peak to disguise your intentions when you want to sneak a look at your opponent’s club selection. The Australian bush hat menacingly worn by Greg Norman has attachments for corks popped during the round. If you favour the bobble hat, go the whole bobble. Make sure the bobble is very bobbly, loosely attached and large so that you can bobble it just as your opponent is about to play. There is no need for a bell, which may cross the line between tactics and crime.
The bowler, admittedly a curious look on the golf course, is useful for all sorts of odd jobs, including the decapitation of camera-clicking spectators and ugly statues overlooking the green. The golfer can never have too many hats. The hatless brim and capless peak come into the category of ladies’ wear.
This is best left to ladies. They have always enjoyed greater latitude than their male counterparts at golf clubs, and that is as it should be, on Tuesday afternoons. Having said that, few male golfers are averse to the juxtaposition of white ankle socks and a well-cut golf skirt. (On a woman, preferably).
A light set for showers, a medium set for average rainfall, and a heavy-duty set of trawlerman’s oilskins for Ireland. Don’t expect even these to keep the rain out. Several towels are essential: one for the clubs, another for the hands and face, a third to dry the towels. Some bluffers will not bother with waterproofs, shedding layers as the sky darkens, and declaring blithely, ‘In wet weather, less is more.’ This strategy may lead to pneumonia.
The golfing umbrella is huge, as is necessary to conceal any adjustments you need to make to the position of your ball in the rough. It is made of panels of contrasting primary colours.
A plain-coloured or downright colourless umbrella would be much less effective as a decoy or visual distraction, when put up at vital moments and sent bowling down the fairway in a high wind. It also helps to offer sponsors a selection of different colours when selling advertising in an attempt to offset golf costs. Against a backdrop of ‘Buy a Volvo’, bunker play is almost impossible. The umbrella does not count against your allowance (14 clubs), unless you play a shot with it.
Sunglasses and SDF stuff
For extreme weather, a good skin cream and eye protection should be carried. Sunglasses add an element of inscrutability that the bluffer may find tempting. But you may want to think twice as the example of David Duval illustrates.
After winning the 2001 Open Championship to cement his position among the world’s very top pro golfers, Duval tied up a deal with Oakley and transformed his on-course persona from that of everyday sporting superstar to cold mafia hitman. In two years his ranking slumped to 211th in the world and, still contractually bound to wearing his branded sunglasses at all times, he took a break from golf.
Maybe a more understated pair of Primark Sport Pro (RRP £1.99) would have got the job done more effectively. Or it could be that sunglasses just don’t help.
For more on golfing garb, purchase The Bluffer’s Guide to Golf immediately.