Courtesy of Seema Sadekar
LPGA players bare their thighs and flaunt club rules even as course records fall at their feet. Billionaires stand before their boards dressed in jeans and T-shirts. And nobody can explain the function of a collar on a woman golfer’s shirt, other than making it look more like a man’s shirt.
It’s no wonder that the hallowed dress codes are moving to the back of this old game’s closet, as beleaguered golf course and golf club owners hope their customers have deep pockets in whatever they’re wearing.
“If I were to enforce a dress code today, I would lose a lot of people and probably a league,” said Kathy Aznavorian, president of the Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center outside of Detroit. “I can’t afford to do that. I see players in T-shirts and stuff I would never own. I just close my eyes. In today’s golf market, can we afford to be the judges of good and bad taste?”
Cathy Harbin, now director of the World Golf Foundation’s Golf 20/20 initiative, advocates more inclusiveness. “In 20 years as a golf course operator I’ve seen it go from very, very strict in the minds of everyone to starting to lighten up a little,” she said. “There’s a movement in golf toward letting people be more comfortable and breaking down barriers. Dress code is a barrier.”
What's appropriate anyway?
A search on dress codes uncovers endless Don’ts: No jeans, tank tops, swimsuits, athletic shorts, cutoffs, jogging clothes, halter tops, strapless tops, drawstrings, shorts that are too long, shorts that are too short, backward-facing caps, and, at one club in the South, “no Lycra spandex garments.” (Ladies, don’t get caught snapping your bras.)
Then there are the private clubs making precise demands of women: “Shirts must have a collar” … “Shorts must be no more than 4 inches above the knee” … “Sleeveless shirts must have a collar or a crew neck”
Regulations are everywhere. Enforcement varies – it’s safe to say head professionals aren’t walking around with rulers – but the codes do have their backers.
“I don’t know that the collar has a purpose,” says Lucy Mitchell, a partner in Walters Golf Management, which operates 15 Missouri golf clubs. “But we’re in the Midwest. And the traditional part of the game is still very important in the Midwest. I’ve polled our members at Whitmoor (St. Charles, Mo.) the last three years, and each year the survey came back: 70 percent of them still do not want jeans anywhere at the club.”
Some clubs and daily fee courses are, however, beginning to use the word “appropriate” in their dress codes. Now, there’s a nice ambiguous word.
“If you go back to the early stages of the game,” Harbin noted, “men played in button-downs and ties and women played in dresses. I think, wow, if you put me in a button-down and tie, I couldn’t even swing. I’d say loose-fitting clothes are appropriate – but half the tour pros wear the tightest thing they can. Look at Sergio.”