Rethinking golf’s dress code

Last week while in Northern Ireland I dropped by a charming links called Ardglass. A junior competition was on and I, a budding senior, was interested in the event. Kids were having a ball while taking swipes-many, in many cases-at golf balls. “Oh sugar,” one girl said after knocking her ball sideways a few yards, then scampering after it.

But I was taken with more than the golf. I loved the relaxed way the club handled the competition for the kids. It occurred to me that we take junior golf all too seriously in Canada, and I wonder if you feel the same way.

For one thing, I find that too many parents follow their progeny around. The kids often feel pressure. Why not just leave them alone and let them have plain, simple fun?

That’s what the boys and girls were doing at Ardglass, a rough and tumble course on cliffs above the sea. The only parents I saw were those handling the starting at the first tee. Other than that it was wall-to-wall kids, well, sea-to-wall actually as an ancient wall cuts through the course.

And there was something else: The kids were dressed in the sorts of clothes one would expect kids to wear while playing a sport. There was one w lad in running, wearing hiking pants with big pockets. Another kid was wearing a sweatshirt and striped sweatpants.

All of this caught my interest. Why, I thought, these kids weren’t being subjected to some ridiculous dress code. In fact, the longer I’ve been involved in golf the more I think dress codes are stupid. They turn kids off the game. I’ve written on this subject from time to time and I always hear from adults who prattle on about discipline and rules and kids growing up feeling they can do anything if they don’t have to adhere to dress codes on the course.

Huh? What exactly are the adults saying here? What is the thinking behind dress codes in golf? The game is supposed to be about freedom, not restriction, restraint and constraint. Yet we seem to get ourselves all exercised over whether a golfer is wearing a collarless shirt or jeans. I don’t get it. I really don’t.

Kids and golf etiquette
I wish somebody would demonstrate to me that there’s a correlation between a kid wearing jeans and a t-shirt on the course and incorrigibility. I can’t imagine kids more aware of etiquette than the ones I saw at Ardglass.

There I saw one eight-year-old boy caddying for his brother, all of nine years old. The younger boy was wearing blue sweat pants and a camouflage jacket, smiling as he was going along and pushing his brother’s trolley.

“I’m wearing a Spurs’ shirt,” he told me, pulling up his jacket to show that he supported the Tottenham football team. “The rest of my family doesn’t like Spurs. They like Manchester United.”

I turned around and saw more colourful shirts, and kids. One was wearing a Planet Hollywood T-shirt. Another youngster wore a t-shirt that hung down to his knees. And everywhere I looked I saw children enjoying themselves on a bright, warm summer’s day on a fine old links. Perfect, I thought. Kids being kids.

Code makes people hate golf
Dress codes make people hate golf, I think. And, as it happens, last week I violated a dress code at some clubs myself. My luggage didn’t arrive in Belfast in time for a golf game I had arranged, and so I had to wear jogging shoes rather than golf shoes.

I felt somewhat embarrassed by this, because I knew that some people were looking at me as I stood on the first tee and figuring I knew nothing about the game. It’s a judgement thing, and I’m aware of it. That is, we figure somebody in jogging shoes doesn’t know the game. He doesn’t have enough respect for it to wear proper golf shoes.

Thankfully, I hit a good drive off the first, even in jogging shoes. But still I felt the need to explain to my fellow players why I wasn’t wearing golf shoes. We’re all influenced by ideas of dress in golf, whether we know it or not. Is that healthy? I don’t think so.

Please tell me the value of dress codes for golfers. I just don’t see it. Let’s encourage kids to play, not discourage them by insisting they dress like toffs. They’re not toffs. They’re kids.