Is it time to ditch golf's dress codes?

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We polled the users of todaysgolfer.co.uk and asked five simple questions. Our survey says...

Do golf's dress codes deter people from taking up the game?

Survey

Should jeans be allowed on the golf course?

Survey

Should trainers be allowed in the clubhouse?

Survey

Should evening eals require a jacket and tie?

Survey

Would relaxing the dress code lead to poor behaviour on the course?

Survey

In a recent TG survey, 71 per cent of you said golf’s dress codes deterred people from taking up the game. With clubs closing and participation down, the debate is growing. We spoke to a range of people to discover the impact dress codes have on golf as a business, how the UK compares to the rest of the world and what, if anything, needs to change.

How much do dress codes affect a club’s revenue?

“We’re more concerned with running our business than the length of someone’s socks,” says Scott Evans, Managing Director of Hertfordshire’s new Centurion Club, which has no written policy and allows jeans in the clubhouse. “Telling people off for their dress shouldn’t have a place when you are trying to create an inviting ambience which encourages people to spend money.”

What’s it like in other countries?

Keith Haslam, Managing Director of Braemar Golf who manage projects in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, says the culture is different in the developing markets: “While they love golfing apparel on the course, in the clubhouse there is definitely a more relaxed approach than the UK,” he says. “But golf is much less developed in these countries, so they’re not bound by traditions like we are. Take Bulgaria, for example. When we started working there, the number of registered golfers with handicaps was 261 for the entire country, so putting up barriers is pretty low on the agenda.”
Neil Sweeney, head pro at Elea Estate in Cyprus, says the right dress code can be the difference between success and failure: “A relaxed atmosphere attracts new people,” he says. “Long gone are the days of jacket and tie in the clubhouse. In clubs I’ve worked for in Germany, Russia and Cyprus it wouldn’t work. People want to be relaxed in their free time and having these rules would keep them away which hits revenue.”

What should and shouldn’t be allowed?

“On the course you have to find a balance,” says Sweeney. “Collared shirts for men and tailored shorts. It should be relaxed, but we still need certain standards, so no jeans, beach shorts, or t-shirts.” Haslam believes the definition of ‘smart’ has changed: “Jeans are acceptable in the developing markets, but that is true of business in these places,” he says. “It’s not uncommon to see business done in jeans, shirt and jacket. It’s part of their norm, so why would you worry about it in a leisure environment? They don’t look untidy, the opposite in fact, there’s just a vast difference in what people consider smart.”

Would different dress codes really boost golf’s popularity?

“No doubt dress codes are dated and part of the problem, but it goes much deeper,” says Sky Sports pundit Denis Pugh, who has aired strong views about dress codes on Twitter (@Dpugh54). “Golf takes too long and the game is too difficult to learn for a generation that has been brought up on instant gratification. The rules need to be radically changed using simpler language for golf to be appealing.”
Evans agrees: “The golf industry is not appealing to enough new people because it refuses to change and we are losing ground to other sports as a result.”
“It is one of the numerous factors which contribute to an image problem golf has,” says Haslam. “Dress codes may not be the cause, but they certainly don’t encourage people to take up the game or families to enjoy clubs as a place of leisure.”

Golfers who feel comfortable and relaxed are more likely to feel welcomed, play well, put their hands in their pockets after a round and come back with other golfers. While the process of modernising may be difficult in some instances, clubs need to wake up and realise that the long-term future of the game is more important than the length of someone’s socks. We don’t want to see jeans and trainers on the course – just like the majority of people who took our survey – but perhaps it is time to relax the rules in the clubhouse. 

Our verdict

Golfers who feel comfortable and relaxed are more likely to feel welcomed, play well, put their hands in their pockets after a round and come back with other golfers. While the process of modernising may be difficult in some instances, clubs need to wake up and realise that the long-term future of the game is more important than the length of someone’s socks. We don’t want to see jeans and trainers on the course – just like the majority of people who took our survey – but perhaps it is time to relax the rules in the clubhouse. 

 

Two sides of the argument...

DennisChange them! Says Denis Pugh, European Tour coach, Sky Sports pundit and dress code hater.

Being told how to dress is a crazy concept in a game for enjoyment. What someone wears won’t spoil my enjoyment of the game, but their poor knowledge and bad manners will.

Tradition is a vague nothingness to me. I’ve played with guys in the dreaded T-shirt, jeans and trainers whose behaviour has been superior to the traditionalist brigade. Everyone should choose how they wish to represent themselves. I look forward, not backwards.

I know those living in the past will be astonished at my views and those of the new generation. But the game must attract new people or become a niche sport for snobs.

DennisNo, they’re fine! Says Richard Penley-Martin, Secretary at Ganton Golf Club in North Yorkshire.

We’re maintaining a waiting list and candidates for membership state that the traditional standards, including the dress code, are one of the things that attract them to Ganton.

Like the game of golf, a club’s dress rules self-regulate according to the wishes and needs of members. We’ve adapted the dress code to accommodate members who no longer wish to wear a jacket and tie whilst maintaining more traditional dress in the dining room and one of the lounges.

No doubt we’ll have to change again as society does but, from the feedback I get, I think we’ve found a happy medium that satisfies the majority.