The Strictest Golf Course Dress Codes in the UK
One thing about golf is that it isn’t short of opportunities to embarrass yourself. Plonking the ball into the water or shanking it out of bounds is one thing, but that’s nothing compared to the excruciating feeling you get when you’ve fallen foul of the course dress code.
If it’s any consolation, very many golfers have found themselves in precisely this situation. Abiding by golf dress codes can be a real minefield; at times it’s as if there’s always another sneaky rule hidden in the undergrowth, waiting to catch you (and your choice of attire) out.
Regardless of the criticism they sometimes receive, many golf courses cling tenaciously to their dress codes. So, just what is the purpose of these dress codes, what do they mean for people taking up the game and which dress codes are the strictest around?
Strict golfing dress codes
Although golf is seen as a highly traditional sport, tradition isn’t the only reason that so many golf clubs still have such stringent dress codes – there are, clubs insist, certain standards of decorum to uphold. However, what complicates matters here is that golf dress codes can be so inconsistent between different clubs. Here are some of the strictest examples.
Even the most traditionalist of golf clubs find it difficult to hold back the march of time altogether. It took until 2008 for Frinton Golf Club to drop a 113-year-old rule barring players from baring their legs while on the course. Up to that point, golfers playing at Frinton in shorts were required to pair them with knee-high socks.
You might have thought that such a modest change would be universally welcomed, but not so at Frinton. In fact, the decision to abolish the rule divided the club almost down the middle, which goes to show just how deeply embedded some of these old traditions are – and how difficult changing them can be.
Another dress code that’s particularly prescriptive is that of St Andrew’s – as one might admittedly expect from the home of British golf. Not only is denim barred altogether, but so are men’s shirts without collars and “golf shorts more than four inches above the knee”. Turtleneck jumpers are also a no-no, as is “sloppy and untidy attire” in general.
The dress code extends well beyond the course itself, laying out a whole range of instructions for members and guests dining at the club. Even the use of mobile phones is subject to quite rigorous regulations, restricted to certain parts of the club well away from the golf course; even in areas where it is permitted, “their use is discouraged in consideration of others”.
Royal Portrush insists on collared shirts and imposes a stringent prohibition on all types of denim. Its dress code, however, also bans caps, sandals, combat trousers and shorts – except “tailored Bermuda shorts” – but you can’t wear these in the clubhouse. Men wearing long trousers on the course must ensure that they are “tailored and appropriate for golf”.
At Formby, members are warned in advance that “smart attire is essential at all times” – and indeed, the club’s dress code bears this out. Tailored golfing shorts are permitted so long as they don’t have external pockets – this rules out cargo shorts – while trousers worn on the course must also be tailored. Collared shirt are mandatory, as are socks; ankle socks must be “visible over the shoe”. Jeans, tracksuits and shell suits are specifically prohibited, as are halter or round-neck tops for women.
In case you doubted just how strictly golf club dress codes were enforced, there’s one example that should dispel any such uncertainty. Last year, one golfer found himself refused access to Letchworth Golf Club in Hertfordshire – as his socks weren’t white. While he was given the option of spending another £7.50 on code-compliant socks from the club shop, the golfer in question decided that this would be a step too far, having already forked out for his green fee.
What is acceptable golf attire?
Although the exact specification of appropriate golfing gear can vary wildly, there are some general rules of thumb. Here’s a quick overview of what clothing it’s usually safe to wear down at the golf club:
- Shirts: Collared shirts are usually the norm for men at golf clubs, so wearing one of these (perhaps with smart knitwear) should be fine. For women, polo shirts are a safe choice for playing golf in
- Trousers: While some courses may be prepared to admit players wearing denim, very many do not – so if in doubt, stick to ordinary smart cotton or polyester golf trousers or shorts. Women may have the option of wearing long trousers or golf skirts
- Socks: Golf dress codes do not always specify what socks would be suitable for wearing while playing, but it is generally expected that they should match up with the rest of the outfit
- Headwear: Golf caps and hats are widely accepted on golf courses, as long as they’re worn in the standard manner (i.e. with peaks to the front)
Alternatively, our post on the evolution of golf attire will shed some more light on common dos and don’ts.
Golf dress codes will differ depending on where you play, which is why it’s just as important to keep the unspoken etiquette of golfing attire in mind. There are certain rules which, though they may not be stated outright, can cause considerable embarrassment and awkwardness when breached at prestigious clubs!
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