Golf is a sport with a long and rich history, having originated in its present form in fifteenth-century Scotland but with some aspects of the game having been played for many centuries before that.
Some point to the ancient Roman game of paganica, or to the similar Chinese chuiwan, as having been the inspiration in the first instance. Other possible influences were the French chambot or the English cambuca. All of these pastimes, and more, bore some resemblance to the modern game of golf.
The concept of the eighteen-hole golf course has its origins at the Old Course at St. Andrews, near Edinburgh, back in 1764. It wasn’t until nearly a century later that the first major tournament, the Open Championship, was played at Prestwick.
Today this tournament, which is also known as the British Open, is one of four “majors” in men’s golf. The other three – the Masters, the US Open and the PGA Championship – are all played in the United States of America.
Until relatively recently, golf has been a sport which has been considered an exclusively male preserve. But there have long been female golfers, and increasingly women’s golf as a competitive entity in its own right has become part of the sporting landscape.
A Brief History of Women’s Golf
The first recorded interaction between women and golf was in fact way back in 1552, when Mary Queen of Scots commissioned St. Andrew’s Links. Nevertheless before the twentieth century the idea of golf as a sport for ladies was broadly rejected.
Indeed the very name of the sport was said by some to be an acronym for “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden”.
It was in New York that women were first accepted into membership of a golf club – the Shinnecock Hills nine-hole course – in 1891. Four years later the USGA staged the first Women’s Amateur Championship.
But it wasn’t until 1950, with the creation of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), that opportunities began for women golfers to participate in professional competition. Its first tournament was the Tampa Women’s Open, which was held in the same year and won by Polly Riley.
Not that those opportunities were anything like the equal of those available to men, but it was a historic landmark all the same. In 1977 the American Renee Powell became the first woman to participate in a British men’s golf tournament.
Today the LPGA presides over five major championships – the US Women’s Open, the Evian Championship, the Chevron Championship, the Women’s PGA Championship and the Women’s British Open.
Top Women Golfers of the Modern Game
Their names tend not to roll off the tongue as easily as those of Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus, but then women’s golf has not had as long to make a name for itself as has the men’s game.
All the same, there are some professional women golfers who have undoubtedly left their mark upon the sport in a way that would be recognized and appreciated by all those who know their golf.
Annika Sorenstam retired in 2008 with ten major wins under her belt, seventeen Ladies European Tour victories, 72 LPGA titles, and the distinction of having been the only female golfer to complete a competitive round in 59.
Mickey Wright, the choice of many fans for the accolade of best-ever lady golfer, was said by golfing legend Ben Hogan to have the best swing he’d ever witnessed. It was certainly enough to give her 82 wins on the LPGA Tour and thirteen majors.
Although she only won six majors, Kathy Whitworth chalked up 88 LPGA victories and was the first female golfer to earn $1 million on the LPGA tour.
Increasingly women’s golf is stepping up to compete with the men’s game in the popularity stakes, and the rewards are becoming progressively richer.
What are the Dress Codes When Playing Golf?
As the sport itself has developed through the years, so too have trends in golf attire. There is a “golf look” that very much sets apart the golfing enthusiast from anybody participating in other sports, or indeed in none.
Sometimes there are serious practical reasons for golf clothing to be as it is.
For instance golf shoes, which are usually studded or, if not, are at least designed in such a way as to minimize the likelihood of a golfer slipping when playing the ball.
A golf hat or visor is also often used, especially in very sunny conditions. Ankle length pants are worn for practical reasons, as longer pants may conceivably impede a golfer’s swing at just the wrong time.
Other golf fashion though can be just that, worn for reasons of custom or tradition as opposed to having any real practical application. Nevertheless, many golf clubs do enforce a dress code and may prohibit players who fail to conform with requirements.
There are numerous specialist outlets that cater for the demand in golf attire, and those who play golf at any level provide a captive market for their wares.
A golf dress code is by definition a very precise science. Whilst it will vary between one golf club and another, or between select country clubs and more liberal public golf courses, these tend to be some constants.
Typically this might include a prohibition on denims and athletic pants, but may also feature a requirement for shirts to have a collar and also to be tucked in, or for shorts to be of a required minimum length.
For those golf courses where there are no stipulations, there nevertheless remains a thing called golfing etiquette. Other users of the golf course would prefer to see some standards maintained, so it is always best to remain mindful of their sensitivities.
And of course, the weather has its own dress code. Shorts, designer caps and sunglasses may be de rigueur during the summer months, less so when it is raining or blowing a gale. Rain pants and a wind shirt can be helpful in such scenarios.
What Does Proper Golf Attire Consist Of?
Broadly speaking, there is a dress code that applies across the sport, and most variations upon the norm are variations within that code rather than differences per se.
To begin with, there is the golf shirt. Because golfers tend to walk some distance around the golf course during a game, a distance indeed of some four or five miles, the shirt needs to be comfortable and not prohibitive.
Whether the preference is for a t-shirt or anything more formal, most golf courses will insist upon a collar. Often players will opt for polo shirts, sometimes by designers such as Ralph Lauren or Lacoste.
A neat sweater may be worn over the shirt, or a golf vest beneath it, in colder conditions.
Pants must usually be smart, but always practical – and never made from denim. Although shorts are occasionally worn, there are golf courses that insist upon players wearing pants rather than shorts. These should not be so long or loose at the bottom as to possibly interfere with play.
Golf shoes are probably the single most important item in a player’s wardrobe. Usually, they include small spikes, although some of the more modern designs use discreet studs in their place.
The are some golf courses which specifically exclude the more aggressively spiked shoes due to the damage they may cause to the green. Comfort is every bit as important as design due to the amount of walking involved when playing a round.
Golf hats are also usually worn, sometimes designer caps or sun visors. The essential point is to protect the player from the sun over what may be a sustained period of time.
There will of course be sundry other accessories on offer at the golf shop. Sometimes a golf glove is worn, often on only one hand (typically the one not used for playing). This assists with grip and control.
Sunglasses are also frequently to be seen around the golf course, especially during the hot season.
How Do Women’s Golf Clothes Differ From Men’s
The ascent of women’s golf as a major sporting force in its own right has inevitably cast a focus upon female golf attire – to what extent it replicates that of the men or, conversely, in which ways it may differ.
Of course, there are differences in style and custom between male and female modes of dress, but there are also similar principles upon which both need to be based.
For instance, ladies golf shoes may well differ in appearance from those of the men, but the need for grip and the necessary support will be very much the same. Women’s golf shoes, like those worn by their male counterparts, also need to blend sensibly with the rest of the outfit that is being worn.
There is a tendency amongst some female players to opt for a sleeveless golf shirt as opposed to more conventional t-shirt designs, although some do prefer the polo-style shirts usually favored by men.
Alternatively, they may choose instead to wear blouses or turtlenecks, whilst of course, remaining mindful of the golf dress codes applied by the specific golf club. So long as they are considered acceptable golf tops, they tick all the necessary boxes.
As in any other walk of life, women golfers have the option of wearing golf skirts rather than pants, or indeed skorts. It is far from unusual though to find them sporting shorts or pants of a similar type to male players.
There is even such a thing as golf dresses, and although many players would likely consider them impractical they are specifically designed with the demands of the game in mind.
Designers these days produce a generous range of golf attire for women, mindful as they are of the popularity of the sport amongst all sections of the population. Women’s golf fashion is different in detail, whilst similar in spirit.
What Effect Has Women’s Golf Had on Golfing Attire?
Golf has long been a conservative sport, a fact which has rendered it exclusive and prohibitive in equal measure. It is the selective culture surrounding the sport which has maintained standards and made golf club membership a much sought after and valued acquisition.
At the same time many of the private courses in particular have acquired a reputation for being unapproachable and impenetrable. Often the “wrong” people find it difficult to gain acceptance, and for many years these would appear to have included anybody of the female persuasion.
The breaking down of gender barriers has undoubtedly had a colossal impact upon the culture of the game.
The advent of women’s golf as a serious sporting discipline has without doubt been the one single biggest factor in propelling golf into the modern age, embracing the progressive societal values of equality and inclusivity.
Yet rather than abandoning standards, the sport has simply extended them to its newest participants. The golf outfit remains essentially the same, with one or two fairly obvious exceptions, and the golf dress code which was once exclusively for men is now one which is applied across the gender divide.
Women’s golf attire may be a relatively new thing, but its object is to meet the same requirements as men’s golf attire always did.
Collared golf shirts are now designed with the female as well as the male market in mind. There are certain items which only women wear but which are nevertheless considered neat and appropriate for the golf course.
And skirts and skorts have joined ankle length pants as appropriate wear for playing golf.
On the whole, this extraordinary balancing act has been highly successful. One of the big attractions of golf is the reputation it enjoys for distinction and excellence. A reputation that has been enhanced, not hampered, by opening its doors to women golfers.
Out on the fairway, female golfers have created new interest in the sport, amid a whole new audience. This can only bring benefit to the golf clubs themselves.