Why Golf's Dress Code Is Still A Barrier For New Golfers

Dress code is always a hot subject and we consider if golf clubs are doing enough to relax rules to attract younger golfers to the game

Paige Spiranac
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In years gone by, golf’s dress code, along with a huge list of rules and regulations were often a big turnoff for new players. Being told what you can and can’t wear by a group of pompous committee members was never going to move the game out of the dark ages. 

But now, the dawn of different golf formats is upon us and driving ranges are filled with women in booty shorts and men with baseball hats on backwards. It paints a picture that’s more like the Bronx than the Belfry. Cue many committee members and traditionalists rolling their eyes whilst huffing and puffing. 

I love this new age and believe it can only be a great thing for golf. What does this mean for participation? A younger audience unrestricted by having to wear tweed and chinos has burst onto the scene and brands such as Adidas have mixed up street and fairways and found a winning formula. This relaxed vibe at ranges depicted via social media has helped to encourage greater participation, yet golf clubs are not seeing a huge intake of a young female membership. Perhaps no wonder if private clubs still carry fairly stringent rules when it comes to clothing. 

Ally Ewing Solheim Cup

Solheim Cup outfits have moved with the times, offering players shorter and more figure-hugging garments

(Image credit: Getty Images)

I have vivid memories as a junior of being cautioned by older women about the length of my shorts. Looking back, these scoldings on the putting green at the England Girls’ Championships in Harrogate may have put many young girls off the game. I remember that burning in my cheeks and sheer humiliation after being asked to change my navy M&S shorts, yet I had no other options. Yes they were short, but I was 17-years-old with long legs. I wonder how many young girls we lost to these experiences. 

I wore shorts from M&S as a junior and was told off for them being too short.

As a junior, Katie Dawkins was told off for wearing her M&S shorts at the England Girls Championships

(Image credit: Katie Dawkins)

So, how much has golf’s dress code really changed to move with the times? We can all remember the poster on the noticeboard in the changing room informing us of what was acceptable and what was absolutely not. Looking at some of these posters from over 20 years ago, the unacceptable side looks pretty similar to many a golf influencer or single figure handicapper, as well as some tour professionals out there today.

Some golf clubs have rules that many would deem belong in the last century. But this is their choice. A private members club can make their own rules to create a desired environment. I do wonder if clubs should experiment and drop some of their rules to see whether standards also drop. Or whether they achieve an increase in younger golfers, creating a more vibrant atmosphere.

Paige Spiranac

Paige Spiranac adds glamour to the game

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to increasing participation in golf, the less rules and regulations the better. If you search “Golf Dress Code” the majority of articles and posts deem it necessary to wear collared shirts and shorts or skorts of an ‘appropriate length’. If polo shirts aren’t your thing then I do believe this may put some people off the game immediately, as they assume they can’t even hit a golf ball without dressing in true golfing fashion. Young people especially will turn their noses up without delving deeper into the possible alternative options. TopGolf is not going to turn you away for rocking up in a pair of Birkenstocks and board shorts. 

With the age of social media and skin on show, it is no surprise that golf has seen some rather glamorous characters emerge. Traditionally a straight-laced and upper class sport, there’s been a breaking of the mould and a sprinkling of sex added to some tour professional’s outfits. Michelle Wie West made headlines in 2017 when she wore a racerback top and a short skort, and this kicked off a wave of more athletic (and sexy) outfits on the tour. Let’s face it, sex sells, viewership increases and sponsors follow. However, professionals such as Natalie Gulbis, Paula Creamer, Lexi Thompson and Wie stated that their choice of shorter shorts and skirts was down to feeling confident and comfortable on the course. They are superb athletes with extremely toned figures. Why not show them off and wear what helps you play great golf. 

Michelle Wie West plays her shot from the ninth tee during the first round of the 2021 KPMG Women's PGA Championship

Michelle Wie created waves when she wore a racerback top 

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Influencers and professional golfers such as Paige Spiranac have made a name for themselves by wearing very little on the golf course. Spiranac takes the skin on show to another level. Yes her skirts are short, yes you can nearly see a butt cheek at the top of her swing, but she is a stunning woman and a talented golfer. If you were a sponsor you’d want your brand on her collarless T-Shirt. After all, everyone’s eyes are on her.

Some would say she’d added some much needed spice into a game that is notoriously traditional and deemed boring by many non-golfers, especially the younger generations. Spiranac has amassed over $4 million followers on Instagram and has recently thrown her name into the hat to replace Paul Azinger on NBC after his recent departure. If she wasn’t the stunning Californian beach babe that she is, I wonder if she’d even get a mention. Do we talk about how tight Adam Scott’s trousers are? No. We could, but we don’t. 

Nelly Korda in shorts that would be above the knee on a woman who was 5' tall

Nelly Korda wears shorts that would be above the knee on a woman who was 5' tall

(Image credit: Getty Images)

I do feel much of the hoo-ha on dress code comes from jealousy. If someone has the legs to show them off, then why shouldn’t they? Keeping it decent is common sense and if you don’t have the legs, the likelihood is you won’t be showing them off anyway. There are plenty of more conservative length shorts and skirts to choose from. 

Brands like Macade seem to have geared their product more towards the athletic figure and ultimately a younger audience, thus encouraging more young women to think about taking up the sport.  

Characters such as Spiranac and Charley Hull, who wears her schoolgirl-inspired fashion brand Anew Golf, show young girls and women that golf can be sexy and fun. It’s not all V-neck jumpers and corduroy trousers. You can make your golf fashion your own and use it as an opportunity to express yourself. It would be a shame if everyone just wore jeans and a T-shirt or indeed a collared shirt and flat fronted chinos. Yet so many junior girls who look up to Hull and others as a role model, aren’t allowed to imitate their fashion because of stuffy dress code rules at their golf clubs. This needs to change, fashion on the high street has moved on, so why shouldn't golf fashion? 

Charley Hull

Charley Hull wears Japanese brand Anew

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Many women will agree that golf attire should be extremely smart and just as the ‘Acceptable' side of the poster deems. This is after all a huge part of the history of the sport and it would be a shame to lose these standards as this is a massive part of what makes golf. 

Personally, I think there is space for all of it. Just as golf is expanding into so many shorter versions and more participation based games rather than simply club member 18-hole golf. In the same way there should be attire that fits everywhere, granted there will be some crossover, but I don’t think we will see a huge influx of women wearing hot pants at Sunningdale if dress codes were relaxed. 

Practically golf clothing needs to be fit for purpose. But golf needs to appeal to a younger audience and I do think if many clubs had less rules and more practical advice concerning what to wear, they’d be more likely to attract the under 40s. 

If I were writing a dress code or advice on a club’s website, I’d word it like this:

Wondering what to wear for golf? Easy. Wear what you feel comfortable in and what will help you to swing the club freely and confidently. Perhaps use golf as an opportunity to dress up in bright colours that will brighten everyone’s day. 

Common sense should prevail and nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable. Dress code is a big barrier for emerging new golfers. In this day and age surely it’s time to break this down and peel a layer off the stigma that is attached to this game we all love so much.

Katie Dawkins
Advanced PGA Professional and freelance contributor

Katie is an Advanced PGA professional with over 20 years of coaching experience. She helps golfers of every age and ability to be the best versions of themselves. In January 2022 she was named as one of Golf Monthly's Top 50 Coaches.

Katie coaches the individual and uses her vast experience in technique, psychology and golf fitness to fix problems in a logical manner that is effective - she makes golf simple. Katie is now based on the edge of the New Forest. An experienced club coach, she developed GardenGOLF during lockdown and as well as coaching at Hamptworth Golf Club she freelances, operating via pop-up clinics and travelling to clients homes to help them use their space to improve. 

She has coached tour pros on both LET tour and the Challenge Tour as well as introduced many a beginner to the game. 

Katie has been writing instructional content for magazines for 20 years. Her creative approach to writing is fuelled by her sideline as an artist.