Why Long Socks Are NOT Holding Golf Back

To suggest we should standardise dress codes across all public and privately owned clubs is not only naive, but overlooks the key issues

Golfers pictured walking from behind
(Image credit: Sam Williams)

A few weeks ago, the latest Golf Monthly article ‘6 ways golf etiquette needs to modernise’ came across my social media feed, offering some insight on the traditions that are holding the progression of the game back. One of those was long socks…

The article makes some fair points, many of which I support, however part of me can’t help but wonder if we are missing the real elephant in the room here. 

‘Following the honour’ on a casual Wednesday fiddle, groups oblivious to their own slow play, ‘unwilling to call a group through’ are all painful to see, however dress codes (in particular long socks) are coming in for an unnecessarily hard time of late. It has become a flashpoint in a murky crusade to ‘grow the game’, shorthand for the homogenisation of the sport and cashing in on commercial opportunities for brands. 

This is the part I take exception with: Golf has always been a bellwether of diversity - 1st tee initiatives for those less likely to come to the game organically, mini-putt venues, pitch & putt for a quicker game, Bentley-driving-Barry playing 9-holes with Jim who has no driving license: golf doesn’t practice identikit politics. Let’s not even start with the clothes. Faldo in his Pringle jumpers and John Daly winning the Open at St Andrews in a green Reebok sweatshirt…each happy with their dress and happy to be afforded the choices.

Golfer plays a bunker shot wearing long socks

(Image credit: Sam Williams)

Golf is the one sport that stands out as being vast and expansive in every possible way. Courses of all lengths and shapes, to suit players of all abilities and at every budget. At its very heart it is an accessible and diverse game. There are endless forms of the game, just as there are equipment options, subcultures and sadly, potential scores you can amass when standing on the tee. 

To suggest we should standardise dress codes across all public and privately owned clubs is not only naive, but overlooks the key issues.

Dress codes matter - but why? It isn’t just golf clubs; dress codes dictate much of how we interact as humans. It helps us define an occasion, or create a sense of belonging. Whether it's football on a Saturday or a 7-day Indian wedding requiring 15 costume changes, clothes are a statement of where you are and who you are with. Does this author think that all golf clubs should mandate long socks - absolutely not; but some clubs like Rye or Royal West Norfolk have evolved around these idiosyncrasies which gives them their own distinct personality, in the same way a relaxed atmosphere defines a day at Cleeve Hill, or a game on Wimbledon Common in a pillar-box red top is a nod to an antiquated local statute. This is something we should celebrate, not eliminate.

Golfers pictured from the waist down

(Image credit: Sam Williams)

The suggestion that long socks are somehow preventing people from taking up the game is untrue. Some simple facts here: long socks are mandated in less than a dozen clubs in England. There are some 3,000+ golf courses in Great Britain, and the ones that do mandate long socks belong to small substrata of clubs of a certain tradition and type. They may not suit some visiting golfers, but the visiting golfer has a choice in the same way price point may be a deterrent or the difficulty of the course. 

These are not ‘barriers to entry’ for people looking to take up the game. In England we sometimes feel golf has a ‘stuffy image’, but the reality is that ‘the game’ and our club culture in Great Britain is the envy of the golfing world. Not only do we boast the longest history with the sport, but our approach to access is integral. In America, many courses are not open to public play, whereas in Great Britain we can all look to create Seve’s magical chip at Royal Birkdale or try to replicate Ernie’s bunker shot at Muirfield’s 13th. Our club culture is inclusive, and whilst no club is perfect, they are generally fairly democratic places. 

So what are the barriers to entry? Perhaps the commercial pressure which makes you think you need to spend £500 on a new driver, or that a handicap and playing 18 hole ‘card and pencil’ golf is the only form of the game. Keeping up with the Joneses is an expensive business, but you can find the same enjoyment in a half set of Wilson irons from eBay and paying a green fee at any of the wonderful courses on your doorstep. 

Ultimately, slow play is the real plague in the modern game. Golf has evolved away from the original form of matchplay to become obsessed with four and half hour rounds, slavishly marking our cards in the hope that one day a course will fall to its knees before us. It doesn’t have to be this way. We all share an urge to go back to ‘the tips’, adding significant time to a round and we are obsessed with green speeds; yet no one seems to acknowledge that for every foot faster our greens roll, playing time can increase by an additional 30 minutes (let alone the additional  cost). 

We should let the lock sock debate lie and focus our efforts elsewhere. Golf clubs should make their courses easier for everyman golfer, eliminate needless penal hazards and widen the playing corridors so we don’t spend hours looking for balls. We as golfers would be much better off for accepting that we may get more enjoyment if we stuck to the yellows (or indeed the reds), experienced the rush of playing an 18 hole match in under 3 hours or looked on certain club idiosyncrasies as a defining feature of our wonderful sport. 

Time and space. That's the scarce commodity in today's game.

Sam Williams

Co-Founder of Cookie Jar Golf, suffering with an obsession with the game for over 30 years. Lifelong member at Blackwell Golf Club in the West Midlands, owner of 10+ pairs of long socks, too many golf bags, never enough FootJoy Classics and still looking for my short game (last seen at Worcestershire Junior County Open in 1998). Handicap: 3. Strengths: Lag-putting / Allergies: Scoreboards / slow rounds

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