Why Do Golfers Wear Polos?
Golf has been known as the ultimate "gentleman's sport" since its inception over half a millennium ago. That history comes with traditions, and one of those traditions is the semi-formal dress.
Though golf is a sport, which means it makes you sweat, and though it's also a leisure activity, which dressing up for might seem odd, there is still a universal semi-formal dress code.
A staple of that dress code is the polo. Dressier than the t-shirt but more casual than the button-down and vest, the polo is the shirt of choice for most golfers. Read on to find out how this shirt became so ubiquitous in the game.
Why Do Golf Courses Have Dress Codes in the First Place?
Other major sports, including basketball, baseball, and soccer, require uniforms at the professional level. The cut of these uniforms enables movement, with the fabric especially designed for physical exertion. Out of the professional leagues, players wear whatever attire they choose.
The same is not true with golf. Professional golfers do obey a dress code, but there are no uniforms. Amateur golfers also wear the same clothes as the professionals. Why is that?
The answer has a lot to do with golf’s history, which started as an upper-class leisure sport in Scotland in the 1500s. As the sport passed through the ages, it became more accessible to those outside the nobility class. However, it never shook its association with the upper crust.
Today, the vast majority of golf courses have dress codes in place that require specific items of clothing:
- - A collared polo shirt, full-length slacks or trousers, or unlined khaki shorts that end above the knee for men.
- - For women, sleeved, sleeveless blouses, or polo shirts and tailored trousers, above-the-knee tennis skirts, shorts, skorts, or capri pants.
- - Matching socks and shoes with either a soft spike or "spikeless" golf shoes for players regardless of gender.
The History of Golf Dress Codes
Golf became popular in the United Kingdom in the 1800s, but the sport stretches back to the 1500s. Back then, golfers wore tweed from top to bottom: tweed caps, tweed jackets, even tweed knickerbockers.
We think of tweed today as a stuffy fabric for expensive clothes, but at the time in Scotland, tweed was the fabric of the everyman. Indeed, the Crown objected to the sport for that reason, as it was a popular leisure sport that potentially distracted men who were supposed to focus on their military training.
King James IV eventually became a fan of the sport, and it became popularized. The sport eventually found its way to America in the early 20th century, but its connections to Scottish royal custom remained.
In the early 20th century, players all wore pressed button-downs, single-breasted jackets, neckties, and long stockings with their pants.
Eventually, relaxed slacks were accepted, and so were short sleeve shirts. Then in 1928, changes in the tennis world rippled so far that they affected the golf world, too. Rene Lacoste wore a knit shirt to the US Open in the same material and style that we now know of today as the polo with the iconic Lacoste crocodile.
Golfers eventually followed suit, relaxing its standards to allow polo shirts. However, the golf community as a whole has never allowed players to sink beneath the semi-formal dress.
So the polo remains the shirt of choice.
Do You Have to Wear Polos for Golf?
The vast majority of golf courses require polos of male players. Female players get a bit more wiggle room. They can wear sleeves or sleeveless blouses, so long as they are clean and unlined.
The idea is that golf is a clean and respectable leisure sport. The course is always perfectly groomed and maintained. Why shouldn't the players who roam its grounds be equally well-kempt?
You're likely to find some courses that don't require polos, but many players will wear them anyway. It's such a tradition within the game that it's a hard habit to break even without a requirement.
There are benefits to polos besides the neat appearance, though. The health benefits of sweating are well-documented. Breathable polos are a great shirt to wear to encourage sweating while golfing. Many polos are 100% cotton or cotton blends, and though cotton is soft and comfortable to the touch, it's not a great breathable fabric. Fabrics with wicking technology are ideal for golf because they allow maximum breathability.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Are Collared Shirts Required at Golf Courses?
Most clubs require collared shirts because they fit within the tidy, semi-formal standards. However, not all clubs require collars. Check with your local golf course on their dress requirements.