Walking the Green Carpet

08 25, 2008

Thanks to dozens of PGA players stepping up their style game, North America’s most exclusive fairways are starting to resemble Milan runways. The fashion-forward trend stealthily crept onto the Tour over the past decade and is a dramatic sea change from golf’s checkered fashion past. Of course a transformation that rivals caterpillar puberty doesn’t just happen overnight.

Ardent golfers have lugged their clubs across undulating expansive Edens, and rugged dune-ridden paradises for centuries. If the eldest whistling trees, shimmering ponds and buzz-cut Bermuda grass could tell you about the sore-thumb outfits they’ve peeped over the years, they’d laugh up a lung or two if they had any – for the history of golf is fraught with more fashion bogeys than the number of dimples on a Titleist 1.

BTWE (Before the Tiger Woods Era), golf was teed high atop every chic Madison Avenue assassin’s hit list alongside blue-plate fashion crime accomplices - bowling, bass fishing, and buck hunting. To understand why golf was such a late bloomer we have to go back some 500 years to the Scottish highlands. Long before claret jugs and green jackets were given out and golfers got smoochy with the Wanamaker trophy, golf was a game played by humble shepherds on the links lands. While over time their prowess at whacking stones toward faraway holes in the ground grew quite formidable, when it came to matching their belts with their shoes…not so much. Put it this way, there aren’t too many Gaelic folk songs about beautiful country lassies going crazy for a sharp dressed shepherd. When golf came to the new world in the 19th century, the blokes who brought it across the Atlantic also brought dumpy uniforms, namely thick wooly rain gear designed to shield wearers against inclement weather and tam o'shanters (a Scottish take on the beret).

The Age of Elegance
In the roaring 20s and dirty 30s golfers dressed like lady killers. The leading swingers of the time, your Walter Hagen’s, Bobby Jones’, and Gene Sarazen’s were straight out of The Great Gatsby, all kitted out in the finest cashmere, dressy neckties, and argyle back when the diagonal checkerboard arrangement was at its most dashing. Even the plus-fours (loosely tailored capri-length knickers cut four inches below the knee), par for the course in the trouser department, were downright dapper. Golf’s age of elegance ended following World War II. Ties were out, t-shirts came in, and golfers adopted a casual Fridays look. Ben Hogan, another one the game’s all-time greats, carried it off well. He was cool, yet nonchalant in cardigans and collared t-shirts.

“I really love Ben Hogan. I think his style was so right on. It was very simple, understated, and classic,” explains John Ashworth whose own soulful designs are worn by Freddy Couples and Chris DiMarco among others.

But not everybody was Ben Hogan, and the subdued palate of white, grey, and black that soon blanketed courses turned golf attire into a staid uniform. Bucking the plain Shane bandwagon was Texan Jimmy Demaret. Nicknamed “The Wardrobe,” Demaret was a golf fashion trailblazer, one of the first players to break away from convention and express his individuality with outlandishly loud getups. He often looked like a chameleon who just walked through a rainbow. Over the course of a tournament he’d sport a vivacious spectrum that would rival Joseph’s Technicolor dreamcoat— aqua, emerald, flaming scarlet, gold, lavender, name a color and he wore it. Decked out from head-to-toe, Demaret would go so far as to have his saddle shoes custom made so that they matched his slacks. More than a fashion plate, Demaret was one of the top golfers of his era winning the Masters on three occasions (1940, 1947, 1950), and he stayed involved in the game long after his playing career as a television commentator. His garish penchant for plaid, polka dotted, and checked sports jackets would persist well into the ‘80s inspiring the Geriatric Quarterly country-club centerfold look Rodney Dangerfield caricatured in Caddyshack. A comic in his own right, Demaret should really get more respect for coming up with one of the most astute observations about the game he played: “golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at them.”

As color television exerted its influence in the 60s and 70s, golfers were forced to become more aware of the way they looked and personalities emerged. Tony Jacklin, famous for ending almost two decades of British players’ frustration at the Open championship with a drought-ending victory at Royal Lytham in 1969, was a bigger haze of purple than Jimi Hendrix. The black knight, Gary Player, gallantly strode the green in fierce black-on-black ensembles. Irish duffer John O’Leary, may have inspired the White Stripes fashion sense, rocking out on the links with one pant leg colored red and the other one white. Golf fashion also took plenty of cues from the disco era with broad collars, flared pants, tight crotches, and plaid and polyester pervading.

Taking a Style Mulligan
The 80s was golf’s tackiest fashion decade. A lot had to do with the sport’s retirement community image in general. Compounding its un-athletic, ‘shuffleboard is my BFF’ image were baggy unflattering clothes and clubs full of elderly gentlemen playing the game while wearing shorts with long black socks pulled up to their knees. Pros sporting expanding waistlines didn’t help either.

“Blobby is a really good word without being too insulting if you can’t see your belt buckle, and there was a blobby nature to golf in the 1980s. It just wasn’t deemed to be a physically fit sport. It wasn’t the cool place to be in your early 30s,” weighs in Nike Golf’s global creative director Rebecca Kauffman, who has been scripting the attire of pros like Stewart Cink, Justin Leonard, and Tiger Woods since 2002.

Purely from a fashion perspective the decade didn’t really offer any helpful cues for golf.
“The 1980s had acid-wash and parachute pants and all these things that were so flash in the pan. Golf didn’t have anywhere to go; there wasn’t a lot of flexibility. Were we going to see MC Hammer pants on a golf course?” explains Tiss Dahan, Adidas golf’s global director of apparel, who makes sure pros like Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, and Jim Furyk are looking snappy.

The sting of the fashion police’s ceaseless baton beatings finally abated about the time a skinny young golfer named Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods started hitting the weights, and wearing Chianti Red on Sunday. The grandpa image of the game shattered and designers rushed in. At the 55th annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando this past January, over 200 apparel companies showed off their styles.

In today’s younger, slimmer, and increasingly buffer game many golfers vying to be the next Tiger Woods are turning viewers heads for more then their 125 mph club head speed. When strapping Aussie-American heartthrob Aaron Baddeley, 27, who counts “fashion” among his hobbies, strolls down the fairway during a tournament you might be inclined to hit the info button on your remote to make sure you haven’t accidentally flipped the channel over to a chick-flick on Lifetime. Last year Badd’s signed on as the poster boy for Original Penguin, whose polos were first worn by legends of the game Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, not too mention Frank Sinatra. Perry Ellis resuscitated Penguin from the fashion graveyard in 2003 with a hypodermic shot of 21st century California-cool. The O.C.’s Seth Cohen, who made being a comic book geek cool by hooking up with Summer, frequently donned the cute penguin logo on his adorkable chest. At 6’1 and 182 pounds, Baddeley’s beefcake should broaden the brand’s appeal.
Meanwhile, cool cat Columbian Camilo Villegas, 26, steams up tee boxes in snug J Lindeberg, and young gun Adam Scott, 28, saves par in blue-blooded Burberry duds.

Is it only a matter of time before reporters start grabbing golfers between holes to ask them “who are wearing?” Golf apparel certainly has come a long way from the days of tam o'shanters and baggy knickers.

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