The most popular article in the history of GottaGoGolf: Golf dress codes

The following article on women’s golf fashion and golf dress codes first appeared in the August 2011 issue of GottaGoGolf, the golf magazine for women. That issue remains online in the archives.

Image of woman golfer wearing cutoffs and sandals

Not practical and probably not allowed either. (Dreamstime photo)

LPGA PLAYERS have bared their thighs and flaunted club rules even as course records fell at their feet. Billionaires stand before their boards dressed in jeans and T-shirts. And nobody can explain the function of a collar on a woman golfer’s shirt, other than making it look more like a man’s shirt.

It’s no wonder that the hallowed dress codes have been moving to the back of this old game’s closet, as beleaguered golf course and golf club owners hope their customers have deep pockets in whatever they’re wearing.

“If I were to enforce a dress code today, I would lose a lot of people and probably a league,” said Kathy Aznavorian, president of the Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center outside of Detroit. “I can’t afford to do that. I see players in T-shirts and stuff I would never own. I just close my eyes. In today’s golf market, can we afford to be the judges of good and bad taste?”

Cathy Harbin, director of the World Golf Foundation’s Golf 20/20 initiative, advocates more inclusiveness. “In 20 years as a golf course operator I’ve seen it go from very, very strict in the minds of everyone to starting to lighten up a little,” she said. “There’s a movement in golf toward letting people be more comfortable and breaking down barriers. Dress code is a barrier.”

A SEARCH ON DRESS CODES UNCOVERS ENDLESS DON’TS.

No jeans, tank tops, swimsuits, athletic shorts, cutoffs, jogging clothes, halter tops, strapless tops, drawstrings, shorts that are too long, shorts that are too short, backward-facing caps, and, at one club in the South, “no Lycra spandex garments.” (Ladies, don’t get caught snapping your bras.)

Then there are the private clubs making precise demands of women: “Shirts must have a collar.” … “Shorts must be no more than 4 inches above the knee.” … “Sleeveless shirts must have a collar or a crew neck.”

Dress codes regulations are everywhere. Enforcement varies — it’s safe to say head professionals aren’t walking around with rulers — but the codes do have their backers.

“I don’t know that the collar has a purpose,” said Lucy Mitchell, a partner in Walters Golf Management, which operates 15 Missouri golf clubs. “But we’re in the Midwest. And the traditional part of the game is still very important in the Midwest. I’ve polled our members at Whitmoor (St. Charles, Mo.) the last three years, and each year the survey came back: 70 percent of them still do not want jeans anywhere at the club.”

Some clubs and daily fee courses have, however, begun to use the word “appropriate” in their dress codes. Now, there’s a nice ambiguous word.

“If you go back to the early stages of the game,” Harbin noted, “men played in button-downs and ties and women played in dresses. I think, wow, if you put me in a button-down and tie, I couldn’t even swing. I’d say loose-fitting clothes are appropriate — but half the tour pros wear the tightest thing they can. Look at Sergio.”

Ah yes, the name of Sergio Garcia came to the lips of several women in the tight-shirt, tight-pants context. And they were by no means advocating a limitation on tightness.

THAT MAKES ONE WONDER WHY SO MANY MALE GOLF COURSE MEMBERS AND OWNERS PROHIBIT SHORT SHORTS AND SKIRTS ON WOMEN.

Aznavorian and Oki Golf President and CEO Nancy Cho, two of the nation’s few female golf course operators, don’t enforce stringent dress codes for women. Cho’s private Plateau Club outside of Seattle even welcomed “nice denim” recently, that is, with no holes, fraying, rips, cutoffs — and “must be worn close to the waist.” Such a polite prohibition of butt cracks!

“The club is not far from Microsoft,” she pointed out, “which has a casual dress code.”

Aznavorian recalled a Ritz-Carlton presentation that contrasted the well-dressed wealthy American couple of the 1960s and ’70s, perfectly coiffed and driving a fancy car, with the wealthy couple of today. “The Microsoft millionaire drove a sometimes less than late model car, came out in jeans, often with hair in disarray. The point was that you can’t judge people anymore by the way they dress.”

Aznavorian, Cho and Mitchell all enthused about the current state of women’s golf apparel, which has finally ventured beyond the “little man” look popularized in the ’80s to include skirts and dresses. “I think we have all those nice attractive women on the LPGA Tour to thank for that,” Cho said.

The tour used to have no dress code other than “no jeans,” and offered players image counseling to help them look sharp. That changed in the summer of 2017, when the LPGA issued stringent prohibitions against cleavage, leggings and super-short shorts and skorts.

“The flexibility the tour players have in dress code lends itself to being more trendy and attracting a younger demographic as fans,” Harbin said. “Not to mention it attracts more of the opposite sex.” So Paula Creamer turned pink into a signature, Vicky Hurst could be spotted in her Tam o’ Shanter, and those long mostly bare legs approaching must belong to Michelle Wie or Sandra Gal. The Asian influx has brought more color and high fashion, and the more conservative players, sporting long shorts and polo shirt, become distinctive in a new way.

Image of golfer Seema Sadekar

Seema Sadekar turns favorite fashions into golf attire.

LPGA Futures player Seema Sadekar, who appeared on Golf Channel’s Big Break wearing what she called her “diamond dress,” and her sister Nisha are creating a fashion empire of golf course sparkle and shine (PlayGolfDesigns.com). The two girls cried in the back seat as their father drove them to tournaments in the baggy bottoms and oversize Greg Norman shirts he chose for them.

“I hated it!” Seema said. “I’m a girly girl, I like sparkle, and I branched off to do my own thing. I started out by wearing short, flowered shorts. Dad said, you can’t do that!” Now she said her dad loves her distinctive look, cultivated by shopping her favorite stores for “cute dresses in spandex material that fits the body and moves with you.”

And yes they are very short. “But they’re cute, they have sparkles, I look good in them,” said the size 4 Sadekar, who hails from Las Vegas and accessorizes with shiny patent shoes and a sequined golf bag. “How can anybody have a problem with that?”

SHE’D BE SURPRISED HOW MANY GOLF COURSES WOULD HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT, STILL.

At Montreux, a very private course in Reno with an “appropriate” dress requirement,  former general manager Lisa Anderson said there had been just one complaint in the club’s first 11 years, about a beautiful new member whose shorts were a bit on the high side. “The Director of Golf went to her very privately at the range and said, here are the guidelines,” Anderson said.

The flustered newbie apologized and “appropriated” her wardrobe to fit in. “It comes down to somebody paying $500 a month to hang out with like-minded people,” said ClubCorp President and CEO Eric Affeldt.

Affeldt, a new-wealth type who favors Tommy Bahama shirts and Seven jeans, bought ClubCorp in 2006 and immediately required each of its then-150-plus (now 200-plus) private clubs to establish an area that allowed denim — but otherwise each dictates its own dress code. When he wore cargo shorts for his birthday round at one of them, he said, “I was told if I wasn’t the president of the company, I wouldn’t be allowed to play.”

And with all those pockets for tees, balls, rangefinder, repair tool and corkscrew, what could be more “appropriate” for golf than cargo shorts? “To me, that seems like ideal golf attire,” said Mike Tinkey, former deputy CEO of the National Golf Course Owners Association.

Really, if an outfit facilitates walking and swinging, isn’t non-restrictive clothing appropriate? Yet most country clubs frown on athletic attire women might wear for walking or yoga. The golf course owners association has no policy nor does it recommend a stringent dress code. Tinkey, in fact, suggested this one:

“IT’S PREFERABLE NOT TO PLAY NAKED.”

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