With participation figures indicating that less people are taking up the game, is it time that golf clubs finally dropped stuffy dress codes once and for all?


By Becky Gee

With participation figures indicating that less people are taking up the game, is it time that golf clubs finally dropped stuffy dress codes once and for all?

Go to any golf club and you’ll find few subjects that divide opinion more than the game’s dress code. Delve a little further and this issue is likely to be found on most committee’s agenda's.

The problem is that the clock is ticking and whilst clubs continue to debate issues such as whether jeans should be worn in the clubhouse, golfers are falling out of the game at an alarming rate. In the last five years the number of under 18’s playing the game in England has halved and whilst initiatives such as the This Girl Golfs campaign are desperately trying to readdress the game’s image problem, much more needs to be done.

Last year Syngenta released a report entitled ‘The Opportunity to Grow Golf: Female Participation,’ which sought to give industry insight into how golf clubs could attract more female members. The report concluded that many non-golfers were deterred from taking up the game because golf clubs were perceived to be intimidating places. Furthermore, the study also indicated that one reason women left the sport was because of their experiences at pretentious and stuffy clubs.

One participant commented, ‘What I didn’t like about it was the whole pretentiousness of it and the rules. I don’t like being told this is how you should behave.’

Of course members' clubs are naturally self-regulating with the rules laid out to suit the needs of the members themselves. For those clubs who are capable of thriving whilst maintaining traditional standards of dress, then it is hard to argue for the need to reform. The reality of golf’s current situation however is that there are few golf clubs who are capable of sustaining themselves long term whilst maintaining policies which appear elitist and stuffy to those on the outside who might otherwise be interested in taking up the game. To be profitable and thus capable of surviving surely dictates that a welcoming atmosphere must outweigh the length of a member’s socks.

It appears that those who argue in favour of retaining standards of dress fear that removing these regulations will strip the game of its very core - etiquette. But strict dress codes are not necessarily tantamount to ensuring good etiquette. We’ve all played with someone who espouses traditionalist views, whilst displaying on course manners and behaviours that do not match their high-minded opinions when it comes to standards of dress. Indeed few amongst us would place dress code above knowledge and manners when naming the ideal attributes for our playing partners. Nor should we. The primary draw for any form of leisure activity must primarily be as a form of enjoyment and golf’s time consuming nature surely only increases the need to have fun whilst playing.

Interestingly the first Tiger Woods’ designed golf course in America, which opened last November, has no dress regulation at all, with Woods emphasising his desire that the game be open for all.

Thus whilst the R&A’s decision to open their doors to women appears to suggest that the game has at long last begun to adapt itself to meet the needs of the 21st century, it is worrying that the pace of reform does not seem to be matching the speed by which people are falling out of the game in search of quicker and more relaxed ways to spend their spare time. With recent research indicating that dress codes are acting as a deterrent for women taking up the game, are golf clubs with dwindling memberships left with any choice but to remove these barriers in a bid to encourage more people to the game?