My uncle used to tell me the story of the first time a friend invited him to a local golf course. He was a blue collar guy and other than a few times at the local range, never really played a round of golf. But it was just a local muni, not a country club, but keep in mind this happened sometime in the mid 1980s.
As the story goes, he showed up at the course in slacks, a pair of borrowed golf shoes, and what seemed to be a rather nice t-shirt. He would tell me that “it even had the little polo guy on it.”
But it didn’t have a collar. So the course turned him away. He went back to his car, and pulled out an old, ripped, beat up button down work shirt that he used solely for the purposes of changing the oil in the car. But it had a collar! And they let him on the course…
You have probably heard similar stories about what to wear golfing. Not all golf courses enforce their rules in as weird a way as the place that my uncle played at and “nicer” shirts without a collar have become more accepted, but there are certain things you should be aware of if you are playing golf for the first time and want to avoid any problems or weird looks from the regulars.
Shirt or Top
Most golf courses will have a collared shirt only rule. Enforcement of this rule can vary widely, but a traditional golf polo shirt is your best bet if you are unfamiliar with the course or if it is a more high end course.
Something to keep in mind though is the material of the shirt you choose. Collared golf shirts generally come in either cotton or a synthetic breathable material.
The synthetic shirts are generally more expensive but the huge benefit is that they keep you cooler in hot weather and don’t soak up sweat like a cotton shirt does. There’s nothing worse than playing with a soggy cotton shirt on a hot day.
For women, you generally have a little more flexibility here but the safe bet is still a shirt with a collar on it. But for those hot days, you can find plenty of synthetic athletic golf shirts designed to fit women. Unless the rules say otherwise, you can also find golf shirts without sleeves. They help combat the golf tan a little and keeps you cooler on hot days.
Men, don’t go sleeveless…please.
For playing in colder weather, the same general rules apply but courses tend to be a little more lenient when you need to stay warm.
I like to go with a synthetic long sleeve athletic shirt (with no collar) underneath one of my regular golf shirts. That layering allows you the benefit of the warm shirt and the classic look of your golf shirts. It also means I don’t have to buy double the number of collared golf shirts!
What To Avoid
- Tank tops
- Big logos on the front or back
- Sports jerseys
- “Adult” content on the shirt (I love a good innuendo t-shirt as much as anyone but golf courses try to keep it family friendly)
For pants, you almost always have the option of slacks or shorts.
Some more exclusive golf courses might have a no shorts rule (the PGA has a no shorts rule for reasons that are beyond my understanding), so make sure you double check if you’re playing at a high end course.
If you have to or want to wear long pants, there’s good news. Golf clothing manufacturers design “golf pants” that are made with similar breathable synthetic material as their shirts but still look like classic slacks. If you are wearing pants, especially on a warm day, this is definitely the way to go.
If you are walking the course (as opposed to using a golf cart) then you want to make sure your pants are comfortable and give you a little room to move around in (or at least stretch if they are on the tighter side).
As far as being able to play well, this may be the most important piece of clothing, but as far as rules go, most golf courses will allow you to play in sneakers or tennis shoes (even though it’s not ideal as far as keeping your feet steady while swinging).
Golf shoes are designed with some type of traction spikes on the bottom to prevent your feet from slipping while you swing.
Years ago, this came in the form of half inch metal spikes. But unless you’re playing on the PGA Tour, these aren’t allowed in almost every course today.
The two options you have now are soft spikes or spikeless shoes.
Soft spikes are most like the traditional golf shoes and have detachable plastic spikes. Instead of a single long spike (like they used to be), today’s soft spikes look like spider legs so that each spike has multiple contact points with the ground.
You can pick up a relatively inexpensive shoe like this one from Adidas that is perfect for beginners.
Spikeless shoes don’t have detachable spikes but instead have lots of smaller “nubs” all over the bottom of the shoe. Because they are shorter and softer, these types of shoes tend to be much more comfortable on your feet.
Many types of spikeless shoes are designed to look great off the course as well, so you can just throw them on and home and not have to change your shoes when you get to the course.
The downside of spikeless is that they generally don’t give you as much traction as soft spikes, especially in wet conditions. Many frequent golfers have a pair of each depending on the circumstances and conditions for that day.
What To Avoid
- Flip flops or sandals
- Steel spikes
- Heels (although that one should be obvious)
Belt and Socks
There’s not a lot of advice I can give here other than to actually wear a belt and socks when you play.
The last thing you want is a pair of pants or shorts that aren’t staying up properly while you’re walking or swinging.
Even if they aren’t falling off completely (which is typically frowned upon), having pants that aren’t totally secure means you’re not going to be comfortable. That distracts you from the game and can even affect your confidence and ability to play well.
For socks, I recommend athletic ankle socks that come just above the shoes at least. The specific height you want to wear is really dependent on your own preference and style. I like to keep them short for tan line purposes!
PRO TIP: Don’t play without any socks at all. That’s a fast track to blisters and shoes that smell so bad they’d knock a fly off a garbage truck.
There are too many golf hat options to list here.
But if you want to play it safe, especially at a more conservative course, go with a regular baseball cap style hat and wear it facing forward.
That being said, if it keeps the sun out of your face, then it’s doing its job. You can go with the baseball cap, the visor, the bucket hat, or even the old school straw fedora (I have no idea if that’s what it’s really called).
Bottom line here is…bring a hat of some sort or use a lot of sunscreen. A round of golf can last 4-5 hours so that’s a lot of time out in the sun. You’ll be focused on playing and may not realize your face and head slowly frying in the sun.
Golf gloves are optional, but highly recommended.
No course is going to tell you that you can’t play without a golf glove, but I think that it’s important to include in this guide because it can be very helpful.
Golf gloves help you grip the club and can help to prevent blisters (especially if you are a beginner and haven’t developed calluses on your hands over the years).
Most golfers wear a single glove on the hand they place at the top of the handle. That means the left hand for right handed golfers and the right hand for left handed golfers.
I would recommend these gloves by FootJoy, they are inexpensive and great quality (and the two pack means you don’t have to worry when one wears out).
Most golf brands have their own gloves like Titleist and Callaway. One of the big names in gloves is FootJoy (ironic right?). They have a whole lineup of gloves from the less expensive ones to high quality leather gloves and even specialty gloves for rain or cold weather.