Golf shoes are the living memory of classic footwear. Within them the traditions of the past live on in a way not possible in any other walk of life (apologies for the pun).
This is because golf retains the twin features of social propriety and gentlemanly sport.
It used to be the case that one’s dress was driven by strict social mores. The proper attire for work, play and formal events was minutely prescribed, the punishment social ostracism.
(To an extent, this is one reason that royalty or celebrities often drove new fashions: they had the prominence to make something popular, but also the position to get away with it. Beau Brummell learned this social power of royalty to his cost when he famously snubbed his erstwhile compatriot, Prince George.)
Golf clubs are one of the few places in today’s society where similar rules and a sense of propriety can still be found. Formal day events such as weddings and Easter Sunday lost that a long time ago. Equally many aspects of conducting business.
This is one reason that golf shoes still retain such similarity to the ‘sporting’ shoes that were worn when the activity first became popular. Brogues were initially worn, because they were more casual than the undecorated shoes worn for business. Over time, other more casual shoes – spectators, saddle shoes, shoes with tassels – became part of golf clothing.
But while the rest of society’s dress went hurtling towards informality, golf moved very slowly. Other shoes, those more resembling trainers, were gradually allowed as the club rules softened. But society had sped past – pursuing jeans, t-shirts and flip-flops. So the shoes that, ironically, were originally worn for golf because they were casual, became some of the most formal worn outside the office. The became a residue of past convention.
The other reason that golf has retained traditional footwear is that, let’s face it, it is not a very active sport. In the twenties tennis shoes were leather-soled and made of nubuck. But then tennis was a social diversion where the objective was to hit the ball to the other player, not away from him – like playing bat-and-ball on the beach. As the sport became more competitive, its clothing became more flexible and athletic.
Golfers are sportsmen and they get injuries. But they don’t run around a lot. So the tasselled spectator has survived – it provides support and can have spikes screwed into the sole; what more do you need?
That’s why I find it funny when people see my spectators (pictured top) and ask how the greens were that morning.