Do Clothes Really Make the Man?

By: Bob Spiwak


Give or take a century or so, what we know as golf was first engaged regularly by sheepherders in Scotland. Holland, China and France may dispute the game's origins, but history has laid it on the Scots. That works for me.

The game, legend has it, consisted of the bored herders occupied themselves by hitting pebbles into rabbit holes, or "scrapes," into the corrugated landscape on which the animals grazed. Ultimately, the pebbles evolved into feather-filled leather balls and have since evolved into the dimpled darlings that we curse at least once a round of contemporary golf.

Back to the sheepherders. What were they wearing? This was seaside Scotland: windy, cold and usually wet. Probably woolen caps with ear flaps, wool pants and jackets, maybe sheepskin in the colder months. On their feet were no doubt boots of some sort, probably precursors of the "Wellies" so common today in the British Isles.

Like the golf ball's evolution clothing has evolved over the centuries. In an 1857 magazine, probably one of the earliest references to shoes dedicated to the game declared that people playing golf ought wear stout shoes "roughed with small nails or sprigs" to help maintain footing in slippery turf. Styles have changed over the centuries because of that suggestion, and as technology advanced screw-in spikes appeared near the end of the 1800s.

Shoes, not boots, were not the thing to wear on a golf course and early in the 20th century the first saddle shoes made their appearance as a fashion statement that continued for almost a hundred years. One only has to look at the footwear available today to mark the change in materials, spikes going from metal to soft plastic and to shoe colors. This could bring us to Rickie Fowler, but we'll hold off on him for a bit.

Clothing, of course, made changes as well. Hats, for example, have come through countless permutations since the shepherds in their woolies. A hundred years ago most "serious" golfers wore what were called "fisherman's" caps. Ben Hogan's was one of these and if you want one on eBay, just type in "Ben Hogan Cap" and there will be a plethora of choices.

One does not see that headwear around very much anymore, other than adorning a few individualists or in retro golf tournaments that require early 20th century apparel and equipment. What we call the baseball cap is pretty much the standard and, even this basic topper has gone through changes, from domed to flat-top ("painters' caps"), long-billed and short, preformed flat or curved bills. Greg Norman introduced to golf what the Texicans have worn forever, "big hats," cowboy style.

But the toppers worn by The Shark were not Stetsons, they were of a different style and material with flashier adornments. Jesper Parnevik wore the bill of his cap pointed upward, displaying his sponsor's logo. We're getting closer to Rickie here.

Whereas golfers in the first half of the 20th century's wore long-sleeved shirts, many with neckties, a little alligator sewed on the breast of a polo shirt changed all that. Izod's replica of a prehistoric beastie set the tone for the standard golf shirt, even now in the 21st century.

Aside from equipment and textiles, there were other changes. Hair, over millennia, was not styled; it was cut to any given length or not cut at all. In the latter years of 1960s styles became fashionable and somehow, along with these, as Arnie's Army was retiring, came the clone era of golf: Same hair style, same clothing, albeit in different colors and patterns (Oh God, those plaids!) and they all began to look alike. Doug Sanders, whose career was then in decline, was the exception. He was that era's Fowler. So here, we come to the estimable Rickie.

Fowler is the fashion plate of the PGA Tour. It is on television that 98 percent of us get to see the players. When Rickie appeared in Scotland dressed entirely in burnt orange from cap to shoes, one Brit noted that he looked "like an escaped convict." When Fowler appeared in the press room after a Masters round he had his cap on backwards. He shortly had his cap turned "correctly" to by an august Augusta member, which made the news. He commented rightly that he considered the press room an informal and loose environment. "I wear my cap backwards so people can see my face," he commented, adding that he was not aware of the gaffe.

Lest you think I am picking on him, the contrary is true. I admire him for being an individual. The same goes for life-ravaged John Daly. The same goes for Charly Hoffman, whose long hair at least once in a telecast will be mentioned in words a tee-width short of derogatory. My admiration goes to Adam Scott, Ian Poulter and the others who are individuals, not clones. Chief among the fashion critics is Johnny Miller, who seems to regard a pause in commentary as tantamount to inhaling sharply during a polygraph.

I must interject here that by mentioning only male golfers, I am not disregarding women who golf. I don't see enough LPGA events to make any comments, but from what I have seen and heard the women have a far better handle on their wardrobes, individuality and commentary from the booth.

Quoting from "Uncyclopedia": "Golf clothing is a longstanding practical joke . . ."

Taking a look at the hair, the tartans and plaid pants of Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller in the 1980s brings forth another quote, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 as a respite from the rigors of selling bibles door-to-door in North Dakota. Though suffering a four-year lapse, he's back to being a fanatical golfer. Now a contributing editor for Cybergolf, Spiwak has written articles for almost every golf magazine in the Western world. Bob's most treasured golf antiquity is a nod he got from Gerald Ford at the 1990 Golf Summit. Spiwak lives in Mazama, Wash., with his wife and several pets next to his fabled ultra-private Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf & Flubbers Club.

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