After years of stuffy traditionalism, designers are finally tackling golf’s fashion handicap. Josh Sims looks at what’s now par for the course for CNBC magazine.

When professional golfer Ian Poulter, also known as “the man in the crazy trousers” for his fondness for a signature tartan, takes to wearing a bright-hued top trimmed with Swarovski crystals on the green, you can rest assured that golf is regaining a showmanship to overshadow even Tiger Woods’ antics.“It’s golf so we can get away with murder – and the customers love it,” says Lucia Cowan, creative head of Poulter’s golfwear design company, IJP Design. “A few years ago a lot of men wouldn’t even wear pink. Now many see golf as a way of wearing something bolder”.

Indeed, if the panache of golfers on the European Tour is anything to go by, the sport may be returning to its golden age of style, the 1950s, when Bob Hope would wear the loudest plaid trousers with matching sweater and cardigan, while Bing Crosby would team a cerise knotted shirt with pale green trousers. This was when Frank Sinatra would, along with golfers Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, create an on-course craze of ‘alpacas’ – baggy-sleeved, loose-fitting cardigans – with The Voice racking up a $30,000 yearly knitwear bill at the Palm Springs Canyon Club store. He preferred his alpaca in a searing orange.

Poulter, alongside Greg Norman, is one of the few pros to commercialise their distinctive styles but he is not alone in recognising golf’s earning potential as the world’s fastest-growing recreational sport, as well as the licence its eccentric conservatism gives to create more striking looks than might work at the office.

With golf relishing its newfound cool – the Beastie Boys and Samuel L. Jackson are obsessives; Justin Timberlake this year opens his own course and magazines such as Putt and Bogey have given the retired man’s obsession an edge – the big labels are piling into the market. Sports brands such as Puma and Nike, and ambassadors of high fashion such as Tommy Hilfiger, Dior, Hugo Boss, Zegna, J. Lindeberg, and most recently Dunhill, have all launched specialist golf lines.

“Golf is losing the traditional image that may have hampered it over the years,” says Carlos de Freitas, head of menswear at Dunhill, which even runs its own proam tournament, the Alfred Dunhill Links. “The clothing is certainly improving in line with that, harking back to times when golf style was more extravagant. Brands are picking up on those references."

In other words, it is now more of a streamlined and elegant Sean Connery in Goldfinger – even with Auric Goldfinger’s plus-fours – than the old khakis and shapeless polo shirts than has passed for golf attire over recent decades. Brands that originally kitted out the stars – the likes of Original Penguin, as worn by Hope and Crosby, or Lyle & Scott, 007’s choice – have relaunched more contemporary golf lines on the back of interest.

The clothes, often with wicking and stretch properties, are more technical than merely eye-watering casualwear. “That’s part of their appeal to a designer,” says De Freitas. “Golf clothing represents that point where performance clothing and the kind of thing you could wear everyday crosses over. Designers like to make products that have that purpose but also look great."

And not only that. “Yes, the latest golfwear has to be highly functional clothing, performing in different climates and offering ease of movement,” adds Cowan. “But it also has to meet all the clothing regulations.” It is perhaps here that golfwear is now at its most inventive. While that other middle-class sport, tennis, has relaxed its dress codes, golf is letting go only lightly: PGA rules stipulate ‘conservative dress’, while many courses still insist on a collared shirt and prohibit the wearing of shorts in competition.

That is only proving an incentive for some designers to push at the boundaries. Savile Row tailors William Hunt, which created Poulter’s famed Union Jack trousers, has what its founder, William Hunt, calls its “Philadelphian pimp style” for golf clothes, as seen in the amateur Trilby Tour it hosts. US brand Tattoo Golf offers what it calls “aggressive golf clothes” – essentially sober polo shirts bearing biker and pirate graphic motifs.

Wittier is Golf Refugees, a British brand that, while pushing environmentally aware kit and clothing for a sport with a poor environmental record – from Carbon Trust-certified tops to recyclable golf bags – also has polo shirts bearing faux club crests (look closely – the design says it all about the new generation golfer’s attitude to staid clubhouse etiquette) and trousers with a ‘cheat pocket’, with a slot through which to drop a ball down the trouser leg.

Some may think, after Mark Twain, that “golf is a good walk spoiled”, but at least the clothing is increasingly upping the ante. “The makeover is happening,” says Golf Refugees’ founder Peter Gorse. “The pros are dressing more distinctively now and clubs are aware of the need to attract new members, members who want to be able to wear what they want.”


  1. It's great to see funky fashion making a comeback in golf. I think it really helps people identify players they see on television and does wonders for the branding of golfers.

    - The Golf Professors: Premium Online Golf Instruction

  2. I agree. As long as the funky fashion is made in a more ethical and sustainable way. Consumers need more information on clothing labels to make informed decisions. How do you feel about wearing a golf shirt made in a sweatshop?