July 2016: Is it time to crack the dress code?

Ask yourself a couple of questions: does your local pub have a dress code and do any restaurants you visit have dress codes? If the answer to these questions is no, then why do bars and restaurants in golf clubs have them? Can people not be trusted to dress appropriately when eating and drinking?

The answer from golf clubs is always the same – to maintain standards. But whose standards? Has any consideration been given to modern day standards? Or have the same dress codes been used for decades? And do men still have to wear a jacket and tie to be considered ‘smart’?

Like any sport, clothing should be appropriate to the activity, but even here golf clubs cannot resist telling people what to wear or rather in most cases, what not to wear. Public enemy number one being jeans. I confess I am not a lover of jeans, probably because I have been a golf club member for 37 years and am consequently brainwashed against the mere mention of the word denim. I play at a club where the golf course is heavily populated with gorse bushes that can ruin a pair of trousers in one game. If you had never heard of dress codes and were asked what would be the most suitable material for trousers to play golf on a course covered in gorse bushes, you would come up with denim every time. Strange then that in my club denim is allowed in the clubhouse where there are no gorse bushes – yet banned on the course where there are!

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment, this has nothing to do with denim. It is more about keeping the ‘riff raff’ out as denim is seen as workmen’s clothing. What many of the ‘senior’ folk that dominate golf club committees probably do not know is that jeans are now high fashion clothing, often costing five times that of a pair of cavalry twills. Princes, oligarchs, millionaires, etc wear jeans in their leisure time – that is, of course, unless they play golf.

Have you noticed that the seemingly endless items of clothing that are banned in golf clubs are never worn by the elderly, but are extremely popular with the under 30’s?

However, jeans pale into significance when compared to the utterly ridiculous dress rules I have seen at some golf clubs concerning the wearing of shorts by men. The first prize in stupidity goes to the dress code that states long socks must be worn with shorts resulting in no more than four inches of leg being exposed around the knee area! Why allow shorts at all? You may as well ban them altogether. And do those clubs have the same rules for women?

One analogy regarding dress codes is that of cruise ships. On many cruise lines there is a dress code for evenings when having dinner and attending the post dinner show at the theatre. They will tell you well in advance of your cruise that there will be two formal, two smart casual and three informal nights per week. Not only did you have to have the required attire, you also had to sit at the same dinner table with the same dinner guests every night. By some strange coincidence the average age of the cruise passenger is very similar to that of the golf club member, mainly retired with little or no opportunity to dress up in clothing they are reluctant to throw away.

Yet there has been a seismic change recently in the cruise business as many new to cruising do not wish to wear jackets and ties or ball gowns, etc when they are on holiday. More and more cruise ships are far more relaxed about dress codes and ‘freedom dining’ has become more and more popular when you can sit where you like in the restaurant, with whom you like and when you like. Put another way, the cruise market has adapted itself to the younger market – and is thriving. In 1990 3.7 million people worldwide went on a cruise, in 2015 that figure had risen to over 22 million. Whilse the relaxation of dress codes cannot account for this rise alone, the point is that cruise lines have reacted to the changing demands of their customers. Can we honestly say that golf clubs have done the same?

All of us in golf club management are aware of the rising average age of the golf club member, also the ‘missing generation’ of 30-45 year olds. Perhaps we should look ahead say 10 years and see if there are sufficient new members to replace those current members who may be to old to play by then?

If the answer is no, we must ask ourselves why, and somewhere half way down the list of reasons may well be dress codes.

So if your club has dress rules that state – no jeans, no T-shirts, no track suits, no shell suits, no cargo shorts, no trainers, no baseball hats, no football shirts, etc, in a few years’ time you may well have another item to add to the list … NO MEMBERS.

David O’Sullivan
National Captain


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