Rules are made by organizations, groups, clubs, and communities for various reasons. One reason rules are made is so one person does not affect another person in a negative way. These negative effects could be serious, or not so serious. As societal norms change on what is acceptable behavior, dress, etc., all organizations from private clubs to businesses have to deal with making decisions on whether to adjust or not. Private clubs have more freedom to keep traditions, to a certain extent. Private clubs are usually not on the forefront of social trends, because private clubs are not profit driven, and are not designed to take business risk. However, clubs follow trends, because members follow trends, and when trends – like healthy/active lifestyles – is proven to be long standing, clubs will then take action, if deemed necessary by the membership.
Take for example, many clubs around the country with various amenities are trending towards building bigger spaces for physical fitness and training facilities. Some are even building a breakfast and lunch area alongside the fitness facilities where members can go after using the gym to have an organic breakfast sandwich, or a protein smoothie.
A hot topic today in business and at private clubs, from golf clubs to yacht clubs, is dress code policies. Not only on the golf course, but in food and beverage areas, tennis facilities, fitness facilities, etc. The more formal dining section of the clubhouse used to be coat and tie for men during evening dinning, now many clubs are allowing denim jeans. No club would get a 100% approval for this change, but it doesn’t take a unanimous consensus, it usually takes a majority of the membership that share a similar opinion. In the food and beverage industry the change is happening now.
However, in the golf operation of private clubs, the dress code policy has stayed the most consistent in the last 50 years of all the departments. However, I believe golf is next. The generation that will be the majority of the membership, or who the club is trying to attract in the next 5-10 years is a generation who grew up with rap music, MTV, skateboarding, alternative rock, cable TV, the internet, etc. Obviously, everyone in the generation is not the same, and people mature out of young sub-cultures, but generally speaking the perception and personal preferences will be different for many new private club members.
Do I think we will allow cargo shorts and tee shirts in 10-15 years? Yes, I do. Will PGA Tour Professionals wear shorts to play in golf events in 10-15 years? Yes, they will. Will private clubs change their dress policy based on majority opinion in 5-10 years? Yes, I believe most will.
I understand if many disagree, predictions are debatable. I bet Bobby Jones, Jess Sweetser, Gene Sarazen, and Walter Hagen (all pictured) did not think we would be wearing shorts, and a polo shirt with bright colors to play golf in, and/or debating at clubs whether cargo shorts are appropriate. Things definitely change, how fast is debatable.
It will not happen tomorrow, or the next couple years, but I do believe we will get to a place in 15 years were athletic attire, such as basketball/athletic shorts, and workout shirts with sleeves will be allowed on the course at most private facilities. Golf is now seen as a sport more than ever. Even though most golf courses are tied to a social club, or country club, it is a sport. Take away any traditional thinking,and/or the private/ social club idea out of it, and athletic clothing seems to be appropriate for anyone trying to perform their best during an athletic endeavor. I see many videos of PGA tour players on Twitter hitting golf balls on the back the driving range at their local club, and most of them are in workout clothes. This is a trend that will bleed down to all golfers and clubs fairly soon.
The European PGA Tour recently started to allow players to wear shorts in all pre-event practice rounds. I believe the PGA tour will follow suit soon. The players have wanted this for a long time, but now the young executives running the marketing departments for companies sponsoring the events are starting to become those who are of the generation who prefer, and who have grown up with, a more casual dress code. Even now, many young CEOs are wearing tee shirts to work and business meetings, and their company’s dress code policy is non-existent, i.e. Facebook, VaynerMedia, etc.
As much as I am predicting a trend, please do not get it confused, my opinion is not about the trend being good or bad, just that it is coming soon. In our local Southwest Florida PGA Professional events, since 2011, we are allowed to wear shorts. However, I still wear pants to these events. I believe I represent my club that employs me to the best of my ability by wearing pants. It is that simple to me. However, I am not in the majority, since this rule change in 2011, most wear short in our local PGA Professional events.
At the club level my professional belief is that all clubs should create a policy that the majority of the members agree upon, in which most cases the clubs do so already, but that majority might change soon. I believe change is coming in golf’s dress code, at the club level, and competition level in the next 5-10 years. Some sports with “traditional” dress code policies will take even longer to change, like in baseball where the outfit seems dated for the movements they are making to perform, and the baseball coaches/managers still wear baseball outfits, which makes me laugh. Some sports will be slower to change than golf.
One factor on how fast dress code changes will happen in the golf industry is the health of the economy. If the economy stays strong the clubs can me more bullish on keeping things the same for a longer period of time. However, if we have a big correction, or recession, which we are way overdo for –as history tells us – clubs will need members, and be more liberal to accommodate the viewpoints of these younger prospective members.
I did not even dive into the topic of public golf facilities dress code, because most have changed their policy already. Not adapting for the for-profit public facilities means pushing away a lot of prospective customers, which means pushing away dollars. However, this is where many of the future members at private clubs are learning the game, and club policies.
A change is coming, how fast is up for debate. Golfers in 40 years from now may look back and think…why did those old timers wear khakis and a collared shirt?
Todd Elliott is the Head Golf Professional at Hideaway Beach Club on Marco Island, Florida. Todd is a PGA and CMAA member. Todd is Titleist Performance Institute Level 3 Golf Certified. To contact Todd email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @elliottgolfpro.