Style on the golf course was, in the game's own parlance, in the rough. But of late, links apparel has never looked better, so much so that men who have never stepped foot on a fairway are sporting the cool, comfortable and decidedly fashionable knitwear designed more for the back nine than brunch. Yet so versatile and sophisticated is the new golf apparel that the clothes are altogether appropriate for both. And, irony of ironies, these days, any item of golf apparel always makes a terrific Father's Day gift.
From a purely historical standpoint, golf's contribution to American fashion extends beyond garish colors and knitted shirts with collars as long as a four-iron. It was on the lush fairways of the old course at St. Andrew's in
Other classic men's wear items born of the greens: argyle socks and the links cardigan, perhaps the most often copied sweater in the annals of fashion, though the genuine article, made completely of pure alpaca, is rarely seen and once worn only by golf's sartorial purists, including Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen in earlier years, more recently the late Payne Stewart, Arnold Palmer, Bernhard Langer and Phil Mickelson.
While the timelessly classic links cardigan, with its stretchy "purl" loop-stitches and roomy bell sleeves, subscribes to the "form follows function" school of design, much of modern golf wear today is equally functional yet doesn't sacrifice style or comfort in the process. Indeed, many of the newer "golfwear" lines have become so sophisticated that the clothes easily blur the distinction between golf apparel and casual sportswear.
More than ever, the classic-minded, well-dressed executive has a wealth of options for proper, gentlemanly sportswear that is flattering on the fairway and chic enough for the club. Dunhill, a label likely to be found on the inside jacket of many a CEO's pin or chalk stripe suit, is now found on golf clothes with the same understated yet formidable style. Even Brioni, the venerable Roman hand-tailored clothing maker, now produces a high quality line of well-tailored, if expensive, casual trousers, shorts, polos, knitwear and jackets under the Brioni Sport label and is right at home on greens anywhere.
It should be no surprise that the price of many of the new, modern golf clothes are comparable with that of some designer sportswear lines, as the best of the new golfwear employs such high fashion, luxury fibers as Pima and Sea Island cotton, superspun, high twist wools and worsteds, plush merino wool, cashmere, handkerchief linen, baby alpaca and even silk. Fabrics, soft to the touch, include two and three-ply sateen, fine line gabardine, covert and twill, mesh, four-ply cashmere and sueded silk.
Prints have become highly refined, whether as neat geometrics, computer-like linear graphics or conversational, whimsical motifs as golfing figures, scenery and equipment. Some of the better golf/sportswear collections like Bobby Jones, named after one of the great gentlemen of the game, even extend into tailored clothing, offering softly constructed, elegant blazers in cashmere, linen and silk, which can feature timeless detailing such as bi-swing or cinched backs, open patch pockets and working buttonholes.
Remarkably, golf apparel has also kept right in step with the technological advances in fabric development. The use of microfiber in particular has become widespread throughout better golf lines, both domestic and European. This fine denier, tightly woven fabric is being used for trousers and shorts, pullover V and round-neck jackets and classic zip-front windbreakers.
Perhaps the most dramatic change in golf clothes in the last few seasons has been the application of color. With the game of golf soaring in popularity, particularly among young men and women of the baby boom generation, many designers have turned their attention to the sport and all its trappings. Golf shoes in particular are more handsome and understated than ever, with the colors kept low key and natural. Ditto for the clothing.
Where duffers once wore combinations of riotous colors that clashed with a roar, much of the today's golf clothes tends to focus on earth tones and natural shades, often worn in monotone combinations. Even primary colors as red, blue, yellow and green, have been quieted significantly, softened into deeper shades of navy, burgundy, forest or sage and creamy yellow.
Once upon a time, even the least savvy fashion observer could spot a golfer a mile away. With today's golf clothes as sophisticated and understated as they are, the only thing that might give the dedicated hacker away are his spikes. Or, depending on how well he did on the course that day, his disposition.