The Dress Code Debate

The dress code debate is one that is gathering momentum and I feel is a factor that golf club owners and managers have to be aware of and does influence the commercial business of golf clubs.

This issue seems to divide opinion and from reading blogs and forums, strongly in some case. As with most things, "one size does not fit all" and each business will need to carefully consider what is right for their specific business aims, vision, market - now and in the future.

There does seem to be some "myths" about dress code that seem a little un balanced and therefore unhelpful in a sensible debate about what is right for a specific business - who at the end of the day have to make a decision about what is right for them. So the following are a few examples of discussions that I have heard and read recently;

Relaxing the Dress Code will Somehow Lead to a Deterioration in Etiquette, Honesty and Inferred a Lesser Quality of Client;

I have seen this written and said numerous times but I certainly do not agree. Let’s face it, regardless of how well dressed they are and complying with the dress code, we all see golfers (members and visitors) not rake bunkers, not repair pitch marks, even bend the rules, so I do not subscribe to this myth. Golf is a great game and we want to preserve the fact it is one of the most honest sports today and that in general, people are respectful of the etiquette and rules placed on them by governing bodies and golf clubs alike. Our job as golf managers is to uphold and improve this with continued positive education and communication.

It is a Tradition of the Game and Should Stay

As the saying goes the only thing that stays constant and will not change is that "things will change". Golf rightly holds on to many traditions, but I would suggest that changes in trends, society and what people consider "smart" dress is something that golf clubs have to consider and adapt to. Golf has changed hugely over time, including golf attire.

We no longer play in tweed jackets, shirt and ties as the likes of Vardon and Ray did.

And trainers have been a complete no no in golf clubs - on or off the course. But, the latest golf shoes from Puma are "trainers" - the Faas Lite Mesh Shoes are the lightest golf shoe in the industry and will be seen on golf courses - and surely they will have to be accepted in golf clubs as many clubhouses now allow "golf shoes".

In other areas of the hospitality business, changes have to be made as our clients are telling us they need to.

One of my first examples of this was in my first job in the golf industry at the beautiful Gleneagles. For years the famous Strathearn Restaurant was "black tie" - but it was clear it was not moving with the times and client preferences. This was relaxed and allowed what was a bit of a dying reputation to one again thrive as a business and experience.

I also heard a very apt anecdote recently from the GM of Claridges on the excellent fly on the wall documentary about the workings of one of London's finest and most traditional hotels. The GM stated that their traditions were "innovations that people liked and we kept" - we need to keep innovating to create tomorrows traditions - if that makes sense!

Relaxing Dress Code Will Lead to Scruffy Image

Again, this needs to be taken into context and different businesses and even parts of a golf club will ask their members and guests to respect certain dress codes - no one is saying it will be a free for all. A great example of this I heard at the recent KPMG Golf Business from a GM of a very nice club in Surrey. He recalled a meeting they were having at the golf club with their chosen architect for some clubhouse work they were doing.

The architect turned up, looking very smart in jacket, shirt, but smart (and expensive!) dark denims. After the meeting, it took no more than a couple of minutes for some members to express their dissatisfaction at this happening in the clubhouse. The GM rightly pointed out that although they were "technically right", in fact when he looked around, the architect was the smartest dressed person in the clubhouse and some of the members, whilst complying with the dress code, could not even be considered smart!

This was one of the factors, along with some pure commercial reasons why The club in question have changed their dress policy for the clubhouse to "smart casual dress".

The "Commercial" Rationale

 Although different clubs will be in different commercial situations, I think most people would agree that "golf is not exactly in rude health" in terms of participation, people taking up the game and many have commercial challenges.

Now, the dress code of golf clubs is not to blame - but I think it is a contributing factor (how much is debatable).

From a participation point of view, I think it is time to consider being more open minded about attire on the golf course but especially on the range and in the clubhouse. As per the point above about the architect, trends have changed and the focus should be more on being "smart" more than specific dress codes. Golf clubs and managers need to do all they can to encourage more golfers but also encourage use of the hospitality facilities. n tough times, dress codes can make it eve harder.

Another great example of this was another reason why the golf club in Surrey changed their policy. The GM again recounted how many times he would call his wife and suggest she stop by the club and have lunch with him - but the answer was often "I'm out and in jeans so I can't". This was a massive issue stopping valuable spend at the club - but not anymore and they are seeing an increase in f&b spend as a result of "giving people what they want" - that is in their own specific case.

Although based in the Home of Golf, St Andrews, the majority of the work Braemar Golf are involved in is in continental Europe, Eastern Europe and North Africa. Experiencing different culture and different attitudes to business and dress has been illuminating. Growing the game of golf in such new markets is essential to the health of the game. Believe you me, if the traditions of dress code were implemented in important markets such as Russia - golf would just not take off. Dress codes are different and you either work with this, or have no one in your clubhouse! Yes, we have to work very hard to instil the great things about golf in new markets, but this surely is etiquette, honesty, respect before worrying about whether a $300 pair of jeans are allowed in the clubhouse or practice range?

Gladly rules such as wearing "knee length socks" on the golf course are mostly gone - but they still do exist! Maybe it is also time for the Professional Tours to also help - it certainly is not offensive to me if we saw Tour Players in shorts. It would not appeal to all golfers, but why not allow those who want to do this - at least in some events? I saw this in the unsanctioned event in Turkey last year promoted by Chubby Chandler and thought it refreshing. The Ladies Tour seem more relaxed about dress codes and the girls seem more fashionable and trendy and it is great to see some of the younger players coming through such as Charley Hull - this will only encourage participation in the junior ranks.

Whilst the juniors would probably tell me I amusing the wrong terms - we need to make golf "cool" and to quote Charley Hull "wicked"!

In summary, this is not a black and white issue, as few are and each business will need to determine what is right for their circumstances, but surely time has come (and commercial and client pressure) to make changes to the management of our industry to secure the future.