'Golf Can't Afford To Lose Juniors Because Of Nonsensical Rules That Were Made In The 1920s' – Why We Have To Accept Changing Dress Codes If We Want The Sport To Grow

We speak to Chris Straine, a father of three junior golfers, about the differing attitudes towards dress codes and youngsters that his children have faced while learning the game

junior golfers
Do we need to relax golf's dress code to attract more juniors?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Golf has a unique ability to shoot itself in the foot. Of course, the history and traditions of the game have to be respected, but I can’t think of another sport that’s more resistant to change. Some clubs still insist on jacket and tie, and that’s absolutely fine, but we must accept fashion is evolving all the time and that will inevitably spill over into the golf space. 

Disdainful looks when someone turns up to the first tee dressed in a hoodie or casual golf joggers aren’t uncommon. Often, it’s more fashion-conscious youngsters who choose to wear such attire, which does nothing to dispel the notion that golf struggles to nurture the next generation. I’m sure we’ve all seen glares from older club members directed towards junior golfers who are simply finding their way. 

It’s something that Chris Straine, father of three boys aged six, 11 and 14, is all too familiar with. His story shines a light on the positive work that is being done to encourage youngsters, but, as is often the case with golf, it’s offset by distasteful experiences elsewhere.  

“My son Murray is 14 years old and recently, a few of his friends have shown an interest and started going along for a game with him. We spoke to the club where we are members and the pro could not have been more welcoming. He encouraged my son to bring his friends on whenever he could at a guest rate and just asked to let him know when they wanted to play. He was delighted to see juniors out enjoying the game. He even lent one of the boys some clubs to make up his full set,” says Chris.

junior golfers

It's great to see junior golfers enjoying the game

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A Different Approach

“But last week, my son went to play at a different course where a friend has recently become a member. He was confronted by the pro on the 1st tee advising him he wasn’t dressed appropriately but he would let him play “on this occasion”. My son was wearing an Adidas golf hoodie and Nike golf joggers with proper golf shoes, not denim and a football top. Wow, what a welcome! Even more disturbing was that his friend’s father then got an email from the pro some days later advising if his son was bringing friends on to remind them about the dress code of the club.”

Sadly, this story is probably one that’s familiar to other parents who are trying to introduce their children to the sport. More traditional golfers often associate what they deem to be ‘sloppy’ dress codes with bad behaviour and etiquette, but most of the time that leap isn’t justified.

“My boys know how to behave on the golf course. They know to let adults through ahead of them, respect other people on the course, repair their pitch marks and so on. What they choose to wear has nothing to do with that. And, for the record, I’m absolutely not proposing that youngsters go around wearing jeans and football shirts” says Chris.

Another factor is the cost of clothing. Casual golf gear can be worn on and off the course, effectively killing two birds with one stone. 

What Do Teenagers Want To Wear?

“In summer, we spend time at a golf club that requires knee-length socks and shorts that cover the knees. Of course, clubs have the right to any dress code they want, but it’s worth bearing in mind that teenagers don’t want to wear plus fours and Pringle jumpers for the most part. They are the lifeblood of the game and we need to remember that,” he says.

According to Chris, a number of Murray’s friends play at the aforementioned club and he would have considered joining. But now? “No chance, and I don’t think he’s been back there,” says Chris.

Quite simply, it’s imperative that clubs do all they can to welcome juniors. “I’m paying for my membership and for my three boys. That’s a lot of money, and if I didn’t feel like they were being welcomed, not only would they be leaving but I would be too,” he adds.

plus fours

Should plus fours be a thing of the past?

(Image credit: Getty Images)

I ask Chris how attitudes have been towards his three boys in general. “It depends, but I would say it’s been somewhere in the middle of positive and negative on the whole,” he says. “If I’m working in percentages, I’d say it’s been 75 per cent positive, but, as with restaurants, the bad ones tend to have more of an effect on you than the good ones.”

It’s important for everyone to remember that one interaction can be the difference between a golfer for life or someone who chooses to look elsewhere for something to do in their free time. Chris’ closing remarks sum up the situation perfectly.

“And we wonder why kids stay at home playing their games console? Hats off to my own club for the welcome and encouragement – that’s the way it should be. Let’s encourage juniors to get out and play the game, not put barriers in their way.”

Nick Bonfield
Content Editor

Nick Bonfield joined Golf Monthly in 2012 after graduating from Exeter University and earning an NCTJ-accredited journalism diploma from News Associates in Wimbledon. He is responsible for managing production of the magazine, sub-editing, commissioning and feature writing. Most of his online work is opinion-based and typically centres around the Majors and significant events in the global golfing calendar. Nick has been an avid golf fan since the age of ten and became obsessed with the professional game after watching Mike Weir and Shaun Micheel win The Masters and PGA Championship respectively in 2003. In his time with Golf Monthly, he's interviewed the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Billy Horschel and has ghost-written columns for Westwood, Wayne Riley, Matthew Southgate, Chris Wood and Eddie Pepperell. Nick is a 12-handicap golfer and his favourite courses include Old Head, Sunningdale New, Penha Longha, Valderrama and Bearwood Lakes. If you have a feature pitch for Nick, please email nick.bonfield@futurenet.com with 'Pitch' in the subject line. Nick is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade M1 Fairway wood: TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Hybrid: Ping Crossover Irons (4-9): Nike Vapor Speed Wedges: Cleveland CBX Full Face, 56˚, Titleist Vokey SM4, 60˚ Putter: testing in progress! Ball: TaylorMade TP5x