Brian Viner: Golf the victim of its own cringe-making fashion crimes

Both the bank manager and the pimp like to wear a garish lilac polo shirt
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The Independent Online

The golf glove, those of you who play the game will surely agree, is a fundamentally ludicrous piece of sporting apparel. Right-handed golfers wear left-handed gloves, and left-handed golfers wear right-handed gloves, selecting their fingerwear according to criteria such as "excellent breathability". Daft. I have always been rather envious of those of my friends who play the game without one. I wish I could do it. After all, it's not that the golf glove is such a help to me, more that wearing one has become an unshakeable habit, like going to the supermarket with trousers on.

The golf glove, those of you who play the game will surely agree, is a fundamentally ludicrous piece of sporting apparel. Right-handed golfers wear left-handed gloves, and left-handed golfers wear right-handed gloves, selecting their fingerwear according to criteria such as "excellent breathability". Daft. I have always been rather envious of those of my friends who play the game without one. I wish I could do it. After all, it's not that the golf glove is such a help to me, more that wearing one has become an unshakeable habit, like going to the supermarket with trousers on.

I refer to the golf glove because it was at the heart of a bizarre news item last week; a 16-year-old from Levenshulme, Manchester, was banned by a judge from wearing one, apparently because it denotes membership of the L$$$ crew, a particularly nasty south Manchester gang.

This begs all sorts of compelling questions. And it also offers a new perspective on the old joke about golf being the only pursuit which allows a middle-class bank manager from, say, Leamington Spa, to dress like a pimp from, say, the south Bronx. The notion that golfing gear might make someone look hard has never before occurred to me. In fact, rather than it being a mere coincidence that both the bank manager and the pimp like to wear a garish lilac polo shirt with yellow-and-green checked trousers, maybe the latter actually took his sartorial inspiration from the weekend golfer.

Maybe his role model is not, as we always thought, Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch, but Arthur Seymour-Jones from St George's Hill, Weybridge.

At this point I should point out that I have always felt slightly affronted when non-golfers observe that golf is a sartorial disaster area. It is, but it should be the prerogative of golfers to say it is, like it is OK for Irishmen to crack Irish jokes, or Jews to crack Jewish jokes, but unacceptably insulting when others do so.

As a handicap certificate-carrying member of the golfing persuasion, however, I feel entitled to venture that fashion, and golf, are no more related than Vivienne Westwood is related to Lee Westwood. Which is not to say that attempts have not been made, down the years, to marry the two. But the bold fashion statements made by professional golfers have in general verged on the dyslexic. For example, when Doug Sanders watches himself twitching the short putt that would have won him the 1970 Open Championship at St Andrews, it's a fair bet that he cringes as much at his outfit as at his putt. As I recall, it was an all-purple ensemble, and one wonders whether the celestial caddie master, looking down, decided that it would be inappropriate for a man dressed as an aubergine to triumph at the sacred home of golf.

There were plenty of crimes against fashion committed in the 1970s, of course, yet they were never more heinous than on the golf course. John O'Leary is another who looms up in my mind's eye, wearing his trademark trousers with one leg coloured white and the other black (although, in fairness, I should add that at the time I thought these were the essence of cool). Nor was it just a 1970s thing. The late Payne Stewart, God bless him, looked a bit of a plonker in the colours of sundry American Football teams.

Ah, I hear you say, but what of those golfers who have been not just snappy dressers but widely acknowledged icons of style, from Walter Hagen in the 1920s to Tiger Woods today? It's a reasonable point, but style, essentially, is comparative. I yield to nobody in my admiration for Colin Montgomerie, for instance, but if you see Woods striding from the tee alongside dear old Monty, breasts jiggling frantically under his frumpy V-necked jumper, then obviously Tiger in his tight black polo-neck is going to look like the most stylish man on earth.

All of which has rather led me away from the matter quite literally in hand.

I have so many questions about this golf glove-wearing gang that I hardly know where to start. For example, is their preference for leather gloves or all-weather? Do they buy them from their local pro's shop, in which case are they tempted to pick up one or two other accessories at the same time, like sun visors or waterproof trousers? And what do they do with the little ball-marker attached to the back of the more upmarket glove? I shudder to think.

It is not unprecedented, now that I ponder it, for young thugs to wear items considered by most people of their age to be terminally square. The nutters in Clockwork Orange wore bowler hats. But there is something unquestionably strange about a golf glove symbolising membership of a gang. Once can only hope that the Manchester Constabulary will take full advantage, and boost their arrest rate twentyfold by swooping unexpectedly on Shrigley Hall Golf Club, overlooking the Cheshire plain, at 11o'clock one Sunday morning.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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