When I was a lad, I was told that polite men don’t wear hats inside buildings, and I must have internalized that concept because I almost always reflexively take off my golf cap when I pass through a door. Or so I believe. But it would be hard for me or anyone else to argue that indoor hat removal—unlike, say, rescuing kittens or not stealing other people’s rangefinders—has obvious, inherent social value. It’s just a custom that some people in some cultures have decided they care about, probably because someone at some point told them they ought to care about it (but not why). And in some other cultures covered heads have an entirely different significance, which supersedes the broodings of golf-club house committees.
One golf-related difficulty with indoor-hat prohibitions is that they can make it hard to spot the stranger you just played with, when you try to find him in the bar after your round. (“Were you bald on the golf course, too?”) Another problem is that wearing a hat for several hours on a hot day can do terrible things to the hair of people who do have hair, even if they try to repair it in the locker room before going to lunch. Still another is that posting signs about hats, as a couple of clubs I’ve visited in recent years now do, seems less civilized than forgetting to take them off—like putting up signs that say “Chew with your mouth closed” or “Shake hands when you meet someone new.” It may be true that “gentlemen” generally remove their hats when they go inside, but if you visit gentlemen’s houses you won’t find signs reminding them to do it.
A friend of mine once took three guests to his golf club, and after their round they reconvened in the grill room for a beer. The guests were still wearing their golf caps, in violation of the club’s “no-covers-under-cover” policy, which they didn’t know about, and, before their host could warn them, the club president “walked over, stuck his head between mine and theirs, and loudly asked me to ask them to remove their hats.” In doing so, he ruined what until that moment had been a terrific day for four people, and to what end? No matter what you think about the wearing hats indoors, pointlessly creating humiliating spectacles is worse. As the etiquette authority Amy Vanderbilt wrote in 1952, “Some of the rudest and most objectionable people I have ever know have been technically the most ‘correct.’”