The Ideal Wide-brimmed Hat for Golf

Earlier this year, two older members of the Sunday Morning Group underwent Mohs surgery for squamous cell carcinoma—the second most common type of skin cancer. Their stitches and bandages made me think I needed a golf hat that provided better sun protection than a standard baseball-type cap. When I took up golf, in the early 1990s, I bought a semi-wide-brimmed bucket hat made by a company called Duckster (which apparently no longer exists). Here’s the only known photograph of me wearing it, on the Old Course at St. Andrews, in Scotland, in 1992:

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Shortly after that trip, I wore my Duckster hat during a round on my home course. Our superintendent, who was hand-watering a patch of brown grass near the fifth green, saw me, and said, “Where’d you buy that hat—Old Sturbridge Village?”, and I never wore it again. Quite a few years later, I bought a broad-brimmed hat made by Ahead (for the PGA’s golf-clothing line, which has since dropped it from its catalog). It worked fine, as sun protection, but I have a pumpkin-size head, and by the second or third hole I felt as though my brains were being squeezed, even though the size is supposedly “L/XL”:

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Last week, I solved my problem once and for all by buying a Sombriolet Sun Hat, from Outdoor Research. It’s light and well-ventilated, and it’s available in true XL, which is big enough to accommodate even my head:

blue sombriolet

Outdoor Research is based in Seattle. It mainly sells stuff for hikers, backpackers, and kayakers, who apparently are much fussier about hat performance than golfers are. The company also makes my favorite rain hat, the Seattle Sombrero. Barney is modeling his own Seattle Sombrero in the photo below:

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There are a few other sun-hat possibilities. Two years ago, my caddie at Streamsong, in Florida, wore a great-looking sun hat, although I neglected to ask him who had made it or find out whether Streamsong stocked it in the golf shop:

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Orvis sells something sort of similar. Or you could buy a hat like the one we just gave Tony, who is about halfway through the process of losing all his real hair to chemotherapy:

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How to Pack for a Golf Trip to the British Isles

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Quite a while ago, Tom Reynolds, a reader in Atlanta, asked me to suggest a packing list for a golf trip to Ireland. I said I would, then forgot all about it, and recently he asked again. So here it is.

This packing list is the result of two and a half decades of thoughtful experimentation. In making it, I’ve assumed that no spouse or health-department official will be in your group, and that you will buy at least one souvenir golf shirt, one souvenir golf sweater, and one souvenir golf hat while you’re abroad. I’ve also assumed that you are not planning to do anything rash, like meeting a client or going to a play. My strong preference with rain pants (which are also useful as wind pants) is to wear them as pants, if possible, rather than over pants. If the weather is nippy, I wear them over long johns.

The reason for minimalist packing is not to avoid airline luggage charges; the reason is to reduce the tonnage of the gear you have to lug from place to place, and to make the most efficient use of the storage space in whatever vehicle you’re traveling in. Packing light also leaves space for all the overpriced golf stuff that you are almost certainly going to buy and lug home.

Because linksland weather is highly unpredictable but within a relatively narrow range—I’ve played in shirtsleeves in Northern Ireland in November and been hailed on in Scotland in June—my list doesn’t change a whole lot from month to month. Think in terms of layers, and be prepared to allow time for wet items to dry out—especially shoes. Mike B. took his plug-in ski-boot driers on our most recent trip to Ireland. He never needed them, because our shoes never really got wet, but taking them wasn’t a terrible idea. On a golf trip to eastern Ireland twenty years ago, I took two rainsuits and needed them both.

It’s possible to pack more than this, of course. It’s also possible to pack less. My friend Tony gets by with just his rain pants and one pair of chef pants, and some people believe that he never changes his shirt. A few years ago, Golf Digest sent me to play all fourteen courses where the British Open has ever been held, and I realized toward the end of the trip, which lasted two weeks, that although I’d brought two pairs of pants I could have gotten by with one. The great thing about microfiber is that you can launder it with a hotel wash cloth, even if you’ve gotten chocolate on it. I recommend black.

Tony in chef pants, North Berwick, Scotland, May, 2008.

Tony in chef pants, North Berwick, Scotland, May, 2008.

On my first golf trip to the British Isles, twenty years ago, I took a full-size suitcase. Now I take just a carry-on bag: a Mother Lode TLS Mini 21-inch rolling duffel, by eBags, which is currently selling for $190, shipping included (see photo at the top of this post). This is my favorite suitcase ever, even for non-golf trips. No matter what kind of suitcase you use, I recommend buying a selection of eBags Packing Cubes, which are soft, box-shaped modules that simplify intra-suitcase organization and make it easy to use your golf bag’s travel case for overflow packing.

Here’s what I take:

In the carry-on bag:

1 pair dark polyester microfiber pants (and a second pair worn on the plane—and I recommend black for both, because they never look dirty and you can remove stains, even chocolate, with a hotel wash cloth)
1 golf shirt (and a second one worn on the plane—and in cooler months I would make one or both of these shirts long-sleeved)
1 sweater (worn or packed, depending on the weather
1 pair of Under Armour-type long johns
1 long-sleeve Under Armour-type undershirt or turtleneck
1 tee shirt (to sleep in and serve in a pinch as an extra layer)
1 pair of “house pants”—fleece pants or nylon hiking pants or something similar (for lounging around, and for emergency duty under rain pants if the weather turns really foul, and for wearing on the trip home)
1 pair of shorts, maybe (something I’d never thought about before 2016, when sunburn was a bigger threat than rain in western Ireland)
Lots of cotton handkerchiefs (my new favorite golf accessory, useful for nose-wiping during wet, cold, windy, or allergen-dense rounds)
As many pairs of underpants and (wool) socks as I can cram into the remaining space

In the golf bag or golf-bag travel case (along with my golf clubs):

2 pairs of waterproof golf shoes
1 rain suit (the jacket of which, in combination with an undershirt, shirt, sweater, vest, etc., should be plenty of cold-weather protection, even for winter)
2 regular golf gloves and 2 pairs of rain gloves
1 Seattle Sombrero (or other truly good rain hat)
1 regular golf hat
1 knit cap
1 super-lightweight down vest, in its little stuff sack (weighs nothing, and is easy to cram into a golf bag; mine is by Uniqlo and is a recent addition to my packing)
As many golf balls as you think you’re going to need, because they’re cheaper here (a reasonable number is two balls a round; a couple of guys lost more, but some lost almost none)
A full box of Band-Aid or Compeed “blister cushions.” You won’t need them if you’re careful about the golf shoes you take, but if you have them in your bag you’ll be a hero to someone on your trip
Toiletry-type crap (if you put your toiletry kit in your checked bag you won’t need to worry about decanting your gels and liquids into tiny bottles and setting them aside in a Ziploc bag)

Other stuff:

1 or 2 twenty-four-inch bungee cords, for strapping your golf bag onto a pushcart (known abroad as a trolley), to keep the bag from falling off when you drag it into the dunes
1 water bottle (because on-course water isn’t common outside the United States; you can fill your bottle each day in your hotel room or in a golf-club locker room)
1 UK-and-Ireland-type plug adapter. Household current is 230 volts, but all your electronics will run on that with just the plug adapter—no need for a voltage converter. If all you’re going to need to charge is your phone, you can probably find a 110-volt shaver outlet (for an American-type plug) in the bathroom of your hotel room
1 mini-power strip (if, like me, you have a lot of stuff to plug in—mine’s made by Belkin—because no hotel room on earth has enough outlets, especially in other countries)
1 sleep mask (for creating darkness where there is none)
Earplugs (doubly useful if the locals are holding a Dallas-themed “Oil Barons’ Ball” in the main dining room—as happened to me in England a few years ago)

Travel clothes:

If you are going straight from the plane to a golf course—and that’s what you should be planning to do, in my opinion—you should wear golf clothes on the plane. For the trip home, it’s nice to have clean stuff. In my case, I flew home in a bought shirt, a bought sweater, and a pair of lightweight nylon pants that I hadn’t worn during golf.
If your golf shoes have nubs on the soles instead of spikes, you probably don’t need any other shoes—although you may be required to strip down to your socks in some parts of some golf clubs. On a recent trip to Ireland, I took a pair of “après-golf” shoes—which were actually just non-waterproof golf shoes—but wore them only a couple of times, because my two pairs of “working” golf shoes were just as comfortable and never really got wet. Tim brought two pairs of golf shoes plus a pair of Merrell Jungle Mocs, which he wore on the plane, on the bus, and when we weren’t playing golf—an idea I intend to steal next time

If you prefer to receive your packing instructions in video form, you can do so here:

For many years, I’ve accessorized my rain paints with farmer-type suspenders, my first pair of which I ordered from the Vermont Country Store. (I now use a different kind, which you can order here.) Suspenders eliminate the main problem of rain paints, which is that they creep down every time you put wet hands into the pockets. I also own, and sometimes use, a pair of Velcro bicycle clips, which are handy if the legs of your rain pants are so long they drag on the ground, as many are.

Vermont Country Store suspenders with rain pants, Scotland, 2004.

Vermont Country Store suspenders with rain pants, Scotland, 2004.

On a golf trip to England in 2010, my friends and I had to take sports coats so that we could eat dinner in the clubhouse at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Hacker (real name) took a crummy old one, intending to abandon it there—a plan I foiled by spotting it in a closet on the day we left and returning it to him at the airport. But the concept is brilliant: clothes you can wear to extinction, then leave behind.

My bedroom in the Dormy House at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, May, 2010. My sports coat is in that pile somewhere.

My bedroom in the Dormy House at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, May, 2010. My sports coat is in that pile somewhere.

On our trip to Scotland and Ireland in 2014, Peter A. brought many pairs of super-cheap socks, and threw away each pair after a single use. This seemed smart in the abstract, but he ended up being the only person on the trip who got blisters. For this most recent trip, he brought more expensive throwaway socks (roughly a dollar a pair versus roughly fifteen cents) and didn’t have a problem. My personal preference is to pack the best wool socks I feel I can afford, and lots of them.

I’ve always thought it was crazy to take shorts on a golf trip to the U.K. or Ireland, because indigenous golfers hardly ever wear them and some golf clubs have semi-ridiculous rules about them—like Hillside, in England, which allows shorts only if they’re worn with knee-height socks. (Dress codes abroad are kind of unpredictable. In 2016, the starter at Lahinch asked Matt to roll down the cuffs of his pants, which he had turned up maybe an inch, but let a local kid tee off in surfer shorts and an untucked tee shirt.)

It’s possible to pack more than this, of course. It’s also possible to pack less. On a non-golf trip to Europe a few years ago, my wife surprised me by packing lighter than I did. You don’t need to plan a lot of different “looks.”