If you did any slow-dancing in the early 1970s, you recognize the fabric that modern golf shirts are made of: leftover prom dresses. But that’s not the most troubling thing about golf clothes nowadays. The most troubling thing is the pockets in the pants. I’ve got two pairs of Nike Dri-FIT golf pants, and, generally speaking, I like them fine. But the pockets are ridiculous. The seams are so feeble that golf tees and green-repair tools push right through them after not that many rounds, forcing me to do something I’m even worse at than chipping: sewing.
The pockets in golf pants should be extra-strong, not extra-weak. They probably ought to be deeper than normal, too. And they shouldn’t be made of the fabric that the pockets in my Under Armour golf pants are made of—which feels like felted clothes-dryer lint, and snags my rain gloves like Velcro. And they shouldn’t contain mini-pockets, like the pockets in my Vineyard Vines shorts:
I don’t understand why pants still have these things—or, for that matter, why they ever did. Someone told me once that their purpose is “to hold your keys so they don’t poke a hole in your big pocket,” but that can’t be true, because they’re too small to hold more than a couple of keys, and if you ever did manage to cram your keys into one you’d never get them out again. Besides, there’s no reason to keep your keys in your pocket while you’re playing golf. Put them in your golf bag instead.
Those annoying mini-pockets serve no purpose other than to become impacted with golf stuff. Here’s the same mini-pocket with a green-repair tool hopelessly stuck in it:
You would need monkey fingers to get that thing out of there before it was your turn to putt. The only solution is to cut the mini-pockets right out of your pants, like this:
On New Year’s Day, fifteen of us played the Red Course at the Wheel. The temperature was 20 when I woke up and 25 when we teed off, and it never got to more than a degree or two above freezing. Our cars were virtually the only ones in the parking lot when we started, so the guy at the desk (who took the photo below) said we could play as five threesomes, three fivesomes, two seven-and-a-halfsomes, whatever. We played as three fivesomes.
The festive cardboard glasses that everyone’s wearing in the photo above were a seasonally appropriate gift from Chic, who is the chairman of our golf club:
The ground was so hard that getting tees into it was a problem. Shouldn’t there be a power tool for this?
We always award two extra handicap strokes to anyone who wears shorts after December 1. Only Fritz did on New Year’s—a seemingly reckless decision, but a profitable one, because his team won:
Fritz said later that only has face had been cold. If I’d worn shorts, I’d have gotten a handicap stroke on the Money Hole, so dressing rationally cost me ten bucks. I don’t regret that, though, because I was comfortable for the entire round. After many years of playing golf in bad weather, I’ve figured out what I need to wear to stay warm. As always, I dressed in layers, so that I could take stuff off if I got hot and put it back on if I got cold again—although on New Year’s I didn’t take anything off until we were finished.
I wore three long-sleeve shirts, the first of which was very thin and two of which were turtlenecks. All three were made of synthetic stuff. Here’s the one I wore on top, by Under Armour:
On top of that, I wore my brand-new Sun Mountain Tour Series Rain Jacket, which I love. There was no rain in the forecast, but rainsuits are good for wind, too, and we had plenty of that: 20 miles per hour all day:
My Sun Mountain rain jacket reminds me of my Galvin Green rain jacket, which I also love, but the Sun Mountain jacket sells for less than half as much. One of its best features is that it’s extra long, so that it can’t ride up, We’ve had a fair amount of rain so far this winter, in addition to the other stuff, and I’ve happily worn the jacket many times. I like everything about it:
On top of the rain jacket, I wore a Uniqlo Ultra Light down vest. Wearing a down vest over three shirts and a jacket made me look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, but the vest really is ultra light, and because it doesn’t have sleeves it doesn’t get in the way of a golf swing. I keep it in a Ziploc bag in my golf bag all winter, for emergencies. It squishes down to such a tiny package that last year I forgot to take it out when the weather got warm again:
I own long johns in three different “weights.” On New Year’s Day, I wore the mediums. They aren’t really long johns; they’re actually running pants, or something, for men who don’t mind being seen in public in tights. They work like long johns, though:
On top of those, I wore rain pants. One of the keys to successful rain-pants-wearing, I think, is to wear them http://smragan.com/2015/10/11/my-breadboard-brings-all-the-boys-to-the-yard/badass_breadboard_04/ as pants—over bare legs if it’s warm, over long johns if it’s not. Another key: suspenders. Wearing suspenders with rain pants keeps the pants from sliding down when you stuff a gloved hand into your pocket to retrieve a tee or a ball marker. In fact, rain pants should have built-in straps. My suspenders have plastic grippers, which I think are gentler on expensive waterproof fabric than metal grippers are. They also supposedly won’t set off airport security equipment, should you choose to adopt a totally suspenders-based lifestyle:
On my neck and part of my head, I wore a Gore-Tex Buff, which may be my single favorite cold-weather accessory. A Buff is a tube of fabric. You can wear it in a million different ways, and if you get really cold you can pull it up (or down) over your face. The guy who invented it got the idea after wearing a pair of underpants on his head to keep his ears from freezing while he rode his motorcycle:
On top of my head I wore a regular golf cap, and on top of that I wore a bright orange knit cap from Cabela’s, which sells stuff to hunters:
On my feet, I wore two pairs of wool socks, one of which was pretty thick. The kind I like best are made by SmartWool. The great thing about wool, whether it’s smart or not, is that it keeps you warm even if it gets wet:
I had room for both pairs of socks because I was also wearing my super-comfortable True Linkswear Chukka golf shoes — a style the company seems to have dropped, I’m sorry to say. (True Gent Chukkas, which the company does sell, are not the same.) I now own eight or ten pairs of True golf shoes. I love them all, and the Chukkas are among my favorites, except when I’m wearing shorts:
On my hands I wore two pairs of golf gloves: a pair of FootJoy Rain Grips, which are thin, and, on top of those, my favorite winter golf gloves ever, HJ Winter Xtremes.
You might think that wearing two pairs of gloves would reduce your so-called “touch,” especially on the greens, but if it does anything it probably has the opposite effect. Debbie Crews, who is the sports-psychology consultant for the women’s golf team at Arizona State University and the chair of the World Scientific Conference of Golf, sometimes tells golfers with the yips to try putting (in her lab) with ski gloves on. They usually putt so much better that it’s amazing,” she told me, “because they can’t manipulate.” I wrote about Crews and her research last year, in an article about the yips for The New Yorker. You can read it here.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.”