National Golf Day: The Yale Golf Team, 1959


yale golf 59

Today is National Golf Day, for which I offer three documents for your enjoyment. The purely sartorial among you can pore over the details in this photo of the 1959 Yale golf team.

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Update: Richard Press just sent me an email saying this photo blew his mind, whereupon he proceeded to blow mine. The young man second from right in the front row — the guy with the best jacket — is Richard’s lifelong friend John Suisman. They’re going to see a Yankees game together next week!

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And for those who partake in the agony and ecstasy of golf, I’ve got two new stories that just came out in Forum, a privately circulated men’s style magazine put out by MR, the menswear trade magazine.

The first, on the endless quest for gimmicks to fix your swing, I posted over at Idle Talk. The second, a survey of golf attire over the decades, is below.

Hit ’em short and crooked. — CC

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Style Evolution: Golf Attire Then And Now
By Christian Chensvold
Forum magazine, spring 2016

When I took up golf at the age of 41, the first thing I did was order a pair of shoes. Not just any shoes, mind you, as golf presented the perfect opportunity to bust out brown-and-white spectator wingtips. When my millennial-generation instructor saw me, he cast a doubtful eye. “The way it works,” he said, “is you got to have game to wear stuff like that.”

I can see where he was coming from. I’ll never forget being in the group behind a freshly minted hacker. He hit every ball out of bounds, insisted on looking for it, and when he finally found it, took five strokes trying to hack it out of thick brush. But even more memorable than the colossal waste of time he imposed on everyone behind him was his bubble-gum pink sweater. There was something offensive in his assumption that he could wear fun clothes despite no skill nor sense of etiquette.

But the problem with golf attire today is not that it’s too flamboyant, but that it’s too serious. Crazy pants show up now and then, but for the most part golf clothing embodies the game’s obsession with professionalization, technology, corporate sponsorship and branding, leaving little traces of its aristocratic origins or “Caddyshack” hijinks. If we were to gather a metaphoric foursome representing the past hundred years of golf attire, we would see a sartorial mirror of change in both the game and society at large.

Let’s say that first on the tee box is The Gentleman. His hero is the Duke of Windsor, and he is clad in argyle knee socks, tweed plus-fours (knickers), tattersall shirt, wool tie, and Fair Isle sweater. For him golf is a game played on the vast acreage that surrounds a country estate — land that is used for farming (golf was invented by Scottish shepherds, after all), hunting, riding, and keeping everyone else — save for the servants — as far away as possible. The clothing hardly differs from that worn for other country activities. Yet despite how it seems, there’s still a touch of the modern: for when the Duke of Windsor, the biggest fashion leader of his era, first donned a Fair Isle sweater in 1921, it was something new [italicize].

Next on the tee is The Classicist, from whom I take my personal inspiration. Whereas the Gentleman looks anachronistic, the Classicist is inspired by the past but sylistically relevant. The shoes are still traditional, but the trousers are pulled from the man’s everyday wardrobe. The necktie is no longer customary, and in place of a dress shirt is a fitted short-sleeved polo shirt covered by a cashmere v-neck. A flat cap tops off the outfit. This simple, modern, timeless look was personified by Ben Hogan in the 1950s.

Wisecracking his way to the tee box next is the Country Clubber, even if he’s playing his local muni course at the discounted twilight rate. This guy’s hero is Bill Murray, and he resides in a sunny suburban community. He exemplifies the era when golf courses sprouted up across America, and middle-class desk jockeys took up golf to climb the social ladder. The clothing symbolizes a life of carefree suburban leisure: loud pants clash with bright-colored shirts and alpaca cardigans, and the clown colors seem to perfectly reflect the comedy of errors that is the game of golf. Hats are dispensed with altogether.

Finally stepping onto the tee box — and shooting from the blacks — is an imposing figure, so teched-out he simply must be a single-digit. He doesn’t wear wingtips, but shoes that look designed for skateboarding. His clothing is loaded with performance attributes and splattered with manufacturers’ logos. He wears a baseball cap, where yet another logo blares its brand loyalty. Everything is color-coordinated, from his glove to his belt to driver head, which comes with 12 hosel adjustments. This is The Technocrat. In the near future, research will find that pants and zippered pull-overs create wind resistance, and that a spandex bodysuit — the kind speed-skaters wear — can increase clubhead speed an average of 1.2 miles per hour. This guy will be the first at his club to wear one.

On the surface it would seem like little in the game of golf has changed: you still try to hit a ball 400 yards into a four-and-a-half inch hole in four strokes. Yet golf has always been driven by change and technology —the old balls were called featheries precisely because they were stuffed with feathers. And the world of golf instruction is increasingly accepting that there is no perfect one-size-fits-all swing, and that it’s more a matter of finding your own unique way of achieving the desired result.

Dressing for golf should be no different: you can wear whatever the hell you want, so long as it works for you.

16 Comments on "National Golf Day: The Yale Golf Team, 1959"

  1. Second from right, front row, gets my nod.

  2. Navy Blazer | May 18, 2016 at 1:49 pm |

    Please notice that the pants aren’t skinny and the jacket isn’t one size too small.

  3. Orange Fiji | May 18, 2016 at 1:53 pm |

    Nice picture, but I wish there was a picture of these golfers in actual golf clothes. I sure that they were very traditional looking in 1959.
    I am VERY disappointed in Dick Press. I surely believed that he would be a Mets fan!!!!

  4. カッコイイだ! Golf clothes from that era often include wool / poly slacks and polo shirts, cardigans. Of course the shoes were basically gunboats with spikes.

  5. 2nd from right, front row is the only decent looking jacket in the bunch. Lots of shoulder, eh?

  6. Played with a Classicist recently: tall Southerner who was the spitting image of a young Dean Martin; dark olive slacks; black polo beneath a black cardigan; black-on-black saddle soft spikes; a single-digit handicap whose main advice to me at the end of a horrible (for me) tea-totaling front 9 was, in a sweet, slow drawl, “you need to get your BAC right.” Two bloodies later, I was making pars & winning skins.

  7. Jesse Livermore | May 18, 2016 at 9:28 pm |

    I’d give em all a stroke a side and come out ahead.

  8. I like the button stance front-left.

  9. I don’t recall anyone wearing polyester at golf in the late 50’s. I was at Springdale fairly regularly at that time, and we still mostly wore wool pants and shirts. Believe it or not, I remember having the impression that cotton was a garish uncomfortable fabric with a sloppy image. It wasn’t until the space age era of the mid-1960’s that polyester really became the norm. Simultaneously, I remember golfers in the 60’s beginning to dress more colorful like jockeys than the subdued whites, khakis and navy of the prior decade. I still find the most comfortable and flattering trousers for a sunny golf outing to be a fine tropical wool, although I now have accepted cotton polo shirts. I have not seen a wool golf shirt in 60 years.

  10. They look like a bunch of dudes to me. Not a girly man in the bunch. Can you imagine what these fellows might think of some of the get ups professional golfers are wearing today. The orange jumpsuited guy comes to mind.

  11. fred johnson | May 19, 2016 at 3:11 pm |

    I noticed that when Tiger abandoned his simple plain, solid Nike logo shirt for crazy stripes and lines from nowhere to nowhere his game began to also go nowhere. He used to be a relief from the typical pro “billboard ” style, now, not so much.

  12. Vern Trotter | May 19, 2016 at 3:32 pm |

    Second from right front is the best I agree. Cannot quite tell but looks like their trousers have cuffs. Their shoes appear to at least need a shine.

  13. During the aristocratic ’30s I can see some of the nattier Ivy guys having their shoes shined, but not in the ’50s and ’60s. My sense is that shined shoes in most cases would have been seen as hopelessly affected, and that duct tape on penny loafers would be more acceptable than a shine.

  14. Great article. Notice the length of their coats is a bit too long for today’s standards.

  15. I did notice, WFBjr. When did XS, S, R, L, XL become available OTR? Better too long than too short IMO.

  16. Vern Trotter | May 27, 2016 at 11:58 am |

    I am the same age as these lads and can assure you that polished or shined shoes was not considered an affectation back then; just something that was often neglected until later. The zeitgeist was still influenced by the military, note the closely cropped hair style. Just a minor demurrer.

    The duct tape has, I’m my experience, mostly been used on Topsiders as the sole becomes unstuck after extended use and is difficult to re-glue. Although I suppose one can find someone that has taped almost any thing.

    Since Mr. Press knows one from this group, my curiosity is arosed. Unlike most college athletic teams, golf team members in that era were mostly, not all, still from country club families. I wonder if that was true here.

    The golf coach at Yale then was also the lacross coach if memory serves. Not sure about this; a lot of booze over the brain since then.

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