Fashion starts to bring traditional golf up to par


They say that a bad day on the golf course beats a good day at the office.

However, fashion on the fairways has been known to disappoint. Fortunately, there's a new drive to change all that. The shift can be attributed to the influx of stylish athletes, celebrity enthusiasts and a whole generation of baby boomers who want to bring style up to par with comfort and performance.

According to the National Golf Foundation, 37 percent of all new golfers are women. Add to that a growing interest among younger players and more participation by seniors, and it's no wonder golf has become the fastest growing sport in America.

But unlike Andre Agassi's radical effect on the image of tennis over the last decade, tradition holds truer when it comes to golf chic. Just look at fashion-conscious PGA player Payne Stewart, who brings with him a distinct look reminiscent of the early days of the sport -- knicker styles, which he has made his signature along with snap-front golf caps. But if you're afraid of looking like a throwback from the movie "Caddy Shack," you may want to stick to fun accessories.

For such a conservative sport, one would assume that loud prints and colors wouldn't be encouraged on the green. "Remember, however, that golf originated in Scotland, where color and pattern are anything but sober," says Jack Herschlag, executive director of the National Association of Mens Sportswear Buyers.

Comfort has always driven the golf-wear industry, often leaving fashion in the sand trap. Addressing this lapse, fashion labels such as Ralph Lauren, Nautica, Liz Claiborne and Guess? have begun producing comfortable sportswear to be worn both on and off the course.

Stylish golfers should look for lightweight polos in deeper non-traditional colors, weightless, patterned sweaters and smaller zip-front windbreakers, jackets that might not allow for a perfect swing but can ride along on the cart to be put on later.

Trendy new golf-wear label Pivot Rules, known for its novelty print shirts, has a cult following among both golfers and non-golfers. Even former Orioles great Jim Palmer was spotted in his Pivot golf shirt for a recent round with President Clinton.

In warm weather, walking shorts are becoming more popular than trousers, which demand "a more careful choice in novelty socks," says Mr. Herschlag.

For the most part, men's golf attire translates better off course than does women's, which tends to be novelty-driven and matchy. However, women's golf-wear is slowly loosening its grip from cute little sweaters and coordinating visors. There is a move to more sophisticated looks such as short plaid kilt skirts and knit vests by manufacturers such as Tail.

Customers often give Meg Gilmore a double take when she wears knickers and matching knee-high socks around the Ladies Tee Time shop in Timonium.

"A few customers have seen me wearing them and often end up buying some for themselves," says Ms. Gilmore, a buyer for the store.

And whoever said that women golfers were "Plain Janes" has never seen LPGA tour player Michelle McGann in action. Ms. McGann, with her long blond hair, striking makeup and a penchant for flashy accessories on tour, has inspired a line of colorful, glitzy straw hats as well as a bold jewelry collection bearing her name.

Hats are more popular than ever and give more sun protection than the old visor.

"You can't go to a women's tournament without seeing dozens of women decked out in these embellished straw hats," says Margaret Cavanaugh, managing editor of Golf for Women magazine.


Production: Suzin Boddiford

Models: John Moll and Mark Hillard for Nova Models

Pivot Rules golf shirt, $50, and Bobby Jones brushed cotton trousers, $125, both at J.S. Edwards. Foot-Joy shoes and glove at Jay Perkins Golf Shops. Caddie's clothing from the Pied Piper. Boy's G.H. Bass bucks from Hess Shoes. Woodholme Country Club.

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