First American Golf Shoes
It was not the Scottish who introduced what we think of now as golf shoes to America although they were probably the first to use spikes. An Englishman, The Duke of Windsor, a romantic who abdicated his thrown for a commoner, is credited with increasing the popularity of golf shoes in America. He brought is suede leather Oxford’s to the U.S. in the 30’s and the rest is history. He is also thought to have made gillie’s (Oxfords with no tongue) and kilties (tongue with leather fringe) as well.
Saddle shoes by Spalding were introduced as a lace-up shoe for racquet sports and featured a saddle-shaped leather reinforced insert in the instep. This saddle shape was often a different color than the rest of the shoe highlighting the styling. Although you won’t see many tennis players wearing them, they did play a large role in golf for many years. Gene Sarazen is thought to be the first pro to wear white saddle shoes in the 1920’s.
Why Golf Shoes Have Spikes
The obvious answer is that they provide greater traction when swinging a golf club much in the same way that soccer players or other sports players gain better traction through the use of cleats. Some say it’s more difficult to make a good contact with the golf ball and get a good shot without spikes.
Most golfers don’t golf in bare feet. Okay you probably knew that from being on the links. One answer is because they don’t want to get their feet stepped on by the other golfers who are wearing spikes. The real answer lies in the foot action that is involved in the average golf swing. If you were to try swinging bare footed, you would immediately notice a lot of action in your feet that are part of a good swing.
If you’ve ever golfed in wet weather you know that spikes help keep feet from sliding on slick turf. You may have stood on the side of a hill and noticed that spikes keep you from sliding while swinging as well.
Balance, Stability, Flexibility, and Comfort
Golf shoes actually have a wider base and larger sole than other shoes designed for athletics. Since golfers spend a lot of time just standing in front of the ball, they need more stability when they swing the club than other athletes who are running and jumping. Golf shoes even have lateral arch support to a golfer’s feet from sliding back and forth during their swing.
A golfer’s domain is one of hills, varying height turf, irregular fairways, and hazards hidden by the rough. Golf shoes have to be pliable and able to conform to awkward surfaces much more than other athletic shoes which only need to conform to manicured or flat surfaces.
A golfer in the course of a normal round may walk as much as six miles. You wouldn’t want to do that in an uncomfortable shoe. Golf shoes are designed to be comfortable even when walking long distances. This usually means extra padding and a soft breathable footbed.
Breathability and Weather Resistance
Whether its dew, high heat, light rain, or wet sand, a golfer’s environment is hard on shoes. Most golf shoes are made to be weather resistant or even waterproof and breathable. To handle these tasks they may be treated with special coatings or have air holes permeating the upper part of the shoe.
When golfers think of their shoes, if they do at all, they think of spikes. Golf shoes are pretty much synonymous with spikes of some kind. In the early days of golf, spikes were more likely to be hand-embedded nails or other pieces of metal. As early as the late 1800’s screw-in spikes had already been developed and proved to gain popularity with golfers over other shoes of the day. From that moment on, golf course groundskeepers were destined to deal with the damage they caused.
Skipping ahead to the 1990’s, spikes were all better designed but still made of metal. They still had a tendency to be as hard on your feet as they were on delicate greens, vulnerable fairways, and clubhouse floors. It’s bad enough that you had to replace the divots from your shots but, there wasn’t much you could do about the damage caused by your shoes. Golf had become a victim of its own popularity as more and more golfers wearing metal-spiked shoes were causing increasing damage to these most hallowed of all sports venues and eventually prompted the banning of metal spikes by some of the most revered golf associations.
This prompted a radical shift in spike mentality by manufacturers who began offering alternative cleat designs and new shoes to go along with them. These shoes were lighter, more comfortable, and offered even better traction than metal-spiked shoes.
Well, the technology of today is about green and turf-friendly plastic, rubber, or no spikes at all. You’ll find that turf is faring better than ever under these new materials and spike shapes. Introduced in the 1990’s
Newer designs from manufacturers are featuring spikeless soles that are more turf-friendly, lightweight, and comfortable yet offer improved traction over regular athletic shoes. Companies like Crocs and Footjoy have pioneered these shoes that have become increasingly popular. Crocs even offers golf sandals for a more casual and comfortable look on hot days.
So what is the debate? Are spikes or spikeless better for your game? I’m going to wade right in and tell you that spikeless are the future of the game. Newer designs that use the height of technology to provide traction and support are going to supplant older cleated shoes in much the same way that plastic spikes replaced metal spikes. In our environmentally-friendly, “green” society, we don’t want to cut down a tree and we certainly don’t want to chew up the greens. Go green and buy a pair of spikeless golf shoes to take care of your feet and the environment all at the same time!
I hope you have enjoyed this article highlighting some of the history of golf shoes and golf spikes. If I have served to continue the debate, I have succeeded.