by Steve Gottschling


2020 is the year golf courses will gradually roll out the World Handicap System, which merges six measurements into one convenient way to determine exactly how terrible you are at golf. 

This grasp at standardization is so sweeping that it makes especially clear how anarchic golf can be when it comes to something also quite important to the experience of the game– the dress code. Far from standardized, dressing for golf is like tiptoeing across a hostile feudal land where every fiefdom has its own vision for how players should cover their bodies. 

Last February, the Professional Golfers’ Association let players for the first time in its history leave their trousers behind and walk onto practice rounds and semi-pro games wearing knee-length shorts. While this sounds like some sort of Bare Calf Revolution, the length requirement makes the PGA slightly conservative; clubs like Saint Andrews in New York have long allowed players to flash onlookers with four inches of skin above their knees. The course staffers scurrying around with measuring tape are a small price to pay for the privilege. 

Saint Andrews, meanwhile, requires all shirts to be tucked in. This might seem like a standard rule unless you have suddenly teleported from The Heritage at Marion Country Club in Kentucky, where shirts can stay untucked provided they come with pressed collars and, possibly, pineapples

The National Club Golfer is particularly fed up. In 2019 alone they published four articles calling for the relaxation or complete end of golf’s dress codes. But while pumping out editorials might convince a stray reader here and there, it’s clear nothing drastic has changed. I have a better idea. 

Between 1998 and 2006, interest in golf seemed to soar, so developers, understanding the basic business law that when demand rises, it never ever stops rising, sprinkled the land with courses. 

What a great time for that popularity to decline. By the end of the 2010s, courses had shed almost six million players, and as the supply of holes rapidly outpaced the number of people willing to smack balls in their general direction, the excess courses set about languishing unused. 

Now here’s the plan: while those abandoned courses spend upwards of a year in limbo, waiting as the city hunts for developers and settles lawsuits, everyone who was once sent home for wearing black socks should turn these courses into Casual Communes. 

It starts with a meeting place. All the bedraggled souls will gather near the course at the home of a family sympathetic to the cause. At dawn, after porridge, they will creep onto the course wearing porridge-covered t-shirts and inappropriate shoes, their drivers and putters glinting as the sun rises. And afterward, they will drop their clubs at the clubhouse and play wordless games of cards until night comes and they skulk back to their hideout. 

Of course this plan has challenges. To stay silent, commune members will have to mow the green using manual reel mowers or, for a dash of mysticism, scythes. I hear there are bikers and meth cooks lurking about, but once they learn about the cause, they’ll surely see golfing in cargo shorts is more important than petty territorial disputes. 

After all, there are other benefits too. The pace of the game will improve, and although no one will say how that happened, there will be rumors of sluggish golfers’ shoes poking out from beneath the sand traps. And the clubhouse can play host to things it never could before, like denim jeans and burning trash. The new handicap system, however, will stay in place. You can’t mess with international law.