Tiger's short-sleeve mock turtlenecks are poised to be all the rage in pro shops this spring, but are they a detriment to golf's rich traditions?
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With all the banter about the LPGA's Annika Sorenstam playing on the PGA Tour and women members being admitted to Augusta National, one of the most pressing philosophical golf topics of 2003 is being overlooked like Mike Weir on a Sunday morning:
Is the short-sleeve Nike mock turtleneck Tiger Woods was sporting at the Buick Invitational and Nissan Open here to stay? Or more importantly for weekend warriors, will this new "athletic casual" look be allowed at the local home course or country club?
All signs point to a resounding "yes" on both fronts, according to head professionals and golf directors in pro shops from the Tar Heel state to the Grand Canyon state.
"It is a mock collar, so it is considered a collar," says Sonny Weeks, head professional at Olde Sycamore Golf Club in Charlotte. "It depends on your definition of collar, though. I would let players out in them but my general manager wouldn't. He is a traditionalist."
Says Bruce Harper, head professional at River's Edge Golf Club in Shallotte, N.C., "We'd let someone wearing a mock short-sleeve go out because rounds are down. Actually, I think it can be tastefully done although it will raise some interesting questions about what constitutes a T-shirt. We let mock turtleneck long-sleeve shirts go out in the winter, so it would be hard to have a double standard."
Fist pumps for everyone! Smile into the camera and utter a cliché about making some putts - looks like the mock is a lock, right? Not so fast. If you are a member at a private course, you may not want to let go of your stuffy polo shirts yet.
"It is going to be a difficult situation at courses that have hard-core policies, but I can say that those type of shirts would be allowed on the course here," says Jay Haffner, director of golf at the SunRidge Canyon Golf Club in Fountain Hills, Ariz. "But I would anticipate that private country clubs will face some challenges from members if someone wears one out on the course. I say if you sell them, you better allow it on your course. You can't have it both ways."
Yet for the past few years, private and public golf courses actually have had it both ways. Women's apparel all but dropped the collared shirt from its fashion menu in the late 1990s. Golf courses subsequently relaxed their dress code for women, and did so without much fanfare.
But this is Tiger Woods, and fanfare is part of the deal. Woods going sans collar and the willingness of pro shops at public access courses to allow the short-sleeve mock could indicate an industry-wide relaxation of the men' s dress code, as well.
Nike, for one, is banking on it. Product line manager Shelly Pasicznyk says the company sweated the universal acceptability of the its short-sleeve DRI-FIT UV Stretch Mock for about as long as it takes Woods' Nike driver to move from backswing to follow through.
"We did have some concerns about its acceptability at more traditional courses, but once people saw Tiger in it (in recent golf tournaments), I think it became instantly more acceptable than it was," said Pasicznyk.
Certainly more acceptable than when David Duval dawned the short-sleeve mock a couple seasons ago to showcase his new, yoked-up form. Duval was coming off a series of blockbuster seasons that had him positioned as Woods' chief rival. But wrist and back injuries limited his appearances (and earnings) over the next few seasons, and the potential men's apparel debate was quelled for the time being.
Enter the Tiger.
Pasicznyk says that it was Woods who first approached Nike about a short-sleeve edition of its DRI-FIT UV Stretch Mock. He claimed to dig the feel and mobility of the long-sleeve version, and couldn't imagine life without a spring and summer edition of the product. Nike's initial plan was to provide Woods with the shirts he required while offering a limited line to a select number of pro shops around the U.S.
Plans have changed, according to Pasicznyk.
"We felt like it has gained tremendous momentum and acceptance, so we have it planned in our spring line," she says.
The short-sleeve version will retail for $50 and the long-sleeve version for $55. Both shirts are marketed on their ability to keep golfers dry and sun burn free. The DRI-FIT UV material not only absorbs perspiration, it has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 40 that should make it instantly marketable in Sun Belt golf destinations.
"We are focused on athletic performance and the way our product lines can enhance that performance," says Pasicznyk. "We aren't necessarily driven by fashion as much as we just want to make beautiful products that perform."
Some pro shop frontmen are accepting of this new fate in men's fashion with a lack of enthusiasm.
"I don't know and I don't really care (if Tiger is wearing it)," says Jerry Couzynse, director of golf at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Fla. "(David) Duval has been doing it for years. I am not going to make a big deal out of it if someone wants to push the envelope. If someone walks in here wearing one, they will be permitted to play."
Invariably, pushing the envelope -whether in golf apparel or equipment - leads to the question of "when is enough, enough?" Haffner believes that the men's apparel industry has reached the end of the line with its fashion gambles.
"The only other thing I could see is Tiger or Duval cutting the sleeves off to show off their arms, or the fashion designer for Charles Howell III and Jesper Parnevik coming up with some skin tight version of the (mock short-sleeve) shirt," Haffner chides. "Otherwise, I think that is about it from the men's side of things. It is always a different animal on the women' s side. There are some short-shorts that I won't even permit in this pro shop."
Let's not go there, for now.
February 24, 2003