One Sunday, at my uncle and aunt’s house in Tustin, California, the old men were strung across the living room, eyes fixated on the television. The 1992 Masters was on. I can remember my uncle shouting at the TV: "How does that stay up?" They must have been watching Fred Couples hit his infamous shot on the 12th, Golden Bell, the one that pretty much won him his first and only major championship. A gust of wind made the ball come up short, almost guaranteeing it would roll back into Rae’s Creek. Somehow, though, it stopped on the bank.
I had no clue what my uncle was talking about. It was golf – the most boring sport in the whole wide world.
I didn’t start playing the game until I was 15. I have my Grandpa, Robert Yaco, to thank for that. He played out of the Akron area, competing in tournaments such as the Rubber City Open. Grandpa was quite a player and I can remember looking at the golf trophies he won back in the ‘50s. They had an Art Deco look to them, and he displayed them on his workbench, which is where he’d tinker with his golf clubs.
When we went to visit Grandpa in Ohio he’d take me to play at his local club. He was in his seventies at the time but still had impeccable style on the course – slacks with a razor-sharp pleats, beautiful cashmere sweaters and, of course, golf shoes that brought the whole outfit together. He’d always dressed beautifully for golf. Pictures from his younger days show him as the spitting image of all those great pros I’ve watched on recordings of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, which was so popular in the 1960s.
My Grandpa made the game fun. He taught me about the grip, the swing, and the things that made good golfers, good golfers. I can still hear him whisper to me, “let the club do the work”. My only wish is that I had started playing earlier in life, if only because it would have given me the opportunity to spend more time with him.
Golf was always an event for us, and something we got dressed up for. My Grandpa’s philosophy was to make sure you looked good and carried yourself in a certain manner. The sound of spikes clickety-clacking on cement, the feel of soft cashmere on a cold spring morning. He made me into the golfer I am today and he inspired my love of vintage golf fashion.
"I get the occasional "are you wearing your grandpa's clothes?" looks, but for the most part I get asked questions"
Since my Grandpa’s passing, this passion for vintage golf fashion has been fuelled by watching old episodes of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf. Being a history nerd, I love the fact they went to different courses all over the world, offering a brief lesson on the city in which they were playing.
One episode that stands out for me is a match between the great Juan “Chi-Chi” Rodriguez and Doug Sanders in 1964 at the Dorado Beach Golf Hotel Golf Course, built by the legendary golf course architect Robert Trent Jones in San Juan, Costa Rica. The show starts off with host George Rogers wearing a sleek white sports coat with the iconic Shell emblem on the breast. He is joined by his co-host, the legendary Gene Sarazen, to introduce the players while they are warming up on the driving range.
Chi-Chi is wearing a white collared shirt buttoned all the way up, black slacks (they seem like Sansabelts), black and white wingtip shoes buffed to a mirror finish, and, of course, his iconic Panama straw hat. Doug Sanders has his hair slicked back and is wearing a gold polo, white slacks and, just as impressive, pure white golf spikes to match. Even the gallery is dressed well. I was forever hooked.
Fast forward 25 years and I’m still captivated. In an era of bland fashion and spike-less shoes, I yearn for the sounds of metal spikes on the cart path, of a well-struck balata ball whistling through the pines. And I’m not alone. In 2017, I launched @VintageGolfWear, an Instagram account dedicated to celebrating the players – and their fashion choices – from a bygone but more vibrant era in golf. The account has more than 1,300 followers who, like me, enjoy seeing the likes of Bobby Jones, Bing Crosby and Louise Suggs teeing it up in all their splendour. With all due respect to the modern game, it lacks the magic of vintage golf.
I love getting dressed to the nines for golf, or at least to the nine holes. For me, there is nothing better than finding a great golf shirt, matching it with some vintage Sansabelts and then finishing the look by lacing up a pristine pair of FootJoy Classics. I enjoy being dressed differently than other golfers. Like I said, golf is an event for me.
Sure, I get the occasional "are you wearing your grandpa’s clothes?" looks, but for the most part I get asked questions. I got stopped the other day at Goat Hill Park, the famous golf course in Oceanside, California, by an older gentleman who asked me where I got my shoes and clothes from. I told him about my grandfather and the influence of that 1950s-1960s Sinatra / Dean Martin vibe. He gave me the best compliment ever, saying I had the look of Doug Sanders. The Peacock of the Fairways, Doug Sanders!
Every time I lace up my FootJoys it puts me in a good mood. I’m playing golf – the game that makes me remember my grandpa, the game that gives me a chance to catch up with old friends and get caught up on life.
I've always felt like I was born in the wrong decade. Things just seemed so much cooler back in the day. The younger generation consumes its golf media via outlets like Barstool Sports and to these kids it’s all about pounding beers and sending it. If that’s the way you want to see golf go in the future, so be it. But it’s not what I want to see.
Who knows, maybe things are changing. Maybe we’re catching up, or maybe we’re slowing down enough to appreciate the past. I just saw FootJoy come out with its new Premier Series shoe, which is a nod to the old wingtips that were so popular in the past. Even Golf TV put on a week in which they showcased players and styles of the past. Maybe we can even get that old flare back.
Follow @vintagegolfwear on Instagram