By Chris Lewis
Yes, there were the trousers, form-fitting polyester bell-bottoms in colors as bright as traffic lights. And there were lily-white, tasseled shoes and shirts with pointy collars.
But late ’60s and early ’70s golf fashion was less remarkable for what the tour pros wore than what they didn’t. For the first time in more than a century, the game’s brightest stars were playing sans headgear. Hogan, you guessed, was not amused.
The era’s golf hat disappearing act makes for one of the more intriguing chapters in The Secret History of Golf Fashion.
As does golf headwear’s subsequent and equally sudden reappearance, and the recent rise to ubiquity of the heavily logoed, baseball-style cap.
Since the most intriguing character is always the villain, let’s start with him.
The way headwear industry veterans tell it, John F. Kennedy single-handedly atomized the men’s hat business when he took the presidential oath of office on Jan. 20, 1961. True, the pillbox hat Dame Jackie wore that day sent every woman in America sprinting for the milliner’s shop. More cranio-culturally significant, however, was the nothing resting atop her husband’s head. Swearing in bareheaded, Kennedy provoked the most precipitous drop in sales in the history of men’s headwear.
But one man kept America safe for hats. And he did so on a golf course. Throughout his retirement, Dwight D. Eisenhower, still the leader of the follicle-challenged portion of the free world, kept headwear in the public eye by regularly sporting the kind of car caps and straw hats popularized by Hogan and Snead.
Ike may have kept golf headwear alive, but it took the accidental genius of two others to fully reinstate its place in the game. Playing the 1968 PGA Championship in San Antonio, Julius Boros, tortured by the heat, innocently reached into his bag for a giveaway bucket hat. The logo of household appliance manufacturer Amana happened to be emblazoned on the front.
As Amana exec Lou King, sitting at home on his sofa, watched Boros win the championship, it triggered a sudden inspiration that ushered in a new era of golf sponsorship. King quickly began paying more than 20 male and female professionals $50 per tournament to wear Amana-branded bucket hats and baseball-style caps. The baseball-style cap would soon become the model of choice of golfers nationwide. On the pro tours, its avatars were Lee Trevino and Billy Casper.
But the cap’s most ardent wearers – and the true predictors of its marketplace dominance – were country clubbers. With the quality of club crest embroidery steadily improving, few missed a chance to show off their affiliations atop their heads. And who could resist those neat little crypto-military cords running between the crowns and bills?
No one knows why the present-day ascent of the baseball-style cap took place. But the phenomenon is easy to describe.
“All the planets aligned in the early ’90s,” said Jim Blugerman, vice president of sales and marketing at Texace, maker of 40 years’ worth of golf hats – including those landmark Amana lids. “For the kids it was a fashion item. Then the yuppie generation started to wear the caps. And older people started to wear them for health reasons” – specifically to help prevent skin cancer.
Appalled that their moms, dads and grandparents were now sporting their favorite accessories, young trendsetters responded with cap customization.
Around 1992, they started ripping out the baseball cap buckram, the structural element that flattens out the front of the cap, to create a relaxed and casual look. They also began customizing bills, employing the same techniques they once used to break in their baseball gloves: wrapping rubber bands or cords around them to exaggerate their curvatures. More recently, and more radically, children began fraying those bills – scuffing them up to create a beaten-up look.
The unstructured, round-billed cap is prominently sported by Gen X PGA Tour pros such as David Duval and Sergio Garcia. Conservative types such as Hal Sutton and Davis Love III tend to favor stiffer, more traditional high-crowned hats with square bills. A few Tour pros experimented with frayed bills, but their sponsors quickly put a stop to that.
Sponsors weren’t the only naysayers. Just ask Jeff Waller, national sales manager for Ahead Headgear, which recently had the gumption to co-opt the frayed-bill look and mass-market it. Waller was standing in the merchandise tent at the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla when he was approached by an elderly gentleman bearing in his arms the tent’s entire stock of 18 Ahead-produced, commemorative frayed-bill caps. “You look like you’re in charge,” he said to Waller. “I wanted to let you know that all these hats are defective before any other customers saw them.”
What surprises loom on the headwear horizon? That’s anyone’s guess. Maybe those young trendsetters will forego hats altogether, and bring naked hair back into style. We know, at least, that Kennedy would approve.