The Golf Life: No round of golf is complete without the perfect cap 

Golfweek's Bradley Klein has been amassing golf hats for 50 years. Bradley S. Klein/Golfweek

The Golf Life: No round of golf is complete without the perfect cap 

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The Golf Life: No round of golf is complete without the perfect cap 

“Labbance National – June 23, 2008,” the beige hat reads.

Actually, there are still four of them in their original plastic bag, plus the one I wear on special occasions. Of the roughly 350 golf hats in my collection, it is easily my favorite. For sentimental reasons, which is what golf memory is all about.

It marks a fundraiser a group of us organized for our friend and colleague, golf writer/historian Bob Labbance of Vermont, who was dying of ALS. We held an event in his honor at Ekwanok Golf Club and raised $108,000 in one day. Two months later he was gone. But the hat lives on.

Golf caps are as essential to the game as the putter and the ball, the tee marker and the flagstick. I came to that conclusion over the course of acquiring my trove, most of which can be found in my garage, though some are in my office closet, and still more are scattered in the car or in the bottom of one of my travel bags.

I’ve tried to count, but never quite get to the full set because they seem to appear and disappear at will. Plus, our twin grandkids have about a dozen or so between them and each time they visit I’m happy to give them another one. Understandably, my wife thinks I have way too many and prefers that I not wear them when we’re out and about.

Golf insiders, meanwhile, know you can never have too many hats. I acquire them mainly for their color and logos. I take special pride in a trove of special-issue U.S. championship hats issued to the maintenance crews. I’ve been gathering them since the 1999 Ryder Cup at The Country Club, where I served on the bunker-raking team and was out there on the course when the U.S. team pulled off its improbable upset.

There are other hats I’ve held on to for more obscure, personal reasons. Like the dirty gray hat marked “Elephant Rocks G.C.” that sports – what else? – the head of an elephant with a golf club in its trunk. I acquired it a decade ago while on travel assignment for Golfweek along Arizona’s Route 66. Every time I see the hat it reminds me how scorching the weather was – enough that the next-to-last line of the article was “dry heat, my ass.”

My collection dates to 1968, when, as a 14-year old, I began my caddie career at The Woodmere (N.Y.) Club. The caddie army each summer weekend morning was about 100 strong, and with all of us crammed into the caddie building and spilling out into the yard, I needed a way to distinguish myself when the caddie master looked up to make the next assignment.  So I put on a floppy fishing hat.

Until then I was, as a newcomer to the caddie corps, accustomed to showing up at 7 a.m., but not getting a loop until 11 a.m. Then came the day I got called out at 8:30 a.m. “Hey, you with the hat. You’re up.”

That was it. A ritual was born, though I quickly graduated to proper golf caps – small bill only, not the oversized high-top version with straight bills preferred by Lou Graham back then and Charley Hoffman today.

Nor has a classic driving cap, the style adopted by Ben Hogan and Ken Venturi, ever worked for me. I’ve worn glasses since the age of 10 and needed the overhang if it rained. As for when I wear what, I’ve developed rules that guide my hat selection for the day. Among them:

  • I never wear a hat of a golf course that I haven’t visited.
  • I never wear a hat of the golf course I’m visiting, either. That would be pandering. Besides, showing up in an alien hat makes it seem as if I could use a hat from that place, an offering that I never hesitate to accept, under condition, of course, that I not wear it that day.
  • If playing a course designed by a name architect, I’ll wear a hat from another layout designed by that same person.
  • I never wear a hat with a logo that matches what might be on my shirt or sweater. The golden rule is never to miss out on another logo-op.

I’ve heard from some people that golf apparel gets dated after four or five years and you need constantly to renew. That might be the case with golf shirts, which wear thin, but a good hat never goes out of style.

Case in point. During recent visit with Tiger Woods in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I donned a yellow crew hat stamped “John Deere” from the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

You can never have too many golf hats. Gwk

 

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