Golf is a very old sport. In fact, while the modern sport refined by the Scottish is more than 500 years old, there are references in Dutch literature that seem to be talking about golf as early as the year 1261. More known for tradition than for cutting-edge technological advancements, the picture in your mind’s eye of a “typical golfer” most likely isn’t a young technophile. However, the sport of golf has seen a lot of science and technology infiltrate the game infiltrate the game in the last several decades, making gear, play style, and even courses obsolete. This series, Technology in Golf, looks to the advancements made or still to come in individual areas of the sport, from gear to courses to wearable tech. Stay tuned to DougAlbers.net for more installments! (See the previous installment, Golf Balls)
Everything about the game of golf has evolved over the years, and golf shoes are no exception. While early golf shoes were not much more than loafers lined with sharp nails, modern shoes are meticulously designed for maximum performance and comfort. Let’s take a look at the path that golf shoes took to get where they are today.
Early Golf Shoes
Golf shoes have been around for at least 150 years. Although we can’t point to a specific invention date, one of the earliest mentions of spiked golf shoes can be seen in an issue of The Golfer’s Manual from 1857. In that issue, golfers were advised to wear shoes lined with sharp nails for proper traction on the golf course. Sadly, these early golf shoes were more dangerous than helpful, with the nails poking through the soles of the shoes and injuring golfers.
Golf shoes with screw-in spikes were made available in 1891. It did solve the problem with foot injuries, but the spikes would tear up golf greens. This didn’t sit well with golf course owners, and the shoes were eventually banned.
In 1901, Spalding introduced the Saddle Oxford shoe, so named because of the saddle-shaped piece of leather around the laces. These shoes were an instant hit with golfers, and their basic design remains popular today.
A Focus on Comfort
Athletic shoes continued to evolve over the years, with a renewed focus on comfort in the 1980s. Golf shoes became less stiff and more flexible during this time, and they even began to replace the metal spikes that lined the bottom with plastic spikes. Not only were these safer and more comfortable, but they were less likely to tear apart greens.
Spikeless Golf Shoes
In 2010, Fred Couples started a trend in golf shoes when he showed up for the first round of the 2010 Master’s with spikeless golf shoes. These shoes had dimpled rubber outsoles that provided all the traction necessary for a round of golf without the problems that spikes can cause. Spikeless golf shoes are standard today.
The Evolution Continues
Golf shoes continue to evolve today, with brands such as Nike and Adidas developing lightweight shoes that borrow technology from other performance footwear. Today’s golf shoes more closely resemble athletic shoes used in sports such as running or soccer, and they will no doubt continue to evolve as new technologies and techniques are discovered.