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The development of golf shoes

Footwear for the sport of golf has been the subject of considerable technological advancement over the years.

by Kayleigh Maxwell-Linden & Stuart Morgan

Image © Footjoy

With sports performance often claimed to be, in part, due to the quality of the footwear worn, there is a highly competitive market to find the newest and most exciting technology to use. This is certainly the case with golf shoes.

With golf being a multi-billion dollar sport played by millions of amateurs and professionals around the world, it may come as a surprise to learn how old the game actually is. Some historians trace the sport of golf back to the ancient Roman game of ‘paganica', in which a stuffed leather ball was hit with a bent stick. Others claim that the forerunner was ‘chuiwan’ (meaning ‘striking’ and ‘small ball’) – a Chinese game played from the eighth century onwards.

According to some sources, the modern game of golf was founded in Scotland around 1400 AD. It became so popular that King James II of Scotland banned the game as he felt it was distracting men away from
archery practice.

Early golf shoes

Image © Footjoy

A selection of modern golf shoes

One of the earliest references to spiked golf shoes appears in an 1857 issue of The Golfer's Manual. In this Scottish publication, novice golfers are advised to wear stout shoes ‘roughed with small nails or sprigs’ to walk safely over slippery ground.

Spalding introduced the ‘Saddle Oxford’ style of shoe with a saddle-shaped piece of leather around the laces in 1906. It became a standard look for golf shoes, and is still worn today.

The ‘Gillie’ (also known as ‘Ghillie’) is an Oxford without a tongue, laced across the instep and often with fringed laces. ‘Kilties’ are also based on the Oxford, but with a tongue of fringed leather that is draped over the instep to cover the laces and eyelets.

Image © Footjoy

A golf shoe from the 1920s, showing metal spikes on the sole and heel

‘Spectators’ – also called ‘co-respondent shoes’ – are two-coloured (usually white and black or brown), and normally made from leather or leather and canvas. By the 1880s, Spectators had become very fashionable as everyday wear.

Full brogues (also known as ‘Wingtips’) continue to be characterised by a pointed toe cap with extensions (wings) along both sides of the toe. Viewed from the top, this toe cap style is in a ‘W’ shape, and looks similar to a bird with extended wings, hence the style name commonly used in the US. In 1925, golfer Walter Hagen introduced the two-tone black-and-white wing tip to America at the Lido Club in New York. The following year, brown-and-white two-tones were introduced, and were quickly joined by other colour combinations, including tan with brown and black with brown.

The rise and fall of metal spikes

Image © Rainer Ersfeld

Full brogues (also known as ‘Wingtips’) feature a toe cap style in a ‘W’ shape – similar to a bird with extended wings

In 1891, golf shoes were introduced with separate screw-in spikes metal spikes that were between ¼ and ½ inch long, to improve balance and stability when swinging. Studded shoes were more comfortable than some of the hobnail shoes and boots worn by many golfers. However, over the years as the quality of the greens improved greatly, golf club owners found that the shoes were having detrimental effects on the courses. Hundreds of clubs worldwide eventually decided to prohibit the use of metal studded shoes on their courses so, by the 1980s, shoe manufacturers introduced non-metal cleats, which caused much less damage.

Along with the major changes to the soles of golf shoes, the overall design has been re-worked by many of the market leaders. Golf shoes became lighter and more flexible, while offering more structure and support to the wearer.

Materials old and new

Image © Footjoy

Shoe manufacturers began to introduce non-metal cleats to avoid damaging greens and clubhouse flooring

It is not only the design of shoes that have changed over time, but also the use of materials. Initially, most golf shoes were made out of leather, and a considerable proportion still are.

More recently, a number of new materials have begun to be used as protective linings. For example, special membranes became a popular choice of material for winter golf shoes, because of the qualities of breathability, water-resistance and the high levels of insulation they can provide. Cheaper alternatives can also be used, such as polyester linings. These are non-porous and, therefore, are not as breathable.

Due to the long distances walked (the average being between four to six miles for an 18-hole course), and the importance of the feet during the swinging action, shoes not only must fit well and be as comfortable as possible, but also need to be flexible. For many decades, golf shoes were fairly stiff but, as running shoes and other athletic footwear became more flexible and ‘wearer-friendly’ in the 1980s, golf shoes also started to focus on foot support and comfort.

It is important for professionals and amateurs alike to have top-quality footwear when playing golf. To help manufacturers, SATRA offers a wide range of tests. These include assessment of studs and cleats, to determine their efficiency and safety, as well as how well they will wear during use. These test methods include stud/cleat impact, stamping, fitting and removal, and wear simulation. Another important benefit of tests that would be extremely valuable to golfers is assessing the prevention of strain injuries. SATRA can measure two parameters: linear (straight line) and rotational traction, which can be examined using the SATRA Slip Resistance Test machine (STM 603).

How can we help?

Please email for advice on the testing of golf shoes and other footwear.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 34 of the February 2012 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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