This column features recollections of the author’s 36 years as a golf writer. These installments stem from his many travels and experiences, which led to a gradual understanding that the game has many intriguing components, especially its people.
The title of this “Making the Rounds” column might seem odd, if not downright silly. After all, what kind of importance can be found with a simple item customarily worn on one’s head while playing an outdoor game?
By the way, this installment is different than my previous foray into the same subject, Big Hat No Cattle Golf Developers (though maybe not when a 40-handicapper is duded up in some flamboyant, feathered fedora).
All things considered, there’s quite a bit of thoughtful intention to golf millinery. The style of hat one dons – baseball, bucket, flat cap or newsboy, visor, straw boater, Stetson with ornamental ring, Raffia Gambler, Coolbar, Judge Smails, Aussie Chiller Bushie perforated golf hat, et al – represents the personal style, taste, and practicality of its wearer.
People don’t put things on their heads without a purpose, especially golfers.
When emblazoned with a logo, a hat can reveal one’s golf-travel resume or sense of place. These may include – most likely via different hats over time – affiliations and affinities for high-end resorts, private clubs, business interests, local munis, or one’s sense of humor (“Legalize Mulligans,” “Let’s Par-Tee,” “Stupid Tree,” “Women Want Me – Fish Fear Me,” the fake-hair visor, or my favorite, “Make Par not War”).
For those who are smug or somehow like Masters green (yes, that’s the name of an actual color), the hat could advertise your luck – at least once – in scoring a cherished ticket to Augusta National Golf Club and making a purchase in the merch tent. That hat is about as superb an introduction as there is for a single player joining three unknown folks on the first tee at Podunk GC.
I’m not a fan of making political statements with my caps. You won’t find me wearing a MAGA, NRA, or BLM hat for fear of alienating myself from fellow golfers. They’ll soon find out that my problematic swing is debatable enough.
Nor am I into hats from collegiate or professional teams, preferring to align my sports allegiances with the corresponding arenas in which they’re played. I’m also not into serving as an advertiser for golf equipment manufacturers. Who cares which company made the club that drives my famous brand’s ball deep into the junk?
On the other hand, I have no problem with superintendents or maintenance crews trumpeting the services provided by Beyer, Chem-Turf, Dakota Peat, Cushman, Kubota Tractor, John Deere, Mini Verde Greens, Pioneer Bridges, ProPump & Controls, Sod Solutions, Specialty Sands, SubAir Systems, Thatch-Away, Toro, Yamaha Golf, or Zline Bunker Systems. I’d like to think that maybe these hat-wearers received some sort of product discount from one of the companies to save him, her, or the boss a few bucks.
Nor do I have issues with sporting a USGA lid, which verifies that I’m a true amateur – as if my swing hasn’t already proved it. As many know, the organization recognizes annual renewals by mailing re-upping members a new hat, one emblazoned with the site of that year’s U.S. Open. I’ve been a dutiful member of America’s national golf association for decades. I’d hate to count the number of their hats for fear of my wife booting me out of the house. Not sure why I’ve accumulated so many as I prefer only certain colors. For the past four years my go-to lid when walking our black lab is a baby-blue number from the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
I do have a quibble with two of the hats I’ve purchased, each of which is logo-less and still in my possession. One is a blue, ear-flapped, and fleece-lined gem I call the “Elmer Fudd.” Even in the dead of winter – with temps in the low 30s, the wind howling and rain dripping off the visor – it’s simply too bloody hot. Worse, I can’t hear anything wearing it. Once while playing the Old Course at St. Andrews – a windy place where a football helmet is more appropriate – on a very brisk, wet day, golf balls were flying everywhere and routinely landing nearby. After not reacting properly by diving behind my caddie in response to hollered “Fore” warnings, I bagged the bloody thing. Permanently.
But it’s still in my closet, awaiting a reprieve from Hat Prison.
On the opposite end of the cold-heat index is the abovementioned Aussie Chiller Bushie, one of which I bought in Palm Springs during a Golfweek course-rater outing on a stifling August day in 2008. After hearing me complain that my baseball-type cap was woefully inadequate in mitigating the penetrating rays, a guy in our foursome suggested trying this then-new “Down Under” remedy.
He hopefully explained, “After soaking in water it’s like an air conditioner for your head.”
So, I forked out $80 in the pro shop at the turn, dutifully dunked it in a drinking fountain and slapped it onto my bald pate. Within minutes, I could tell this was a bad idea. For one, the suffocating desert sun quickly sent sweat streaming down my face, cascading over my eyeglasses, and blurring my vision.
For another, without having a portable source of ice-cold water to refresh the cooling agent every two minutes or so, the “perforated fabric that uniquely allows airflow but blocks the sun” and the “soft, rich, chamois-like material” became a solar-fired hardhat. It felt like a small sauna attached to my head. I couldn’t take it off fast enough.
The Bushie has sat unused in the penalty box with Elmer Fudd ever since.
My favorite winter hat is one I bought on Amazon for $10. I typed in “hats for bald men” in the Search box, and ordered a black, all-cotton newsboy model. It’s warm, I can hear “Fore!” as well as freely converse with fellow players, and my wife thinks I look rather smart in it.
In the summer I prefer a regular old baseball cap. Right now, my go-to is a model I purchased in Haines, Alaska, while visiting Valley of the Eagles Golf Links. A few people have taken close-up peeks at the logo and said, “Haines, Alaska? It has a golf course?” I’m pleased to then relate my wonderful experience at those nine holes on the edge of the amazing Inside Passage.
Taking the adage “Clothes make the man” a bit higher up the body, your hat shows where your head is at. Or something like that.
Jeff Shelley has written and published nine books as well as numerous articles for print and online media over his lengthy career. Among his titles are three editions of the book, “Golf Courses of the Pacific Northwest.” The Seattle resident was the editorial director of Cybergolf.com from 2000-15. He also co-founded the Northwest Golf Media Association in 1995. For seven years he served as the board president of First Green, an educational outreach program that is now part of the Golf Course Superintendents of America and Environmental Institute for Golf.