Golf Shoe Evolution
What is a retro golf shoe? Well actually there might be more than one meaning in the golf shoe industry for the shoe I am discussing here. The term hybrid golf shoe is also used. Here I am referring to a golf shoe that might look like a casual street shoe. Some models even have a sporty running shoe look.
But the design feature I am specifically including in this retro golf shoes discussion is that they are "spikeless". What ... a golf shoe without spikes? That's right and to get a better sense for the significance of this question, let's briefly review the history of golf shoes.
In the late 1800s Scottish golfers started wearing a sturdy shoe (almost like a boot) with small hob nails protruding through the shoe soles for walking safely over the slippery grounds were golf was being played. Before the turn of the century golf shoes advanced beyond the nail-ridden golf shoe when removable metal spikes were introduced.
Metal Spiked Golf Shoes
The removable metal spike golf shoe design provided better footing and was dramatically more comfortable than early hob nailed golf shoes. But soon keepers of the golf greens started to complain about the damage the shoe, or more specifically the shoe spike, was causing to the golf greens. Walking on concrete or other hard surfaces before getting to the first tee often caused the metal spike to flare and crack accentuating digging and dragging damage to greens.
Golf shoe styles changed quite a lot over the years, but a design change in metal spiked golf shoes did not occur until the late 1990s. Increasingly the traditional metal spiked golf shoe was not welcomed on a growing list of golf courses. Driven almost exclusively by the wear and tear on golf courses, especially the greens, the golf shoe industry scurried for a solution.
Nonmetal Spiked Golf Shoes
(2) The development of plastic materials led to the introduction of nonmetal golf shoe spikes. While maintaining the spike replacement feature developed by metal spiked golf shoes, acceptance by golfers and golf instructors was a slow process. The resistance to change by golfers, especially professional golfers, was more a fear of a negative effect on their game than an actual effect.
Reduction in green damage from nonmetal spiked golf shoes was slight at best so the conflict with greens keepers persisted. It was particularly severe at golf courses in dryer climates where usually the greens were a horizontal growing Bentgrass designed for this type of climate. These greens were much more susceptible to spiked golf shoe damage. Inevitably this was a battle that was going to be won by golf courses. Clearly the concern for the maintenance and care of golf course greens was not going to go away.
Golf Shoe Design Proliferation
The popularity of golf dramatically surged during the 1980s and 1990s, driven by expanded PGA Tour media coverage and highlighted by significant increases in prize money. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were tremendously popular in the 1980s, but it was probably a young Tiger Woods coming on the scene in the mid 90s that gave golf the tremendous boost in popularity being experienced.
Additionally, growing babyboomer household incomes were having a dramatic effect on golf. With more disposable income, boomers were hitting the golf links in droves. Both private and public golf courses were the benefactors of this surge as was the golf equipment industry. Nowhere was this more evident than in golf shoes where the growth in golf shoe companies produced a proliferation of replaceable, non-metal spike golf shoes for men and women.
Metal spiked golf shoes were pretty much replaced with various designs of plastic materials that still included the "replacement" feature. But the truth was these plastic spiked golf shoes still had a negative effect on the greens. By the late 1990s and early 2000s greens keeping had become almost a science focused on achieving nearly flawless greens. The skill levels of professional golfers in reading greens and the growing amount of prize money in PGA tournaments was driving the continued concern for the health of golf course greens. Winning these Pro tournaments often came down to the last putt making the focus on golf green health that much more intense.
So the argument between golfers, particularly Pro golfers, saying they needed spiked shoes for swing stability and golf course greens keepers saying spiked golf shoes were making their jobs too difficult got real intense. Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, and Ernie Els were the top money winners on the PGA tour in the early to mid 2000s. At the 2005 Masters Golf Tournament Vijay was playing behind Phil, and complained several times to tournament officials that Phil's golf shoes were damaging the greens.
A public apology by Phil saying he would do everything possible to avoid this in the future seemed to open the door for what was to follow. The spikeless golf shoe started to get traction, getting a tremendous boost from the appearance of Fred Couples in the 2010 Masters Golf Tournament wearing a pair of spikeless golf shoes with no socks.
Foot Comfort Rules
Golf includes a lot of walking and there is no debate that retro golf shoes are more comfortable than the replaceable spike golf shoe. Golf shoe technology has responded by producing spikeless golf shoe designs having nearly as much traction and stability as the spiked golf shoe. With various configurations of rubber or plastic nubs on the bottom of the retro golf shoe even the Pros started to acknowledge that perceptions of instability were a little exaggerated. And this new shoe is definitely more comfortable.
Amateur golfers have been quick to make the change. No more shoe changing before going out on and coming in off the golf course. No more replacing the spikes, something that many golfers stopped doing anyway. Thanks to golf shoe technology, convenience and comfort is becoming the new trend in golf shoes.
Even the Pros are increasingly showing up on the PGA Tour wearing these spikeless retro golf shoes called hybrids. The growing list includes Graeme McDowell, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Justin Rose, Ryan Moore, Keegan Bradley and yes, even Tiger Woods. Triggered in some cases as a response to a physical ailment, there is no denying that even the Pros are seeking the increased foot comfort provided by this shoe.
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