In 2021, a record breaking 5.3 million Americans played golf for the very first time. Is buying special golf shoes truly necessary? Consider these basic guidelines before breaking the bank.
Main attributes of golf shoes
These four basic properties of golf shoes will help you to determine which shoes can be used as suitable alternatives. Maybe you already own a pair that will work. At the very least you will be able to buy something more diverse and/or affordable than pricey golf shoes.
Wearing comfortable shoes is not optional. The average golf player walks more than 6 miles on an 18 hole golf course. Podiatrist Tim Maiden advises to always put comfort first. Try new shoes on in the afternoon when your feet are a bit swollen to ensure the perfect fit. Wear the thickest socks you might wear when playing.
Shoes with a proper grip will ensure that you maintain balance in any weather condition. It will be ideal to find something with a plastic or hard rubber bottom. This is not just relevant on rainy days. Slippery feet will have a negative impact on your swing. It might also land you a nice following on Youtube for an epic fall. The key is to wear shoes that have adequate grip, but not too much. You must be able to swing freely and rotate as much as you can without losing position.
Did you know that your shoe structure impacts your performance? Arch support insoles will increase club head velocity (CHV) according to Threadlabs. They even confirm that it can add a few yards to your stroke.
It is best to avoid soft foam underfoot. Choose insoles that provide firm support for all 18 holes. Golfers seem to advise against shoes with padded heels, as it can throw your balance out and decrease your swing speed.
Shoes with firm structure and adequate support will increase your stability. Biomechanists from the University of Massachusetts wrote that “without the necessary stability, changes in the kinetics and kinematics of the swing may occur and thus lead to inaccurate shot results”.
Go waterproof. There is no way around it. The most popular material is leather, but it is also the most costly. Leather shoes do however tend to last much longer, which justifies the extra expense.
You will be able to find various different synthetic options which will still keep your feet dry. If you go down the synthetic route, be careful to check the breathability of the material, as some synthetic shoes may get uncomfortably warm.
Best types of substitutes:
Trail / Running shoes
Most (average) golf courses will allow you to wear your running shoes. It will at least provide enough comfort to support your feet for the long walk ahead. The base of most running shoes might however offer too much bounce and not enough sturdy support for that optimal swing. Ironic as it may seem, golfers need the opposite type of support than runners. Too much springback is not favorable.
Trail running shoes are a better option – the grip is just what you need to bunker down and drive straight. Make sure your heel is not too built up to throw your balance forward. If you compare trail running shoes with spikeless golf shoes, you might struggle to tell them apart.
Hiking shoes in general offer decent grip. The type of hiking shoe you choose is key. Steer clear of too heavy shoes, it may affect your game and be harmful to the green.
Indoor turf shoes
Baseball and soccer turf shoes have short stubble rubber studs which can work very well as a golf shoe substitute. Steer clear of metal spikes, as you will learn below in What not to Wear.
Non-slip soled shoes
Wearing loafers, sneakers or even tennis shoes are all good possibilities. If the shoe’s sole is too flat, your game will suffer. Slippery shoes are just not a wise choice as the absence of grip will limit your rotation ability.
Type of golf course
The terrain you aim to conquer is key when deciding which shoes to wear:
If you are only heading for a few drives at the driving range, not too much grip is necessary. Most driving ranges have astro playing mats. It will be a good idea to play with the same shoes that you use when playing a golf course, so you can maintain your center of balance without having to make adjustments due to differing soles.
According to the British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”
I hate to state the obvious, but well, I need to. The wetter the golf course, the wiser you will be to wear waterproof shoes with proper grip.
Do research on the golf course you are intending to play. I am yet to encounter a golf course that doesn’t offer a few nasty uneven lays. Some are however worse than others and then you will need all the shoe support you can get.
Three quick tips from Butch Harmon for uneven lies:
- Widen your stance of more stability
- Gravity will pull you downhill, so lean into the slope
- Swing at 70 to 80 percent to keep your balance
What not to wear
By now you will know that there are quite a few possibilities to wear instead of golf shoes. This does not mean that everything will work. There are many definite big-no’s.
Sandals or flip flops are not going to work. You are better off playing barefoot. As strange as it may sound, some of the more experienced players sometimes really do play barefoot to help them feel where they apply pressure and which adjustments are truly necessary to improve their game.
High heels are second on our banned list. Honestly, why would you even want to walk that far in heels? The pain notwithstanding, high heels will push your weight to the front of your feet and limit your ability to swing deep.
Shoes that can damage the greens
Work boots (or any other type of heavy boot) are too heavy and will damage the course – especially the green. Baseball, lacrosse or soccer cleats – not the indoor shoes, the proper outdoorsy ones – have long metal or molded cleats that are not intended for greens and astro turf. The length of their cleats/studs are much longer than golf spikes. Not only will they wreck the green, but it will prevent you from swinging optimally.
Why may some professional golfers still wear metal spikes? This is only allowed on PGA tours. Professional players are exempt from the rule, as they know how to step without damaging the green. Officials strictly monitor them to make sure they do so properly. It would be impossible to keep watch over the general public to ensure proper use, so if you really want to wear metal spikes, better go pro.
All golf courses aren’t equal – some are way more strict than others. The only way to make sure you won’t be turned away is to contact the specific course and confirm what is allowed.
Aesthetics / style of shoe
The dress code of golf goes further than just practical guidelines. There is a certain style that has to be maintained from a traditional standpoint. You have to adhere to the etiquette of the sport by not wearing t-shirts, jeans or shorts that are too short. Wear shoes in a neutral color that complement your outfit.
If you have to buy golf shoes, choose spikeless.
So you read my tips, called the course and there is no way around it. You have to buy golf shoes. Luckily there are many types of golf shoes that are spikeless and can thus be multifunctional. Choose a pair you can also wear elsewhere. It might make the expenditure more worth it.
Should you buy golf shoes?
You have played a few times, like the game and are thinking of investing in a pair of golf shoes. Here are a few considerations that you should take into account before buying a new pair of golf shoes:
- Do you have good natural balance?
If you have been blessed with natural balance, you will be fine with an alternative shoe with a bit less structure and grip. If you are however a bit more like me and tend to topple over at the first tiny incline, having the correct shoes will provide the support you need to stay vertical.
- How often do you play?
So you have the time and money to play a lot. Lucky you. If you play a lot, it can even make sense to own more than one pair of golf shoes. Some shoes are more comfortable if you intend to play without a golf cart, while a stiffer shoe might help your game along when you do use the cart.
- What is your swing speed?
The average male amateur golfer (AMA) has an average driver club speed of 93.4 mph and an average total distance of 214 yards. The faster you swing, the more beneficial a proper golf shoe will be. Wearing the correct shoe will assist you in maintaining balance and allow more powerful strokes.
- Are you loaded?
Yes? Then go on and buy golf shoes galore. Or don’t. Some fancy rich people are more conscious of their carbon footprint these days. Or so I am told.
It is worth exploring your options.
Tiger Woods caused an uproar when he showed up at the 2022 Masters Tournament wearing Footjoy Premiere Series Packard shoes instead of Nike, the brand he has been representing since 1996. This bizarre step was taken because Nike does not offer a shoe low enough to offer the stability he needs after his serious accident in February of 2021.
In a television interview Woods explained: “I have very limited mobility now. Just with the rods and plates and screws that are in my leg, I needed something different, something that allowed me to be more stable. That’s what I’ve gone to.”
If Tiger Woods can shop around and get creative, then so can you.