Is ‘hats off in the clubhouse’ still a hard golf rule? The Etiquetteist weighs in

Millennial golfer in a cap

Younger golfers are more apt to be okay with wearing hats indoors.

Getty Images

Tyler from Austin writes: 

Millennial here. Do I really still have to wear a hat in the clubhouse? It’s such an uptight rule.

Dear Tyler:

Hats off to you (see what I did there?) for noting your generation, because age is a relevant factor in this discussion.

The custom of removing one’s hat indoors extends beyond the clubhouse and dates at least as far back as the Etiquetteist’s childhood in the Middle Ages, when knights would remove their helmets to identify themselves. Golfers have been doing the same with their headwear in the clubhouse for nearly as long, largely as a gesture of respect. 

Of course, one cohort’s “respectful” is another’s “stuffy,” and you are hardly the first whippersnapper to bridle against a practice that hardly anyone in golf would have questioned a generation or so ago. Times have changed. More than 40 years after “Caddyshack” made light of the battle between “snobs” and “slobs,” the game is in the midst of an unprecedented boom and the divide between traditionalists and non-traditionalists has never been greater, as evidenced by everything from arguments over LIV to disagreements over dress codes and the place of music on the course. While not all the fault lines run parallel to age, a good deal of the differences are generational. Call it the Centrum Silver set vs. the Okay, Boomer crowd.

The younger you are, that is, the more likely you are to see the hats-off rule as silly.

You’re entitled to that opinion, but you’re not always at liberty to do exactly as you please. In other major golf markets, including the UK, Ireland and Australia, you wouldn’t make it five steps inside most clubhouses with a lid on without someone slapping it off you. Or at least taking you to task. Here in the U.S., where don’t-tread-on-me individualism is the closest thing we have to a universal religion, the conformity isn’t as rigid. But a good rule of thumb is: If you’re at a private club, remove your hat inside. (The exception being those willfully casual, new-fangled private clubs where no one blinks at golfers playing shirtless and shoeless, with wireless speakers cranked to 11.) 

At a public course, you have more wiggle room. And unless the written rules explicitly forbid it, you’re within your rights to leave your hat on. 

Which doesn’t mean that everyone is guaranteed to like it.

There’s always the chance that some silver-haired Judge Smails-type will approach and ask you kindly to remove your headwear. In that case, the Etiquetteist suggests that you oblige. It’s just as easy to be polite. Someday, when you’re older, you can make the rules. Meantime, show some hat head. It won’t hurt your image. Since phones aren’t allowed either, no one’s going to post it on Instagram.

Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.