Much like golf clubs have evolved from mere wooden shafts to the high-tech forged steel clubs of today, golf shoes, too, have seen a similar transformation through the ages. Over a hundred years ago, golf shoes were nothing more than standard loafers lined with nails and pins that did more harm than good to golfers and golf courses. Today, golf footwear has been reinvented to provide players with the comfort, stability, and traction they need to do the only thing that matters: get the ball in the cup. To take a look back at how things have changed, we present to you The Technical History of the Performance Golf Shoe.
Where It All Started
Though the birth of golf shoes can’t be pin-pointed to one specific date, they have been around for at least 150 years. One of the earliest references to spiked golf shoes is seen in the 1857 issue of The Golfer's Manual. In the Scottish publication, novice golfers are advised to wear shoes "roughed with small nails or sprigs" for proper traction on the golf course. Though it made sense in theory, the shoes became hazardous, as the nails would sometimes injure golfers by going back into the bottom of the shoe.
In 1891, the first golf shoe with separate screw-in spikes were introduced. While this was a significant improvement from the nail-ridden shoes earlier in the century, the shoes had a tendency to tear up greens. Naturally, this didn’t sit well with many golf clubs around the world, as many banned them from club grounds completely.
Spalding Introduces Saddle Oxfords
In 1906, Spalding introduced the "saddle oxford" shoe, which featured an extra saddle-shaped piece of leather around the laces. After failing to make an impression in racket sports, the style of shoe was an instant hit in the golf world (and even in main stream culture). Since, saddle oxfords have become the standard in classic golf shoes, and are still seen around today.
Less Stiff, More Flex
As running and other athletic footwear began to evolve, in the 1980’s, golf shoes began to see a switch from stiff to flexible. Golf footwear brands also started to focus more on foot support and cushioning, using new materials to make shoes more comfortable, and more wearable overall.
Plastic Replaces Metal
The call to end damage of greens and clubhouses from metal spikes was finally answered in the ‘90s, when plastic cleats were introduced. Along with causing less damage, the non-metal cleats offered more comfort than their metal counterparts. Today, metal spikes are a thing of the past.
The Tiger Woods Influence
Nike's first signature shoe (shown above) for Tiger didn't make a major splash in the industry from a retail or innovation standpoint, but it was a sign of things to come. The celebrity status of Tiger propelled Nike to engage golf in the same way they had so successfully done with basketball, by creating a legacy through generations of products. The TW has come a long way since the original, the combination of Wood's pre-2011 global appeal and Nike's history of pushing innovated products has resulted in golf shoes that were ultimate performers, mimicking technology from running shoe soles and football cleat uppers. The market responded, and a new era of performance-focused footwear was born.
The Spikeless Trend
In 2010, Fred Couples helped start a new trend in an otherwise classic sport: spikeless golf shoes. During the first round of the 2010 Master’s, Couples was seen wearing a pair of spikeless shoes, with a dimpled rubber outsole for revolutionary traction. Since then, spikeless shoes have become a mainstay in modern-day golf.
The Lightweight Race
With adidas leading the way to achieve the lightest build on the green, golf was no exception to the lightweight trend. The adiCross Tour Golf Spike weighs in around 10 oz depending on the size, a big feat for a shoe that requires so much tooth underfoot.
The Revolution Continues
Technology has dramatically changed the scope of performance footwear, particularly in recent years. With so much high-tech firepower available to footwear brands, golf shoes today are jam-packed with performance elements borrowed from other sports like running and soccer. Brands like adidas, Nike, and FootJoy have continued to lead the way in revolutionizing golf shoes--Nike with its Flywire support and Free outsole in the Nike TW '14, adidas and its premium materials in the comfort-heavy adiCross Tour, and FootJoy with the adoption of the BOA closure system replacing traditional laces for convenience.
Golf shoes today even take the form of classic performance sneakers, like the Nike Dunk NG, modeled after the iconic Dunk basketball shoe from the '80s, and the adidas Samba Golf, inspired by the legendary Samba soccer shoe. From the original nail-laden golf shoes of the 1800's, to the performance heavy models of today, golf shoes have evolved drastically over the years. It's only a matter of time before 3-D print will completely reshape the industry, making custom shoes a reality for more than just pro athletes.
Stay tuned with Sneaker Report as we continue to break golf releases throughout the season.
Gurvinder Singh Gandu is a New York City-based writer and wear-tester for Sneaker Report, and contributor to Complex Media. Follow him @GurvinderSG for the latest in performance footwear and gear.