Nothing makes a statement like a proper golf hat

Friday August 19th, 2011
Classic golf hat by Coolibar<br /> ($39.95)
Schecter Lee

What ever happened to a proper hat on the golf course? You know, a sharp, stubby Sammy Snead snapbrim or a Chi Chi Rodriguez porkpie straw with a paisley puggaree on the crown.

Or how about a big, broad, straw-brimmed, Greg Norman, in-your-face hat? Who wears one of those anymore? What ever happened to the beautiful tweed caps, like the ones Ben Hogan used to sport?

Nowadays all you see are caps — an infinite variety of colored caps with logos emblazoned on brim, crown or both. Or visors, a kind of semihat, again with logos plain as day. These are not hats. They are sun protectors. No wonder that from a distance all the players look alike.

Last month at Augusta National there was nary a proper hat in sight. Even the great Gary Player, known for his houndstooth tweed hats in the 1960s, wore a plain white baseball cap for his 51st Masters.

There is really no difference, from a performance and comfort point of view, between a baseball cap and a tweed golfing hat. Besides, even in a hatless society, going hatless on the course is not an option. The head, being the seat of intelligence, requires protection from the elements.

Golf requires you to be outdoors for four or five hours at a time, and the presence of sunshine is almost a given. Ipso facto, you need a hat. Otherwise you will find yourself staggering into the clubhouse bar all squinty-eyed and red-faced, not to mention risking eventual unpleasantness at the dermatologist's office.

The most stylish golf hats often are smallish straws with rolled brim and tapering crown. Any shaped hat with a brim turned down sharply in front, whether by the hands and habit of the wearer or by design of the manufacturer, can be called a snapbrim.

The kind of hat that Snead wore — a small straw snap-brim, with rounded top and 2 1/2-inch brim — is also known as a straw palm or a Milan. It features a puggaree, or pleated fabric band (originally worn in India), often in a madras, paisley or striped pattern.

Rodriguez is known for similar straw hats, but rounder and stubbier, more of a porkpie shape: a short, stubby brim all the way around and a rounded indentation in the crown (said to resemble a pork pie, which is hard to visualize since no one eats them anymore).

Chi Chi's hats also are adorned with a black raffia (woven palm) band. Examples of such hats can be found at better pro shops or at Hartford York, an online hat emporium.

Many golfers keep a bucket hat in their wardrobe for rain or shine. Companies such as FootJoy and Ping make crushable versions that are also waterproof. Some buckets are really a kind of porkpie hat. Puma, a company whose golf clothing skews to the modern and edgy, makes a bucket hat called a Wellington porkpie made of 100% straw, with a black grosgrain band, brim detailing and the black Puma cat — a throwback hat with a contemporary twist.

Flat, knitted tweed caps with a concealed visor are also known as newsboy caps (when puffier) or Ivy hats (when thin and streamlined) or, more generally, golf hats, due to their ubiquity on courses. They have been an Anglo-Saxon tradition since the 16th century and closely associated with the early Scottish players and the Harry Vardon era. They also make you look jaunty in a sports car. Unlike most baseball-type caps, they come in sizes and a variety of fabrics: wool for fall and spring; linen, silk or cotton for warm weather.

In the relative privacy of your club or course, no one can tell you not to wear a proper hat — a rakish, cool, raise-it-to-the-gallery topper or a throw-it-on-the-ground-and-stomp-on-it model. You can tear it off after shanking a mid-iron; casually toss it into the air after sinking a 25-footer; or doff it, like a gentleman, when entering the bar.

There is a lot you can do with a hat.

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