Intriguing people, the Brits. They speak our language but with a funny, infectious accent. They drive to work, like we do—on the wrong side of the road. They play a lot of golf, just like us, but they go about it a bit differently…in what they eat, drink, wear, do and say. They even advance the ball their own way—low, rolling and deadly accurate.
So with the British Open—sorry, Open Championship—coming to Royal Birkdale this month, we’re promoting cross-cultural understanding with a buggy-full of expert advice on how to put the you in UK. So pinky up, people. Maybe you can’t really be British. But for a few days in July, you can be Brit-ish.
Brit me up
To start, dress the part, says William Hunt, a noted London tailor and founder of the William Hunt Trilby Tour, the largest televised amateur golf tournament in the UK. Here’s his guide to looking more British on the links.
What to wear
✓ Nicely tailored wool or cotton trousers. “Chinos are a bit obvious,” Hunt says, “but you can get away with them.”
✓ A plain, fine-fitting V-neck sweater, with a collared shirt. “The shirt can have a little color to announce itself, but let’s not go too crazy.”
✓ Leather shoes with tassels.
✓ Understated colors. “Whites, beiges and browns are really classy.”
✓ A trilby hat. “Think Sean Connery from that golf scene in Goldfinger. He’s your role model.”
What not to wear
x Shorts. “From a mile away, everyone will know you’re American.”
x Anything with big letters or logos. “Unless you’re Ronaldo.”
x Baggy chinos, baggy sweaters. “I’m not saying you have to go as tight-fitting as Rory McIlroy, but you can afford to look a little put-together.”
x More than three colors in a single outfit.
x Rickie Fowler orange. “Because this isn’t Halloween.”
x Loudmouth pants. “I will personally escort you to the departure gate of the airport.”
x A baseball cap.
x Golf shoes that look like sneakers.
x Polyester anything. “It makes you stink.”
In the British Isles, a quick wit on the course is more desirable than clubhead speed. How to be witty? “Be a magpie, not a parrot,” says Benjamin Errett, author of Elements of Wit: Mastering the Art of Being Interesting. Whereas magpies communicate in a lively singsong, parrots are like an echo chamber, regurgitating tired riffs (“It’s in the hole!”). Mindless repetition is the opposite of wit, and “more for mini-golf,” Errett says. Not that it’s bad to know lines from Caddyshack. In fact, it’s recommended.
Iconic British wit Winston Churchill studied existing idioms and linguistic pearls, which he would repurpose—with a twist. He once said, “Don’t interrupt me when I’m interrupting.” Nick Faldo struck a Churchillian chord when, after his 1992 Open Championship win, he quipped: “I’d like to thank the press from the heart of my bottom.” Like a good swing, wit can be practiced, but it should never seem rehearsed. “There’s a spontaneous creativity to it,” Errett says.
Although wit is often biting, it should not be confused with sarcasm. At its best, it penetrates to truth—as when David Feherty riposted after he was asked if a struggling Tour pro had made a swing change: “No, it’s the same swing. He’s just using it more often.”
PACE of play
The average Brit can play an entire hole in the time it takes Jim Furyk to plumb-bob a putt. In brief: Keep it moving. “When I was a junior member at South Bedfordshire Golf Club, we were expected to complete 18 holes of four ball in two and a half hours,” says Ben Wright, the English-born former broadcaster for CBS. “I’ve never gotten used to the pace of play in America. In Britain, three hours is seen as more than enough.”
“We British have a reputation for snobbery,” says Peter Alliss, English-born Tour pro and veteran TV commentator widely regarded as “the voice of golf.” “But in America you have hundreds of clubs that are far stuffier than what you’ll find over here.” More understated than standoffish, most British clubs simply ask that you act the part. “Call up and politely ask for a booking. Don’t be loud or brash. Arrive a half-hour early. Take your cap off in the clubhouse. Be respectful. Tell them you are very much looking forward to playing their course. You’ll be welcomed with open arms.”
The British way is to treat the game as recreation, not as the bar exam. “Americans are so enamored of statistics, and it comes across in how they’re always lasering distances and tallying up scores,” says Gordon Dalgleish, founding director of PerryGolf, a leading golf tour operator based in Scotland. “Watch four guys in Scotland and they’re just bouncing around the course quickly, out getting exercise, enjoying the fresh air. The only thing that matters is the hole they’re playing.”
The bulk of the banter happens not on the course but in the clubhouse. By all means, stay for a 19th-hole drink, and let everyone chime in on their day. It’s not all about you, so don’t dwell on your round. “With that kind of storytelling in Scotland, you wouldn’t make it to the second drink before someone came down hard on you,” Dalgleish says. In other words, let another Brit—the Bard—handle the soliloquies.