Golf gloves are often taken for granted in today's golf game, but that has certainly not always been the case. Although the earliest gloves made their appearance more than a century ago, it took decades for them to rise to popularity at the highest levels of the game. The quest for a better grip and protection from calluses followed a winding route.
The earliest gloves
The earliest golf gloves, according to FootJoy research, were around by at least 1898, when references and advertisements began cropping up in catalogs and golf periodicals. But there is no photographic evidence of any professionals' using golf gloves in this period. Top players would eschew the protection of gloves for decades more.
There are two reasons to wear a golf glove: one, it protects your hand from the wear and blistering of repeated swings; and two, it provides a tackier grip on the club. For the first decades of the 20th century, golfers were addressing these concerns in other ways. Research focused on finding a way to make the grips of the clubs themselves stickier and less slippery, and golfers relied on the development of heavy calluses to protect their hands.
Appearance in professional events
In the 1930s, gloves began to appear in professional tournaments. Sam Snead was the earliest major star to use a glove. Most of his contemporaries and the major stars of the 1920s, men like Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, never wore gloves. The change was slow to catch on. Ben Hogan played through the 1950s and never used a glove. But by 1960, the gloveless player had become the exception rather than the rule.
The first gloves were generally either fingerless or backless. The earliest photos of professionals with gloves, from the 1930s, show backless gloves. In F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel "The Great Gatsby," one of the characters, a golfer, dandles a fingerless glove on her knee. The transition came in the 1950s and 1960s. By the peak of the careers of modern greats like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, full gloves were standard.
The modern glove
The modern golf glove is the beneficiary of years of research-driven evolution. Many feature a snap-on ball marker, and some offer an assortment of other bells and whistles. The gloves are made of water-resistant leather that is durable enough to last multiple rounds in variable weather while still thin enough to present no compromise in terms of feel.