For right-handed golfers, a golf glove is worn on the left hand. The opposite is true for left-handed players. Because gloves are so popular today--they are as much a part of the golfer’s outfit as shoes with spikes--it may be somewhat surprising to learn that wearing a glove when playing golf was not the norm for some of the game’s legendary players in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Golf gloves made their first appearance on the market in the late 1800s. The Rawlings company patented a golf glove design in 1885. In 1899, advertisements for the “New Simplex Glove” could be found in "Golf Illustrated" magazine. The June 1915 issue of "Vanity Fair" magazine featured fashionable gloves with pleats on the back to provide more room for a player’s knuckles.
Reason Gloves Were Introduced
Golf gloves were developed to address the problem of slippery golf club grips. The wooden-shafted clubs of the time had grips made of strips of leather that were wrapped around the top of the shaft. Humidity or dirt on the grips made it difficult for golfers to maintain a firm hold on the club. Gloves also protect the golfer’s hands from wear due to extended practice or playing sessions, which causes painful blisters and calluses.
The 20s and 30s
Despite their utility, golf gloves did not gain a grip among the buying public in the early part of the 20th century. Photographs of major golf tournaments reveal that the top players, including Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones, did not wear gloves. Because amateurs emulate the style of pros they admire, the average golfer did not gravitate to wearing gloves, either. Club makers worked hard to develop grips that provided more security. Gloves were still somewhat of a novelty.
Gloves Gain Popularity
Glove styles at this time included fingerless models and backless versions. A change in the pros’ perception of gloves occurred when one of the top players of the 1940s, Sam Snead, began wearing them in competition. They didn’t gain universal acceptance, however, because the other top golfer of the era, Ben Hogan, continued to compete without wearing a glove.
The 60s: Gloves Become “Cool”
The early 1960s brought two new golf champions to the forefront, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who both had worn gloves since they began competing in amateur tournaments. Palmer’s habit of removing his glove when preparing to putt the ball was emulated by amateurs everywhere--he made the gesture seem “cool” at a time when golf was soaring in popularity.
English leather goods maker Pittards introduced water-resistant leather in the mid 1970s. In the U.S. the FootJoy company entered the glove market in 1979, and began working with Pittards in 1980. FootJoy’s soft, comfortable cabretta leather gloves became the most popular brand.
Wearing Gloves Becomes Universal
As of 2010, FootJoy estimates that 85 percent of all golfers wear gloves. Among PGA tour pros, the average is even higher, nearly 95 percent. One notable exception is major championship winner Fred Couples, who believes he gets better feel for the golf club without a glove on his left hand.