I wore flip-flops and a T-shirt to play in a tournament with scratch golfers
As we made the turn during the second round of the Linksoul LS2MAN, I was beginning to lose feeling in my feet. My favorite pair of golf shoes decided to betray me and I’d left my spare pair back at the hotel. That's when I did something I never thought I’d do, I pulled out my flip-flops and ditched my golf shoes before my tee shot. I proceeded to hit the ball very far left, nearly approaching a neighboring fairway. It was not my best shot but at least my feet would regain feeling as I headed to search for my ball.
A few years ago, I would have felt humiliated and vowed in that I wouldn’t play golf in public again until I fixed my hook. Instead, I took a sip of beer, patted the Golden Lab puppy that accompanied our group and cheered as my playing partners neatly landed their tee shots in the correct fairway.
As a lifelong below-average golfer, I’ve always focused on the fun of the game over the competitive side of things. I limited my tournament experience to scrambles or drinking-focused events because I was never confident enough in my skills and didn’t want to embarrass myself or bring attention to the fact that I’m a Golf Digest editor who sucks at golf. Shamefully, I admit that I’ve made poor excuses not to play in member-guests or company-outings with people in the industry for this exact reason. Even the two annual office tournaments I typically play in would give me anxiety for weeks.
When Linksoul asked me if I wanted to play in the LS2Man tournament, call it temporary insanity from being cooped up during the pandemic, but for some reason, I agreed to go.
Maybe it was because the tournament was at Goat Hill Park in Oceanside, Calif. I’d been there before and it had a casual atmosphere that could put any golfer’s nerves at bay. Just a few miles from Linksoul’s headquarters, the brand’s co-founder John Ashworth saved the public course nestled in the hills from demolition a few years ago. It has since become an anchor in the community and a bucket-list destination for golfers in the know.
A longtime golf apparel mogul, Ashworth has never been afraid to take on a project to support the game. He is credited by many as reinventing the golf shirt in the late 1980s after starting apparel brand Ashworth Golf. Ashworth’s aim was to make fashionable apparel for golf with high-quality cotton, soft collars and stylish cuts that didn’t look like a golf uniform. He’s always felt strongly that golf clothes should be transitional and that they have the power to positively transform people’s image of golf.
“The greatest quality of golf, in my opinion, is how it has the ability to link souls.” Ashworth said explaining the Linksoul name. “Where else in the world can four complete strangers meet up on the first tee and go through the ups-and-downs of a round and come out the other end as lifelong friends?”
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Ashworth and his brother, Hank, started the LS2Man tournament around the same time Linksoul launched in 2009. Four of the five events each year are on the West Coast. The fifth changes venues each year, visiting locations like Whistling Straits, Turning Stone in upstate New York and this year heading to Ireland for Linksoul’s first international event.
Each tournament has a different format—best ball, stroke play or match play. The tournament I attended is traditionally the last event of the LS2Man season and is a 36-hole tournament with best ball the first day and a shamble the second. It’s accompanied by an elimination-style derby after the first round, a high-stakes skins game and the prohibiting of metal woods with an encouragement of players to break out persimmons instead.
I was one of two women playing in the tournament, giving me little opportunity to hide or blend in. This anxiety prompted me to wear one of the few collared golf shirts I own, which happened to also be from the limited women’s selection Linksoul offers. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I was made painfully aware that I was one of only a handful of players wearing a collar and probably the only one with my shirt tucked in. As I laced up the golf shoes that I'd later regret packing, my nerves and feelings of not belonging returned.
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Moments later, I was immediately put at ease by a denim-overall clad woman at the registration book. She greeted me like I was an old friend and after introducing herself as Hank’s daughter, it felt like I was at an Ashworth family picnic that just happened to be a golf tournament.
The range was full, but it didn’t take more than a minute for several players to offer to share their spot with me to warm up. I heard some friendly trash talking at the other end of the range that ended up being Fire Pit Collective founder Matt Ginella dusting off a persimmon, resulting in a worm burner down the sloped range. He laughed it off and challenged his onlookers to do better.
There was certainly a party atmosphere similar to that of a summer barbecue, but don’t let the music, beer or dogs fool you, these players came to win. The max handicap is 14, but the average at the Goat Hill was just under 5. (Sitting comfortably above a 14-handicap, I was given an exception in the name of journalism.)
For the first round, I was paired with Ginella and John Ashworth—a 5- and 4-handicap respectively. Ginella strolled up to the first tee blaring 1990s rap, wearing a Linksoul T-shirt, tall crew socks and a flat brim. We found John fixing tee markers at the forward tees. Also in a Linksoul T-shirt, he greeted us like family, ensuring we had a proper, unhurried introduction before heading out on the course.
The two would place third in the tournament, but their carefree attitudes made it feel like we weren’t even keeping score. They applauded my good shots and made no judgment on my not-so-good shots. I kept my score diligently despite knowing I had no chance of placing, but my playing partners acted like I was in contention on every shot. My much lower skill level did not lower their respect for me as a golfer. It was eye-opening. I felt more comfortable and confident playing in a tournament with very well-known and respected personalities in golf than I have at most private courses I’ve visited. Maybe it was the casual dress code or the combination of Ginella’s energetic personality with John’s unpretentious attitude, but I kept thinking to myself “Wow, this is what golf should feel like all the time.”
Even though I was nowhere near being in contention, I left the course excited to get back for the second round. Comfortable enough to ditch the collared shirt I initially wore trying to create the image of a more "serious" golfer to make up for my lack of skill, I decided to wear the most comfortable shirt I packed. The next day, I returned to the course confidently wearing a blue short-sleeved running T-shirt that I planned to wear on the plane home. This outfit was just as accepted as my collared version on the previous day, although there were several players that seemed to similarly gain the confidence to dress a little more comfortably after day one.
If there were any thoughts that playing with two of the nicest people in the golf industry—one being the head of the company putting on the tournament—may have created a facade that wasn't genuine to the rest of the field, my second-round playing partners proved the fun and accepting atmosphere was universal. I was paired with the only other woman playing in the tournament and her boyfriend. Both were locals part of the Linksoul community. They were just as friendly and supportive of me and my below-average golf game. They brought their puppy along for the ride who had better on-course etiquette than most golfers I know. When finally I'd had enough of my golf shoes and swapped to flip-flops, my playing partners didn't flinch at all. When I brought it up to try and save myself any impending embarrassment, they shook it off with a "I love playing barefoot, it's such a good feeling." I was again put at ease by how easygoing these golfers were and inspired by the idea that tournament play could actually feel so relaxed and unpretentious.
Since then, I’ve tried to bring this comforting atmosphere to the rounds I play, especially with my friends that are new to the game. I encourage them to wear what makes them comfortable, not to be discouraged to play with better golfers and to remember they deserve to be on the course just as much as anyone else. We play without judgment, focus on fun and celebrate good shots like it just won us the tournament—because competitive golf is what you make it.
If collared shirts, sit-down dinners in a banquet hall and shoes are your style for tournament play, that’s fine, but golf needs more options for all types. I’ve never felt so comfortable and welcome at a golf event while bringing up the average handicap of the field. Events like these are good for golf. Competitive golf tournaments do not need to look or feel like a professional tour event. You can have the fun atmosphere of a Fourth of July scramble with the competitive edge of a club championship.
Playing in this event helped me gain more confidence in my game and has changed my perspective of what tournament golf is (and can be). We all want to play well, have fun and enjoy some healthy competition, regardless of how many swings—or emergency footwear changes—it takes to get through the round.