Metal spikes on golf shoes are almost as out of date as knickers. Old-fashioned metal spikes aren’t completely a thing of the past, but they are a rare sight on links these days as golfers choose in favor of spikeless shoes that leave less of a putting green footprint.
In fact, some courses today forbid metal spikes, and a few aficionados even go so far as to say it’s “bad etiquette” to wear them. How much damage metal spikes can do depends on the type of grass on a particular putting green.
“We still permit old-fashioned metal spikes on all four of our golf courses,” said Chuck Dunbar, head golf professional at the Pebble Beach Golf Links. “But you don’t see them much anymore. It’s obvious when someone is wearing metal spikes because you can hear them clacking when they walk on the pavement.”
Dunbar said players prefer shoes with soft grips on the soles, much like a pair of regular tennis shoes. Spikeless shoes instead of metal spikes, have ridges of plastic or rubberized nubs on the bottom for grip. “We’re seeing more and more of these,” Dunbar said.
Metal spikes used to offer golfers some grip advantages on steep and wet slopes. Since spikeless shoes started coming out in the 1990s, most golfers have chosen to go green, for the less divot damage spikeless shoes cause to greens.
Some courses are more impacted than others. “Spike damage on greens was never much of an issue for us,” Dunbar said. “We have Poa annua grass on our greens, which is a vertical-growing grass in a moist climate. Bentgrass, which is a horizontal growing grass you see on courses in drier climates, is more conducive to spike damage.”
Dunbar said some shoes today are hybrids, using a combination of short metal spikes and rubber nubs on the soles. “You’ll see players on the PGA Tour wearing the combination,” he said. Rich Enriquez, director of golf operations at the Escena Golf Course in Palm Springs, said the movement away from metal spikes took off 15 years ago as golfers wanted a more casual and fashionable look. “If someone now comes with metal spikes to the course we say no, you can’t wear them,” Enriquez said. “The metal spike has gone away. I’m wearing a FootJoy Contour shoe where I can literally walk out of my officer here at the club and play a round of golf.”
Enriquez said Tiger Woods wears a similar shoe. The big five major brands of spikeless golf shoes include Nike, Bite, Calloway, Etonic, Ecco and FootJoy. In general, prices range from around $100 to $200 depending on the brand.
As with picking any shoe, players should try them on for comfort, free of too much grip, which could strain your hips when you swing, or friction, that can cause toe blisters.
Sales of spikeless shoes really took off in 2010 when Fred Couples showed up wearing a pair of Ecco brand at the Masters Tournament Augusta National. His performance on the hilly terrain at the course made a strong endorsement for the gripping power of such shoes.
Enthusiasts of spikeless shoes said they feel comfortable because their feet are more in contact with the ground. Robert Cavanaugh, course manager at Rancho Park Golf Course in West Los Angeles, said the slightly greater grip power you get with metal spikes is offset by the greater comfort of spikeless shoes. “When it comes to playing ability, the impact is so minimal you’re better off with the spikeless shoes,” he said. “You get more grip with metal, but they’re cumbersome and hard to walk in. On a public course you walk on many surfaces from the fairway and the green to the cart path and asphalt. The spikeless shoe makes walking on all surfaces easier. We do not forbid metal spikes here at Rancho Park, but I’ve seen only one player with them in the past year,” Cavanaugh added.
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