I play golf -- or at least try to play golf -- 12 months of the year in suburban D.C.
In recent years, the seasons have blurred here, and it feels like spring and fall are more on a bell curve with summer than separate seasons. That means, I could be wearing shorts on the golf course anywhere from April through October. And yet, I hardly ever thought about golf shorts.
I mean, I wear them, and I have favorite pairs that I've collected (and worn through), but over the years my most pressing concerns about shorts have been the following, in order:
- The ones I'm wearing that day match my shirt
- The legs aren't tight, and I don't feel like I've put on bike shorts in error
- The pockets are deep enough and cut at the right angle so they will hold and I can easily reach my ball, divot repair tool and tees
If a pair of shorts checked those boxes, they were in the rotation. The others? Maybe they got some wear when I went to a bar or a baseball game or a party. But something clicked this summer when I finally wore a hole in one of my favorite pairs of golf shorts. I realized I'm a 35-year-old guy with two kids, a golf club membership and a stable job. I should have quality golf shorts that match my quality golf shirts.
So, I did the natural thing: I went to Twitter to solicit suggestions for the best golf shorts. Lots of name brands were dropped, but the same ones kept coming up in replies: adidas Golf, Peter Millar and Linksoul. I've long been sold on adidas' Ultimate golf shorts, and I still have several pairs in rotation. Most of my golf shirts are from Peter Millar (perhaps in an unhealthy way), so I was concerned about going too far in on their brand. And I've only ever worn Linksoul T-shirts. I've long admired their looks, but I just haven't pulled the plastic out to buy anything else of theirs.
Twitter followers extolled the virtues of Linksoul's Boardwalker shorts, saying they were high-quality, versatile and timeless. That's what I want.
Then I heard from my friend Josh Jacobs, who owns TGA Premier Golf, and he reminded me of his love for Johnnie-O, which is a West Coast-flavored apparel maker with a similar vibe as Linksoul, perhaps minus some of the mysticism about golf. He implored me to try their shorts. He swears by them, and the guy has a good taste in clothes.
Finally, I heard from Straight Down apparel. They, too, are out of California. They're perhaps not as well known, but they've been making catchy apparel for 30 years. I always seem to run into a Straight Down shirt I like in a pro shop, and they long sponsored Mark Wiebe, who is perhaps one of the coolest pro golfers I've ever met. We played in a Champions Tour pro-am in 2011, and I can't tell you how much fun I had just talking to him. The Straight Down folks suggested I give their Rebel shorts a try, too.
I'm grateful all three brands were willing to send their shorts to me.
I've worn these shorts all over the United States in August and September. I wore them in hot, humid conditions in Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina. I've worn them in pouring rain. I've worn them out on social occasions and to restaurants. They all pass the test. Maybe it's a California thing, but it's mostly a quality thing. While each short I tried is different, they all have thoughtful design and features that make them appealing to a wide swath of golfers.
Straight Down Rebel shorts ($80)
I first got the Rebel shorts in the mail, and I asked for them in a light blue color, in part because I have way too many shorts that are grey or black. These lightweight shorts were clearly a hybrid short, somewhat inspired my beachwear that should handle moisture and be able to move as you traverse the dunes. Those conditions often apply in golf, too. The Rebel shorts felt a little looser and relaxed right out of the wrapper, and I liked not really having to wear them in. I don't want to swim in my shorts, but I like my legs being able to move independent of the clothing.
The waist fit was slightly tapered compared to the rest of the short, so the fit wasn't unnecessarily loose and sitting too low. The jeans-inspired five-pocket setup is my favorite style right now. There are two front and two back pockets, with a tiny pocket for a smaller accessory. The pockets are nice and deep. They are made for a golfer who puts stuff in them, like me. The Rebel shorts also have a small scorecard pocket on the side. Cargo shorts are a no-no in golf, but having a hiding space on the leg is a good design feature.
Similar to the other two shorts I tried, I quickly noticed the quality of stitching. Not just a single run on these shorts, which are the longest of the group with a 10.5-inch inseam.
On the gamut of materials, the Rebel shorts have the most polyester (92 percent) and the least cotton (0 percent). That probably makes them more of a casual short off the course, and I'm all for that. They're available in stone, charcoal and khaki as well, with sizing from 30"-42".
Johnnie-O Neal Stretch Twill shorts ($80)
Johnnie-O hit my door step next, with the Neal shorts arriving in khaki and stone looks. As my wife, who I've known for 11 years, told me, she couldn't remember ever seeing me in khaki-colored cotton (97 percent) shorts in her life. I've shied away from khaki as a style and color probably because I went to Catholic school for 13 years and wore them every darn day. I'm not preppy enough to wear a whole lot of pink and purple and orange and yellow in my shorts. And I also wore khaki galore in office jobs for years before getting into golf writing. But I loved these, and I'm back on the khaki train as part of a balanced fashion diet.
The Neal shorts have a thickness and quality of material that immediately told me this was a short I could wear for a decade. Again, look at a short's stitching to affirm your impressions. The hemming is divine. The slant-cut pockets are deep enough to fit anything you'd need on or off the golf course. The traditional khaki-shorts double-welt back pockets are perfect for looking good and also holding a glove, wallet, phone or whatever you need, while also looking appropriate in any setting. The small slit fifth pocket in front is a nice touch, even if I didn't use it. The cotton/spandex combo stretches plenty for golf purposes, too, and the washed cotton is so soft.
I didn't know that I would like a 9.5-inch inseam, showing off a little above-the-knee skin, but it works. The Johnnie-O vibe is being relaxed and there's an ocean/island quality to a Bermuda-style cut.
The Neals come in eight colors, running 30"-40".
Linksoul Boardwalker shorts ($72)
The last shorts to my door (along with a pair of choice T-shirts and a stylish baseball-logo hat) were the Linksoul Boardwalkers. These things have apparently become a quiet legend in golf fashion circles -- at least among the kind of people who have specific preferences and developed opinions on such things. So, the Boardwalkers had a reputation.
And they lived up to it.
The Boardwalkers are the definition of West Coast versatility. You could wear them five different places on the same seaside day -- beach, golf course, grocery store, bar and restaurant -- and never feel like they don't work with whatever is (or isn't) on the torso. These shorts are playing it down the middle from the Rebel and the Neal shorts. They have a 67 percent polyester, 25 percent cotton, 8 percent spandex blend, with four-way stretch material like in the Rebel shorts. The material can handle water well, drying quickly when wet (as I learned in the rain at the driving range last week). They also look great dry, with a heathered look to work on a golf course or a casual setting.
The Boardwalkers have six pockets -- two slant-cut in the front, a small slit in front, a scorecard pocket on the right leg and two back pockets, including a cover-button pocket on the back right. While that back-right pocket isn't totally compatible with me wearing my golf glove there throughout the round, it's a great touch in a multi-purpose short.
Back to the stitching test, the feel in the hem is both of quality work but also the stretch in the short -- just right for any kind of athletic movement.
And, while this sounds weird, I love the way the pocket material feels in my hands. It's similar to the material throughout the rest of the short, and they don't feel like an afterthought. It's bizarre to say I like my hands in my pockets in the Boardwalkers, but I do.
The Boardwalker shorts come in 12 colors, with sizing ranging from 30"-40".