Performance Golf Apparel 101: The Big 3
News

Performance Golf Apparel 101: The Big 3

Support our Mission. We independently test each product we recommend. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission.

Performance Golf Apparel 101: The Big 3

As golfers, there isn’t a day that goes by that we’re not inundated with the promise of improvement whether via a new club launch, training aid, fitness method, “a simple trick” or a one-swing “hack” to fix our slice and improve our on-course performance forever and ever, amen. Subscribing to the noise of these promises, you’d be led to believe we all belong on Tour.

But what about the equipment we wear—the great big world of performance apparel? Promises to enhance performance through a myriad of technologies and cutting-edge designs pepper nearly every product description, trying to persuade us that we’re just a $100 polo away from the best round of our lives. While there are undoubtedly benefits to the right equipment, both for our swings and for our bodies, it can be a minefield of features and benefits, the likes of which we seem to hear on repeat.  

And while there is an exhaustive list of features we could walk through in performance apparel, we’re going to keep things high-level. We will focus on the ones we hear about the most to try to understand what they mean, evaluate claims of their virtues and report what each actually means to you, your comfort and, ultimately, your game. 

Three is a Magic Number: Breathability, Moisture Wicking, Stretch

Apparel manufacturers, from the biggest global players to the tiniest upstart brands selling directly to the consumer, generally speak a lot of the same language. But if you peruse the product descriptions of brands across the world, you’ll see most claims generally center around three performance apparel characteristics: breathability, moisture wicking, stretch. Let’s start there.

Breathability

While this one’s relatively intuitive, there’s lots of room for interpretation. In the most general sense of the term, “breathability” refers to airflow. Does the shirt, short or pant allow air to flow freely to allow its wearer to stay cool and dry?  

Simple, right? Yes. And no.

We're looking at the breathability of performance golf apparel

There are air-permeability standards for performance apparel. But unlike, say, UPF protection which has a readily identifiable understanding with consumers, breathability standards aren’t as easily understood. Some apparel makers claim high levels of breathability through fabric construction, meaning breathable yarns or knit structures are used to give the fabric better airflow.

Others speak to breathability through fit: the looser the fit, the more airflow. Neither is necessarily wrong but the latter can be limited to personal preference, e.g., if you happen to prefer a closer fit and that particular garment’s fabric isn’t breathable, then out goes the performance benefit. Think heavyweight skinny jeans … balmy, eh? 

Does breathability matter? Yes. A home, a car and even our clothes rely on the movement of air to keep us comfortable. Breathability in apparel is really the table stakes of performance apparel. The good news is that a wide variety of fabrics offer some level of breathability including that REO Speedwagon reunion T-shirt you love so much.

Although sometimes surprising to consumers, natural fibers like cotton, hemp and even bamboo generally tend to breathe better than synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon and others. Unfortunately, that’s about where the advantages end, at least as it relates to athletic performance.

Moisture Wicking

Often conflated with breathability, moisture wicking is an entirely different aspect of performance apparel. In the simplest terms, it’s about moving moisture from one place to another, preferably from your schvitzy summer dad bod to the top surface of the garment to evaporate, keeping you dry and comfortable.

We're looking at performance golf apparel, including moisture wicking

Like other performance apparel features, a lot depends on the yarns used, knit construction and the fabric that ultimately is produced from that combination. While they are different attributes, they do enhance each other’s performance and, for that, are often paired in performance apparel feature descriptions.  

To imagine wicking in action, think of it as a straw moving moisture from one end to the other. Combining that with breathability makes things more interesting. In simple terms, they speed up the effectiveness of their independent advantages to create a faster-drying and, theoretically, more comfortable experience for the wearer. The yin to each other’s yang. In golf club terms, think launch and spin—independent factors that are intrinsically linked.  

Stretch

In golf, as in any sport, mobility is key and apparel brands the world over have touted stretch as a key performance apparel feature. You’re likely beginning to get the picture with a lot of these terms but “stretch” is a widely used claim that exists in wildly different forms. Every fabric that’s knit (note knit not woven) has some level of stretch, however marginal.

performance golf apparel should stretch

That favorite REO Speedwagon Reunion Tour tee does in fact stretch, though it may be a heaping mess of worn-out cotton and broken dreams until you wash and dry it again. That’s because it doesn’t have recovery, the ability to snap back into shape. That cotton tee’s ability to stretch is often referred to as “mechanical.” Put another way, the fabric isn’t made with a yarn that actually stretches.  Instead, the yarn from which the fabric is constructed enables it to move only one way. 

Stretch yarns have entered the chat. If, like me, you’re a massive dork and read content and care labels, you’ll see a variety of things with percentages attributed to each: cotton, polyester, rayon, tencel, elastane … the list goes on. The ingredients on that list all have some feature, whether exclusively or exemplary, of their own. That’s where stretch yarns come in.

Unlike “mechanical” stretch, “dedicated” stretch yarns are used to create the recovery that allows them to snap back into shape. Therein lies the biggest differences in how apparel brands claim that their polos or bottoms are “stretchy and comfortable.” Yarns that stretch are generally more expensive than those that don’t and often command higher prices.

How much should I care about any of this?  

That depends on a lot of things only you can answer. As with club technology, incremental gains are really the nature of the apparel technology game. Just as no club can truly cure a slice, no garment can keep you completely cool, light and dry. What good performance apparel can do is make you more comfortable and help you unlock the potential to play better.  

Looking at the Big Three performance attributes we’ve been discussing (breathability, moisture wicking, stretch), let’s dive a little deeper into how each can have a positive effect on your comfort, confidence and, in turn, your game.  

As described above, breathability and moisture wicking are deeply interconnected and it makes sense to look at them in tandem when we think about performance improvement in the real world. The hotter the environment in which you play, the greater the benefit. Add humidity and these become the most critical components to consider when you’re shopping for performance polos and bottoms.

Perspiration is the body’s way of cooling us down. It’s also the body’s way of making us look and feel like swamp people on hot, humid days on the course.

A truly high-performance polo or bottom that touts its breathability and moisture-wicking properties will work hard to do two things better than most (cue Gary Koch):

  • keep the level of sweat at bay through the airflow it provides
  • move moisture from the side of the fabric worn against the skin to the exterior of the garment in order to dry and dissipate that sweat more quickly.

The better the wicking properties, the more rapidly our sweat can move and evaporate from the face or the “exterior” of the garment. So when we consider the one-two punch of breathability and moisture wicking, the former works to minimize the amount of sweat we’re producing while the latter works to dissipate it as it’s produced.  

Moving on to stretch, this is a more subjective benefit largely tied, in this guy’s opinion anyway, to personal style. The more closely fitting you prefer your garments, the more critical stretch becomes. As polos and bottoms have gotten trimmer in fit over the years, the more we’ve heard about stretch properties as a key performance attribute.

The performance Catch 22 here that you don’t often hear about is that dedicated stretch yarns, like elastane (aka Spandex or Lycra in their branded forms), aren’t the best in supporting breathability and moisture wicking for a couple of reasons. First, those yarns are just plain heavier and, secondly, they’re inherently less breathable.

So the more elastane in a garment, the more you potentially degrade that garment’s ability to breathe and wick. It’s not all bad news however, as elastane is generally used sparingly and generally makes up less than three percent of fabric composition in golf apparel which will add plenty of give without affecting cooling performance. The added benefit of stretch yarns is in supporting the durability and post-laundry recovery.

Pull on a polo fabric with no stretch yarns and you’ll see it stretch out and not snap back, leaving the aforementioned crumpled mess. While stretch is a nice added performance benefit, one could argue its greater value is in the durability of a garment as we wear and wash it.  

With all the above, do keep in mind there is a great big world of other performance attributes in apparel, not to mention layering, outerwear, footwear and hats, too. While we’ve only scratched the surface of the biggest performance apparel propositions, we hope you’ve learned a thing or two to help you select the right gear for your on-course performance needs.

For You

For You

Golf Wedges
May 16, 2024
Wedge Fitting and the Web: PING’s Stake in the Ground
Golf Shoes
May 16, 2024
Pour One Out for NIKE’s Air Zoom Infinity Tour NRG
Golf Technology
May 16, 2024
18 Luxury Golf Gifts We’re Drooling Over
Davide Mattucci

Davide Mattucci

Davide Mattucci

Davide Mattucci (yes, the “e” is supposed to be there) is a soft goods industry veteran whose experience spans product design, product management, brand marketing and more. Over the last fifteen years, Dav has traveled the globe building and marketing apparel, footwear, and accessories. With an insider’s knowledge of the industry combined with a passion for golf, he feeds his creativity by writing about product, industry players, and the bottom line on hype, style, and what matters most to golfers.

Davide Mattucci

Davide Mattucci

Davide Mattucci

Davide Mattucci

Davide Mattucci

Davide Mattucci

Davide Mattucci

Davide Mattucci





    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

      David

      7 months ago

      Great insight and I would like to see an in-depth article on UPF clothing. After recently being diagnosed with a melanoma in my early 40s it has drastically changed my criteria for buying golf clothes. The issue I’ve run into is that not all UPF clothing is created equal. It depends on their process, woven into the fabric vs. woven with the fabric vs. a spray sheen. Unfortunately, the latter two will wear out and wash out. Additionally, the only brand recommended by the Cancer Research Center is Calloway. Nice layering pieces but the staples, not so stylish.

      Reply

      Dr Tee

      9 months ago

      in AZ comfortable true to size fit, breathability and wicking are key–tops IMO are Wm Murray Golf, FJ, and Nike.
      Interested to try Rhoback

      Reply

      Luc

      9 months ago

      How about telling us which is the warmest yet still possible to play in jacket. It gets really cold in Alberta, Canada and I like to keep playing for as long as possible but I can’t swing with 4-5 layers…

      Asking for an entire province/country…

      Thanks in advance!

      Reply

      Davide Mattucci

      9 months ago

      Will be happy to, so many good content ideas. Keep ‘em coming and thanks for the read.

      Reply

      BrianC

      9 months ago

      It would be good if you could advise on the best combinations of layers for cold or wet conditions. What garments would allow you to stay warm, dry comfortable and still able to swing a club effectively in these conditions.

      Reply

      Davide Mattucci

      9 months ago

      Love that idea, Brian. Stay tuned and we’ll see if we can’t get something written to guide golfers out there!

      Reply

      Dr Tee

      9 months ago

      so, lets have some reviews and ratings !

      Reply

      Davide Mattucci

      9 months ago

      That would be fun. There is SO much fabric and apparel testing out there! Bigger brands have entire labs dedicated to that very thing!

      Reply

      Les

      9 months ago

      Now put “anti-microbial” into the mix of the next article!

      Reply

      Davide Mattucci

      9 months ago

      Yes indeed. Wanted to start with the foundations, but definitely an opportunity to keep on diving in and bringing insights to golfers on all of the technology out there. Thanks for reading.

      Reply

      Drive2Survive

      9 months ago

      There are so many new DTC brands out there promoting via social media and claiming anything and everything.. It would be great to have honest, unbiased reviews to better understand hype vs genuine quality.

      Reply

      Davide Mattucci

      9 months ago

      Love that idea, and have actually talked about doing a piece profiling all of the up and comers. Great call!

      Reply

      BH

      9 months ago

      I haven’t met a polo yet that can out-wick my summer sweat production… Sad times.

      Reply

      Davide Mattucci

      9 months ago

      It’s not you. Some polos are undoubtedly better than others, but there isn’t a perfect polo out there – yet.

      Reply

    Leave A Reply

    required
    required
    required (your email address will not be published)

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Golf Wedges
    May 16, 2024
    Wedge Fitting and the Web: PING’s Stake in the Ground
    Golf Shoes
    May 16, 2024
    Pour One Out for NIKE’s Air Zoom Infinity Tour NRG
    Golf Technology
    May 16, 2024
    18 Luxury Golf Gifts We’re Drooling Over