The modern golf shoe has evolved to include several subcategories, with each having its own place in the pantheon of golf equipment. Metal spikes first entered the game in the late 1800s. Then, plastic spikes took over and dominated the golf shoe market for decades. Their main advantage lay in the fact that they were less damaging to greens than metal, causing fewer spike marks and making superintendents’ lives easier. Many golf courses now ban metal spikes because of the damage they cause to both turf and clubhouse floors.
The spikeless golf shoe trend reached critical mass when, at the 2010 Masters tournament, Fred Couples wore ECCO’s then-new Street Premiere shoe. The talking heads on TV were all aflutter with these newfangled shoes that eschewed the usual metal or plastic spikes in favor of permanent molded lugs on the outsoles.
(Check out this video of Freddie being cool in his ECCOs)
To be sure, Freddie Couples has the type of charisma that could make shuffle board seem cool, so naturally, everyone wanted a pair of these shoes. Purists guffawed, but the genie was out of the bottle.
Fast forward to today, and the spikeless, or casual, golf shoe commands a serious share of the golf shoe market. They have by no means come to dominate that market though, and there are many reasons why the soft spike has hung on to life. The following comparison is part spikeless golf shoe review, and part defense of the classic golf shoe. Which one is best? Read on.
When manufacturers first put spikeless golf shoes on the market, they represented a quantum leap forward in terms of comfort. Even the most expensive, tour-inspired cleated golf shoes were clumsy and uncomfortable in comparison. However, that is no longer the case, and there are now cleated golf shoes, such as this Adidas Tour 360 Boost, that are once again some of the most comfortable golf shoes out there.
The cleated golf shoe still holds several advantages over the spikeless golf shoe. That is the reason why most touring professionals continue to use them. On the PGA Tour, there are millions of dollars at stake on any given weekend, and one swing can make the difference between making the cut, and a paycheck, and slamming the trunk in the rental car and heading home.
To begin with, the modern plastic soft spike is engineered to grab the turf and not let go. In the golf swing, there are dynamic lateral forces at play, and sure footing is the key to a successful strike. (This article in Golf Digest explains the swing more in depth.)
As the golfer takes the club back, weight is shifted to the rear foot. The amount of weight shift varies from golfer to golfer, but it is always considerable. In the transition to the downswing, the golfer shifts his weight toward the front foot, and incredible lateral forces then come into play. One slip in footing during this process will wreck the timing of the swing, and the golfer must make compensatory movements to strike the ball with any authority.
Grass is full of water, and when crushed underfoot it becomes slippery to some degree. When conditions are wet, such as early in the morning when dew covers the ground, the threat of slippage is increased. In rainy conditions, mud and water make swinging a golf club treacherous. In each of these conditions, the plastic soft spike outperforms the lugs on spikeless golf shoes.
Over time, the golf cleats will wear out. Walking on cart paths and on concrete parking lots accelerate their decline, and eventually the prongs that give them their grip begin to snap off. The good news is that replacement spikes are available. Manufacturers engineer their spikes to fit most major shoe companies’ equipment. Once new spikes are installed, an old pair of cleated golf shoes can feel like new again.
No piece of golf equipment is without its faults, though. The cleated golf shoe does have its drawbacks.
Throughout a round of golf, plastic golf cleats tend to get clogged with debris. The tendency to grab the turf is the culprit, and once clogged, the cleats must be cleaned. The golfer who fails to clean his spikes will inevitably find himself slipping during a swing.
Also, the tendency for soft spikes to wear down means golfers who wear them are constantly avoiding hard surfaces like concrete. The more often you forget this and walk on hard surfaces, the sooner you must replace your spikes. Eventually, the cost of replacing spikes will equal the cost of a new pair of golf shoes.
In the years since spikeless golf shoes stormed onto the scene, they have evolved to become ever more functional during play. These most comfortable of golf shoes may have started life as simply a casual alternative to the high-tech cleated golf shoe, but innovation in golf is inevitable. Trial and error have brought these shoes to a point where they are every bit the equal of their older siblings in most ways.
The ease of mind that being able to wear the same shoes all day long, even throughout a round of golf, cannot be exaggerated. Once you experience the simplicity of lacing up casual golf shoes and heading out the door to make your tee time, then keeping them on and heading off to whatever you normally do after you play, it is hard to go back to the bother of changing into and out of cleated shoes. It is foolish to wear down the tractions lugs wearing spikeless shoes on non-golf days, but when a game is in the plans, they simplify things greatly.
Also, spikeless golf shoes do not suffer from the tendency to become clogged with golf course detritus. The spaces between the lugs are normally quite wide, and there is simply no way for grass to get stuck. The peace of mind that comes from not having to worry about cleaning out your cleats declutters the mind during play.
One problem that spikeless shoe reviews rarely mention, and one these shoes will never suffer from, is the need to purchase new cleats. The lugs on casual golf shoes tend to wear very gradually, even when worn on hard surfaces. The hidden costs of replacement spikes that add up with cleated golf shoes never come into play. The comfort and performance of spikeless shoes can mean that, since they are a one-and-done purchase, you may be willing to spend more on a shoe than you usually would consider spending. (Check out these FootJoy Dryjoys Casual for example.)
Finally, even though cleated golf shoes have evolved with their spikeless counterparts, the casual golf shoe is still naturally more comfortable than those with spikes. Part of the reason is that manufacturers must design flat spots in the outsole for the placement of the threaded recesses that accept the spikes. These spots require the outsole to be necessarily uneven and stiff. Modern cleat designs have gotten around this downfall, but they have not eliminated it.
In contrast, casual golf shoes have outsoles more akin to tennis shoes, and are similarly comfortable. You can wear them all day long without ever noticing you are wearing golf shoes.
Like cleated golf shoes, though, the casual shoe has some issues that deserve mentioning. None of them are the type of thing that should make anyone curse the day they bought spikeless golf shoes, but they illustrate the imperfect nature of any piece of golf equipment.
First, the lugs that provide the needed traction for the swing are small and unobtrusive by design. Their low profile, though, also means they lack the traction of the more complex soft spike. In dry conditions, the difference is hardly noticeable, though grass’ natural moisture can still cause slipping. The more wet the conditions get, the more they tend to give way. This inherent lack of traction can creep into your head, and you will make slight moves to ensure it does not happen. These compensating moves can wreck an otherwise sound swing. (This article on Golf.com explains why balance and traction are so important.)
Also, those little lugs, which vary in dimension from shoe to shoe, are meant to provide the bare minimum of grip. Unlike cleats, which are marvels of engineering, the lugs were not designed expressly to grip turf. Sure, the newest of them are multidirectional and work better than earlier generations, but they are still not the equal of the soft spike in terms of traction.
One final issue with spikeless golf shoes, but one that you must take into account before you decide to purchase a pair, is the fact that there is no way to renew them once they are worn out. If you’ve been golfing for some time, you understand the fuzzy feeling you get when you replace soft spikes. Because the shoes themselves are already broken in, installing new spikes makes cleated shoes feel better than new. In contrast, once the lugs wear down on spikeless golf shoes, you will never get them back. Sure, you can still wear them, but not to play golf.
The thing about golf shoes that make them different from any other type of footwear is that they are extremely task-specific. It is doubtful that anyone, when researching or shopping around for new golf shoes, considers wearing them for any other purpose. No, when golf is not on the itinerary, golf shoes stay hidden in the closet.
It is for this reason that golf shoes tend to last for years, regardless of how many rounds per year their owner plays. The spikeless golf shoe, though it may be worn off the course with no ill effects, still tends to remain dormant until we make a tee time or head to the practice range. As much as spikeless golf shoes may resemble tennis shoes, they are still golf shoes.
This begs the question: Why would anyone not own a pair of spikeless golf shoes? Even if you rarely wear them, the undeniable benefits of the spikeless shoe apply to everyone. The current crop of casuals includes hybrids, such as the Adidas Pure 360 Gripmore Sport, that utilize lugs that resemble the plastic soft spike. Though they are not removable, these spike-like lugs increase traction and make these some of the best spikeless golf shoes available.
Ultimately, the question of which is better, cleated or spikeless, seems moot. The best men’s golf shoes are those that provide the most benefits with the fewest detractions. Sometimes, the most comfortable golf shoes are the ones you should purchase. Those same shoes, however, may lack the traction of other options. But choosing cleated golf shoes may mean passing up on some of the best spikeless golf shoes.
The answer, it would seem, is to purchase the best men’s’ golf shoes you can afford, then as soon as possible purchasing another pair. If you’re going to hoof it, wear the best golf shoes for walking that you own. If the weather seems iffy, select the most waterproof cleated golf shoes in the closet. If you take care of them, and let them rest, your shoes will last long enough for a collection to form. Then, you can wear whichever shoes you own that best fit that day’s conditions, whether cleated or spikeless.