The Best Substitute for Golf Shoes? You’ll Have Some!


You may be heading for your first hit of a golf ball at a driving range or about to play for the first time on a golf course but wherever you are going to play golf you are going to need a pair of shoes to wear.

A pair of golf shoes is of course the standard and obvious answer for what to wear on your feet but if you are just taking up the game you’re probably not very keen on spending money on a new pair of shoes when you’re just trying to find out whether you like the sport or not.

The good news though when it comes to choosing the best substitute for golf shoes is that you probably already have a pair at home which will do you just fine to get started.

Running shoes or trainers with good sole treads are the best alternative to golf shoes as keeping solid traction with your feet as you swing is key especially on wet surfaces. Golfers walk 6.3 miles over 18 holes on average so the comfort of sneakers also makes them a great substitute golf shoe.

The design of golf shoes has come a long way over the last number of years and today it’s difficult to tell a lot of the spikeless pairs in particular from regular trainers and sneakers.

But even for regular golfers sometimes carrying another pair of shoes is just a hassle and it’s good to be able to know whether another pair of shoes you have will work fine.

And depending on where you’re playing, there are a number of alternatives including playing barefoot if you absolutely need to!

Good Grip & Comfort are the Keys to Golf Footwear

Before we can look at what the best ‘non golf shoes’ are we need to first consider what we’re ideally looking for from our footwear when we play golf.

And the short answer to that one is ‘grip’.

All golfers, whatever their standard, need good ‘grip’ in 2 areas – grip of the golf club with their hands and grip on the ground with their shoes.

Without it a player’s chances of hitting a good shot are significantly reduced as if the club slips in your hands or your feet move all over the place while you swing it makes it very difficult to hit good golf shots.

That is the reason why your choice of footwear matters when you play golf and is especially important in damp, wet or uneven ground conditions where getting good traction on the ground is made more difficult.

This need for grip is why golfers have for hundreds of years worn specialist golf shoes with spikes in the sole.

Indeed before spiked golf shoes were invented some of the earliest golfers hit nails into the soles of the boots to give them a decent foothold as they swung the golf club!

Thankfully those days are long gone but the other piece of good news is that there are so many different types of shoes around today that there are plenty of options for you to wear if you don’t have a pair of golf shoes.

These alternative non-golf shoes include:

  • Trail / Running / Athletic shoes
  • Casual sneakers / trainers
  • Tennis shoes
  • Non-slip soled shoes
  • Loafers
Trail running shoes with good tread are the best substitute for golf shoes and the soles are very similar these days to many spikeless golf shoes including the Nike Air Max golf shoes (below)

What’s common to the list above is that they are the most likely to have soles with some tread on them and when it comes to shoes to wear instead of golf shoes the more tread on a flat sole show the better.

Saying that because beginner golfers, and those who have recently taken up the game, tend to have low swing speeds so the amount of traction needed by their shoes is often much much less than that needed by more experienced and better players.

Nevertheless, and because of the twisting motion needed during a golf swing the following ‘non-golf shoes’ are not recommended:

  • Sandals
  • Flip-flops
  • Work boots
  • Heels

On dry flat ground it may just possible to wear sandals or even flip flops to play golf, and some golfers do when they want to play a very relaxed game on holiday for example, but they are most definitely not ideal if you want to try and hit some decent longer shots even at the driving range or on the course.

And if that’s all you have you are probably better off playing in your bare feet.

Indeed some golfers – including in years gone by the legendary Sam Snead – find practising hitting a few golf shots in their bare feet can help them with understanding how their feet are moving during their swing and potentially causing bad shots.

In short though when it comes to what shoes you should wear instead of golf shoes any footwear with a reasonably aggressive tread on the sole will be fine.

Based on this test if we then look again at the above list of alternatives to golf shoes trail / running shoes, particularly those with aggressive treads, come out on top for the following reasons:

  1. Research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings and the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine revealed that each golfer took an average of almost 12,000 steps over an 18-hole round covering a distance of 6.3 miles on average. That’s a decent amount of walking and if you are playing a round comfort is clearly going to be important as a result. And given they are designed for running and everyday walking trail / running shoes and sneakers are an excellent choice if you don’t have golf shoes to wear.
  2. Structure to the shoe – with some casual sneakers and trainers there is often little or no structure to the shoe and you can literally bend them in half if you pull the heel towards the toe. A bit of structure therefore, which trail / running shoes typically have, helps in golf particularly when you finish a golf swing and flip your back foot toe up onto the ground.
  3. On wet and uneven terrain trail / running shoes should still give you a reasonable grip. Tennis shoes and casual sneakers by comparison, with their typically smoother soles, are more likely to let you slip when you swing on damp or wet ground.

Some golfers do occassionally mention that trail / running shoes which have a particularly padded heel can push their weight forward over their toes when they swing a golf club.

However unless the padded heel on your running shoes is overly large these shoes will be a great choice for you to wear instead of golf shoes.

So if you don’t have golf shoes grab your pair of trail / athletic shoes and you should be fine.

Spot the difference between the New Balance 574 iconic running shoe and it’s golf shoe

And to help we did a quick survey online to discover a list of different brands of running shoe a few players had happily played golf in which included the following pairs:

Where You Play Golf Will Affect Your Substitute Shoe Choice

If you don’t already have a pair of golf shoes and need an alternative, a factor in what substitute pair of shoes you choose to wear also has to be where you are going to be playing.

We’ve already talked about how good grip on the ground and comfort is really all that your shoes need to give you when you start playing golf, and that comfortable footwear with any sort of reasonable tread on the sole will let beginners with their typically low swing speeds hit a few shots.

Therefore if you are only going to the driving range for example almost any shoe with any sort of tread on the sole should give you enough grip on the astro practice mats you will be standing on to hit golf balls.

I’ve seen almost every pair of shoes you can imagine being worn at a driving range and although some look a bit odd to me and are probably not the best idea in terms of being able to consistently good golf shots there’s no reason why you can’t wear them.

Saying that I would still never recommend wearing a pair of flip flops, work boots or heels if you are planning to hit any sort of decent shots.

But if you are going to be playing at a golf course, especially one that is going to be a bit damp or wet underfoot, or even one that just has a lot of uneven terrain, I would stick to choosing a pair of trail running shoes or sneakers if you don’t have golf shoes.

Any relatively smooth soled shoe on damp or wet grass for example will just cause your feet to slip when you swing.

But not only will running shoes give you the grip you need, and if they have a good aggressive tread, probably as good a grip as you will get with spikeless golf shoes they will also make sure you don’t damage any part of the course, especially the greens.

Golf courses and golfers get very sensitive when it comes to their greens and whatever footwear you choose to wear shouldn’t leave any marks or cause any damage after you walk on the greens with them.

Shoes with any form of sizeable heel would for example very obviously do that so they are big no no when it comes to walking on golf greens.

Also if you are playing at a golf course which is a bit more formal or posh they can be sticklers for the rules when it comes dress code so if it may be worth a check with your playing partners as to whether the non-golf shoe you are planning to wear is ok.

Baseball and soccer cleats would cause far too much damage on a golf course

Can I Wear Baseball or Soccer Cleats for Golf?

Golf is an expensive sport and if you are thinking of taking up the game it’s a very reasonable thing to see whether any sports shoes you already own will do the job until you decide whether it’s a game you may want to spend some money on.

And given golf shoes have traditionally had spikes a reasonable question many people ask is whether their baseball or soccer or even lacrosse cleats would serve a dual purpose on the golf course also?

Baseball and soccer cleats with metal or molded cleats are not suitable to wear for golf. Such cleats cause damage to greens and are also not designed for wear on astroturf driving range mats. Turf shoes with short stubble rubber studs are however fine and often very similar to spikeless golf shoes.

The key difference between baseball, soccer and lacrosse cleats (i.e. studs) and golf spikes is that gold spikes are very much shorter.

And the reason for this is their short length both allows for a golfer’s feet to adjust with the motion of their swing and not to cause damage to the greens on the course.

The much bigger cleats found in baseball, soccer and lacrosse footwear would cause far too much damage to golf courses as well as being too long to allow a good enough amount of feet movement as a player swings.

Metal golf spikes are tiny compared to baseball and soccer cleats and can only be worn by pros

Indeed metal golf spikes have almost universally been phased out of the game due to their soft spike counterparts causing much less damage and today only pro golfers, including Tiger Woods, are permitted to wear metal spiked golf shoes.

Any baseball, soccer or lacrosse turf shoes however which have short enough stubble studs not to cause any damage to a golf course and particularly the greens are by comparison typically ok to wear to play golf.

The bigger the stubble cleat however, even on turf shoes, and you’ll need to make sure they will not cause any damage to the course.

Many models of baseball turf shoes in particular these days however appear to be little different to many of the spikeless golf shoes now available so if you have a pair of them you’re in luck.

Indoor soccer shoes are also an option of course but like tennis court shoes, and indeed some baseball turf shoes, you may find that they don’t give you as good grip as you need on damp or uneven ground.

All this of course supposes you are going to be playing on a golf course.

If you are only heading to the driving range however you will be fine in any turf or indoor shoes although I would still definitely stay away from the metal or molded baseball, soccer or lacrosse cleats there too.

Final Thought

What footwear you have to play in golf in, is as we’ve seen important if you plan to be able to hit some decent shots.

If you’re just taking up the game or simply want to give it a try however there’s no need to rush out and buy golf shoes to do so and as we’ve seen there are a number of alternative options which you most likely already own a pair of.

If you are planning to play the game for any length of time though it is worth checking out specialist spikeless or spiked golf shoes.

Many of the spikeless models available today are hard to tell apart from sneakers or some baseball turf shoes but even those can occassionally may not give you the grip you need on damp or wet ground.

Soft spike golf shoes are almost always the footwear of choice in wet conditions but whatever pair of shoes you potentially decide on remember the main questions always to ask yourself are – will these shoes give me enough ‘grip’ and be comfortable to wear in the conditions you’re going to frequently play in?

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Graeme Hay

Graeme Hay is the owner of GolfingFocus.com. Graeme started playing golf when he was only 4 years old and has loved the game ever since. A single figure golfer all of his adult life he lives in London and still enjoys playing whenever he can with friends and family.

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