14th Nov 2022
Tee Time: The Watches Of Golf
by Adrian Hailwood
Golf is all about timing. This isn’t something a watch can help you with, but that hasn’t stopped watch manufacturers from positioning themselves at the heart of golf for decades.
Back in the 1930s, a wristwatch was still something of a novelty and a waistcoat to house your pocket watch would interfere with your swing. The solution was to fit a watch into your belt buckle – hinging downwards to allow the time to be seen- examples produced by Cartier and Hermes.
Unsurprisingly Rolex has used golf and golfers as a marketing tool for years, adopting the ‘Big Three’ of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player in the 1960s. These players are credited with popularising and commercialising the sport around the world and carrying the Rolex banner with them.
The first high-profile golfer to promote a brand other than Rolex was Nick Faldo with Audemars Piguet, this led to a series of ‘Nick Faldo’ special editions – the later models of which included a special AP-banded set of golf clubs.
One notable point about these early collaborations is that the golfer was rarely pictured playing with the watch on. Palmer and Nicklaus didn’t have their Rolex watches 'on wrist' in the advertisements and Faldo would conspicuously strap on his AP as he walked to the podium. Maybe there were concerns as to whether the shock of the drive would damage the movement. This was solved with the launch of the Tiger Woods TAG Heuer Golf Watch. TAG Heuer wasn’t Tiger’s first brand endorsement. As he burst onto the scene in 1997, he signed a deal with Tudor to add his name to the Oysterdate Chronograph, creating the ‘Tiger’ Tudor. This ‘Big Block’ chronograph didn’t get worn on the course, but the TAG Heuer was super-lightweight with a quartz movement housed in a titanium case that incorporated the rubber strap’s titanium buckle. A watch with so little mass was not affected the same way by the shock of the club swing and the quartz movement was bulletproof.
This affordable quartz contrasts with the golf watch produced by Richard Mille for US golfer Bubba Watson. In 2011, Richard Mille also reduced the weight of the watch case using magnesium WE54. Rather than quartz the RM 038 housed a manual wind tourbillon, specially damped, and braced to resist shocks – a necessary precaution as Bubba Watson is one of the longest drivers in the sport's history. All this technological advancement came at the eye-popping price tag of $525,000.
Maybe watch movements are becoming more robust or players less cautious but in recent years it seems that the golf watch is – whatever your sponsor provides. As Tiger Woods has made his way back into the Wilsdorf fold as an ambassador for Rolex, his wristwear of choice whether playing or celebrating appears to be a Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea. Quite the opposite of lightweight wristwear.