Choices in golf equipment of all types is virtually limitless and nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than with golf shoes, which are now available in a dazzling array of styles, colours and price points. But it’s not all about frivolous fashion because getting the right shoes for your feet and your pocket is essential – just try walking four or five miles over uneven terrain in shoes that don’t fit properly. Then try hitting a golf ball with shoes that have no grip. Either could end up in a visit to the doctor.

What’s the difference between spiked and spikeless?

Under Armour Men's Medal RST Waterproof Spiked Golf Shoes

The simple difference is that some have spikes (also known as cleats) and some don’t. Or at least, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a daft question, but it is not; there are numerous ways in which the two styles differ, and you need to be aware of them in order to make an informed buying choice.

A little history

Initially golfers wore hobnailed boots, and then adapted them. The first published reference to such customising appears in an 1857 issue of a Scottish publication called The Golfer’s Manual, which recommended that golfers wear shoes: ‘Roughed with small nails or sprigs.’ About 40 years later, specially made shoes, which had metal spikes screwed into the sole, were introduced and variations on this theme lasted into the final decades of the 20thcentury. In the 1980s, with the development of stronger, more robust plastic materials, non-metal spikes were introduced, much to the delight of greenkeeping staff because metal spikes could seriously damage greens.

The pro game

Golf professionals, however, are both large and small ‘c’ conservative and they wanted to retain metal spikes (probably because they liked the clacking sound they made when worn over concrete), but then Fred Couples made them think again. He caused quite a few ripples when, in 2010, he rocked up to The Masters wearing spikeless shoes, but this was no fashion statement – he simply found them more comfortable because of his chronic back condition. Since then, it has been downhill for metal spikes, which have virtually disappeared and many, if not most golf courses in the world now prohibit them.

Which option offers the best traction?

Easy. Soft spikes. Except, nothing is ever as simple and straightforward as that, is it? Yes, on balance, spikes are better than spikeless if your primary concern is to have your feet as well-anchored as possible so that you get better traction and avoid undue lateral movement. It also depends to a large extent on the weather and underfoot conditions, and the sort of course over which you play. In heavy, wet and therefore slippery conditions, spiked shoes can definitely offer an advantage. The same applies if you play a hilly course over which you are often obliged to take an uneven, uphill, downhill or sidehill stance.

Are spiked or spikeless shoes more versatile?

Spikeless shoes are definitely more adaptable and multi-purpose. You can, for example, drive to the course, play your round and drive home again without changing shoes. Try that in a spiked pair and you might be in front of the beak in the morning, pleading guilty to a motoring offence. Traditionally, spikeless shoes were constructed with rubber nubs or pimples on the outsole but now there are numerous patterns of ridges, corrugation and pimples, patterned in a specific concentration, such as the heel and mid-sole, for even better stability, durability, and rotation. And when it comes to versatility, don’t forget the laces. Borrowing technology from ski and snowboard boots, Footjoy introduced the boa lace system to golf in 2006. In essence, it allows the laces to give you an exact fit, locking your foot in place, at the turn of a pre-set dial that can be micro-adjusted. The laces do not work loose or become undone during the round, as can happen with traditional shoes and, because of this, they are extremely durable. Footjoy led the way (as it has in so many shoe developments) but other manufacturers now also use the boa system. The downside is that they can be more expensive, so might not fit the bill if you’re looking for a budget golf shoe.

Are spikeless shoes more comfortable?

adidas Men's S2G Leather Waterproof Spikeless Golf Shoes

Almost certainly, yes. They’re also, with the exception of cleaning, maintenance free. With spiked shoes it’s a good idea at least once a season to remove the spikes, clean or replace them as necessary, clean the spike beds with a stiff brush and apply a little WD40. If you leave it longer than this, the spikes can become really embedded and be a devil to remove. All the tools you need can be found online or in-store at American Golf. Golfers with back problems – and that’s a lot of people, also report that spikeless shoes are easier on the spine – as first demonstrated by Fred Couples.

What are the most durable?

Choosing which is most durable between a spiked and spikeless golf shoe is a difficult one because the development of ever more flexible yet strong rubber, plastic and other synthetic material has been a game changer, and many spikeless shoes are now pretty close to those with cleats in terms of performance. You also need to think seriously about the material or fabric used for the shoes upper. Spikeless shoes can resemble, in appearance and performance, your everyday trainers, with a soft fabric upper that will not be waterproof. Spiked shoes are more likely to have a leather, or water-resistant synthetic upper.

What’s the final verdict?

If stability and traction are your main considerations, or you regularly play a hilly course or one affected by standing water, go for shoes with spikes, especially in winter. If comfort is an absolute must for you, spikeless shoes come out ahead, but the gap between the two types of shoes, in both function and comfort, is narrowing all the time. What many golfers opt for is a spiked shoe for winter and spikeless in summer. If you can only afford one pair, look for a spikeless shoe with a decent amount of corrugation or ribbing on the sole, especially towards the heel.

About the Author

Martin Vousden - Golf Writer

Vousden bio

Martin Vousden joined Today’s Golfer in 1988 as a staff writer and quickly rose to become editor; under his stewardship it became Britain’s best-selling golf title. He then became launch editor of Golf Buyer and Swing magazines, before moving to Scotland to take over at ScottishGolf. After five years he became (and remains) a freelance journalist, having written for numerous titles, including Golf Monthly, Golf Punk and The Clubhouse, which is based in Malaysia. He lives in Angus, about 12 miles from the Carnoustie course that beats him up every time he plays it, so he joined Kirriemuir GC. His handicap of 19.3 rises inexorably with every passing year.

Martin’s golf bag contains:

Ping G400 driver

King Cobra F/Speed 3-wood

Kane Golf 5-wood

Callaway Big Bertha 7-wood

Wilson D9 irons, 5-gap wedge

Yonex Z-Force sand wedge

John Letters Golden Goose lob wedge

Putter: GEL Ruby or Odyssey 2-ball blade (depending on which is behaving itself)

TaylorMade Distance Balls (yellow, just because he likes the colour)