The TRUE Linkswear Tour is a zero drop golf shoe with a very thin 2.5 mm sole and good ground feel even with 4 mm lugs and stability bars. The foam insert, some toe spring, and a stiff leather toe cap detract a little from a “barefoot” experience, but the wide toe box, sole flexibility, and lack of arch support really do create a very comfortable minimal shoe. Other minimal options may provide better barefoot feel, but lack some of the features that make the TRUEs great golf shoes.
Overall TRUE Linkswear Tours have a great balance of traction, flexibility, and barefoot feel, combined with complete waterproofing in a minimal design specifically built to hold up to round after round of golf. As far as golf shoes go, the TRUE linkswear shoes are the closest “barefoot experience” you can get.
As more and more people transition to minimal footwear, the demand for activity specific “barefoot” shoes has increased (e.g. casual, running, hiking, waterproof, etc.). As some of the established hiking and running brands are beginning to meet these demands, new shoe companies are popping up eager to provide new ways to live “barefoot.” One such company is TRUE Linkswear, which is the first company to design golf specific minimal footwear. According to their website, TRUE Linkswear is “dedicated to changing the way millions of people enjoy golf by creating products that work naturally with their bodies.” Based on their belief that traditional golf shoes “nail you to the ground” and are “severely over-engineered,” they created the TRUE line of golf shoes with “no unnecessary features, no added weight, no false claims or empty promises. Just the closest thing to a barefoot golfing experience as possible.”
The TRUE shoes are endorsed by golf pro Ryan Moore, who invested in the company and played a role in developing the shoes. The company’s first shoe (the Tour) arrived in a limited release in November 2010, with their second model (the Stealth) released earlier this year. They aren’t being marketed directly for the minimal shoe crowd, which makes sense as it is a golf shoe. Also, golfers who happen to be minimalist will likely spread the news to the minimal shoe crowd (as I am about to do). In the golf reviews I’ve read, every golfer seems to be wowed by how comfortable these “barefoot” golf shoes are.
Given that the shoes don’t appear to target minimalist shoe fans specifically, I wondered just how “barefoot” they could be. Because other reviews have focused on a golfer’s perspective transitioning from other golf shoes, I wanted to stick to a minimalist’s perspective coming from only minimal shoes. The company was kind enough to provide me with a pair to test and review from this perspective.
Disclaimer: I love minimal footwear and Vibram FiveFingers. I also run tech clinics for retailers that sell Vibrams. When testing the TRUE Linkswear Tour shoes, I found myself referencing my “barefoot” assessments based on the fact that I have golfed many times in Vibram FiveFingers (which meet all my qualifications for a barefoot shoe and are arguably the closest a shoe can get to a barefoot experience).
The first question one might ask is, “Why golf barefoot?” Those who love minimal shoes would tell you they want to do everything as close to barefoot as possible because the foot is unimpeded, is allowed to move naturally, and it just feels good. Professional golfers might tell you that barefoot is a good way to work on balance and to “swing within yourself.”
As a training tool, golfing barefoot allows you to feel the ground, and less traction forces you to stay balanced and not over-swing. Sam Snead learned to golf barefoot and occasionally played tournaments barefoot, even playing 9 holes barefoot in the 1942 Master’s1. Snead also recommended practicing barefoot to prevent over-swinging. Current golf pro Rocco Mediate advocates practicing barefoot, and Lee Janzen has called him “the best barefoot golfer” he knows 2. While being truly barefoot may be a great training tool, during most rounds I prefer to keep my feet dry and avoid pine needles, goose poop, and pesticides. So a golf shoe that protects and adds traction while still allowing my feet to function close to barefoot would be ideal.
For reference, my everyday footwear rotates between FiveFingers (Treks, Sport Treks, and KSO’s) and VivoBarefoot (Evo II, Dharma). I primarily run in the Saucony Hattori and VFF’s, and try to only wear rigid structured shoes in the form of my old sports cleats (although the Trek sole has shown surprisingly good traction for softball, soccer, and kickball). I have never owned golf shoes simply because I’ve never found a pair even close to comfortable enough to purchase. Since going completely minimal, I’ve golfed in any of my Trek soled Vibrams which deliver great ground feel, comfort, stability, and decent traction. They have a little backing as a minimal golf shoe, since Oliver Wilson wore his Trek Sports at the Dubai World Championships.
As far as golfing "barefoot," FiveFingers have been my go to shoe. They are incredibly comfortable and the closest to a barefoot experience I’ve found. However, I found myself skipping the FiveFingers for a few reasons mostly coming down to water and sand. Golf courses tend to have water somewhere. The leather Treks have some water resistance, but the stretch fabric between the toes can easily soak up moisture and “squishy” toes just aren’t comfortable. And, although I try not to spend any time in sand traps, really digging in gets messy. The design of TRUE linkswear shoes seems to solve all the drawbacks of golfing in FiveFingers, so they just needed to match up on the “barefoot” aspect if they were to ever become my permanent golfing shoe.
At first glance, the TRUE Tour looks like a golf shoe. Upon closer inspection the wide toe box and lack of a heel are really the only hints at its minimal nature. The shoe has a full grain waterproof leather upper which is gusseted halfway up the tongue to aid waterproofing (waterproofing is guaranteed for one year). My white/white version came with both white and black laces, which lace through folded leather loops. On the inside, the entire length of the tongue is connected to the footbed by a thin elastic “sock liner.” Why include this feature? My only thought is that the inside is very spacious and wrapping the tongue down onto the sides of the foot creates a comfortable slipper like feel which the sides of the shoe alone would not create, and the slipper fit feels nice.
The upper has a fairly low profile and cuts comfortably below the ankles. The leather upper itself is flexible except for the heel and toe regions where it is reinforced. I do have an issue with the stiffness of the toe upper from a “barefoot” standpoint. The stiff toe box upper didn’t seem to extend upward easily with my toes. A representative of the company said it was designed “to give the toe structure when you roll onto the toe in the follow through.” It definitely seems to protect and improve the wear on the shoe and perhaps provide an aesthetic appeal keeping the shoe “rounded” and not floppy/soft toed, but the stiff toe cap makes my toes feel less free.
The TRUE Barefoot Platform has no midsole or spikes which lends itself to being a “barefoot” golf shoe. The outsole is 2.5 mm Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) with 4 mm “stability bars” and studs for traction. One issue I had with the outsole is that it curves up at the toe (Toe Spring). The inside includes a memory foam insert that measures about 5 mm thick. It is noticeably squishy and does decrease barefoot feel.
You can really feel just how thin and “barefoot” the sole is by removing the foam insert. This greatly increases ground feel, but also makes the shoe a bit roomy and the elastic “sock liner” stitched to the footbed rubs awkwardly. The stitching suggests it’s meant to be worn with the insert, so that’s how I tested it. While I don’t usually have any cushioning in my shoes, it was actually quite refreshing to have a little squish with every step (especially after hours of walking the course carrying clubs). I think both minimal and non-minimal shoe wearers will find the insert comfortable (although it diminishes the barefoot feel). While most barefoot shoes are designed to be worn without socks, I wouldn’t recommend it with the TRUE shoes (they would be difficult to de’stink).
According to the company, the TRUEs should run comparable to Adidas and fit a half size smaller than FootJoy. For reference, I wear a TRUE tour 10.5, Vibram 43, and Vivo Barefoot 44. The TRUE shoes come in only one width but the company reports customer feedback that “they tend to fit BB to EE (and sometimes EEE).” My feet are fairly flat and exactly between a D and EE and the 10.5 tours are perfect in width and very comfortable. There’s about a thumbs width from my toes to the tip, but I tried on a 10 for comparison and it was a little too snug (both length and width). For a golf shoe, the forefoot and toe box are surprisingly wide and really add to the comfort and barefoot feel of the shoe.
In my opinion, a minimal shoe should not require any break-in period and needs to be immediately comfortable. The TRUE tours were flexible (other than right over the toes) and comfortable out of the box. The leather flexed with my foot, and never pinched or restricted movement. The wide toe box and thin sole are noticeably comfortable on the course. The accommodating width, zero heel drop, and lack of arch added to the immediate comfort of the shoe.
The only major negative I found from a minimal standpoint is the toe spring. I wondered if they had tested any samples without toe spring before settling on that design and was told it was “designed that way to help you walk more naturally.” This is the reason why thicker soled shoes and boots require toe spring, since the soles are so difficult to flex you needed to “rock” onto the toe. It’s amazing to think that a 2.5 mm sole would require help flexing to allow you to walk more naturally. But, TRUE isn’t the first minimal shoe company to continue with this idea (looking at you Merrell). From a minimal shoe standpoint, toe spring is certainly not natural or “barefoot,” and I bet these would flex just fine without it.
I later realized the toe spring issue was made worse by the 5mm foam insert and stiff toe cap, which really seems to taper the vertical toe box depth. Unlike under my heel and forefoot, my toes don’t compress the foam enough, so it seems to push my toes up and narrows the toe box. Removing the insert increases depth and makes the toe spring way less of an issue. It also really increased the barefoot feel, but the elastic liner stitching rubbed under my foot. Perhaps they could thin out the foam directly under the toes to reduce the spring effect, or offer a thinner 1-2 mm foam insert option (or ship with two inserts). I was told they made a slight adjustment to the newest model (stealth), which has a flatter last (so less spring). I haven’t had a chance to try it out, but less toe spring sounds good to me. Ideally I’d like to see a future model with zero toe spring, a thinner insert option, and no sock liner stitching underfoot.
The 6.5 mm sole (2.5 mm outsole + 4 mm stability bars/lugs) is definitely thin, and on par with many other minimal/barefoot shoes. For how thin the sole is, it still feels somewhat stiffer than I expected (partially due to the insert). I think the stability bars along the outer edges create a hinge effect where it flexes most easily at certain points between the bars. It’s not incredibly noticeable and the sole flexes at all the right points.
Keep in mind this is a very critical comparison from a minimalist perspective, and it truly feels more barefoot than any traditional shoe. To compare the “barefoot” experience, I actually wore Treks and the tours simultaneously on either foot. The tours are a great minimal shoe, but the Trek sole just feels more barefoot. Removing the insert does increase the “barefoot” experience, as the elevated lugs and foam insert understandably diminish ground feel (as would such lugs from any minimal shoe). For comparison, the Evo II also has slightly better ground feel and are very comfortable on the golf course, but the tread doesn’t provide as much traction (especially when wet). I have not golfed in Merrell barefoots, which are too narrow for my foot, so I’m not sure about their traction on the course. I’m curious how the future lugged trail soles from Vibram and VivoBarefoot (Neo Trails) might work as a golf shoe from a flexibility standpoint. I can say that right now the traction of the TRUE sole exceeds that of any of my current minimal footwear and strikes a good balance with barefoot feel and the bonus of being completely waterproof.
I was able to test the waterproof upper on TRUEs the first time I wore them. It was early, and a low lying area of the fairway had some standing water from the morning sprinklers. Rather than tip toe around, as I normally would, I gladly strolled right through with no issues at all. My feet remained dry throughout the round and never felt sweaty.
The TRUE tour comes in 5 color options (shoe/saddle): black/white, white/black, white/brown, all black, and all white. The saddle gives the tour a “golf shoe” look to it. I read one golf review that likened them to “clown” shoes (in a good way?) because of the width/length of the toe box. I really only notice this when looking straight down at them as they do look long and wide. At any side angle it’s not as noticeable, and I really do like the look of them. They might look better with pants than shorts, but I’ve golfed in Vibrams, so who am I to say what looks best on the course.
TRUE linkswear’s newest shoe, the TRUE stealth removes the saddle and offers a more classic dressier look (in black or brown). The TRUE blog claims it “appears more narrow in the toe box than the tour, for golfers that would like to call a little less attention o themselves on the course.” They look narrower because they lack a saddle, and the toe cap is the same color as the shoe and sole.
The TRUE tour retails for $159 and the TRUE stealth a bit more at $199. This price is middle of the road for quality golf shoes, and currently there really aren’t many “barefoot” golf options. While other minimal shoes might be used for golfing, the TRUE’s are designed specifically for golfing. The quality of the shoes lends itself to the price, and I don’t see them wearing out for many years. It is important to note that the tread on the sole cannot be replaced like soft spike golf shoes. And, while I don’t expect the outsole to wear down very quickly, I would probably avoid wearing them home or off the course to extend the life of sole.
I asked the company about rumors that TRUE linkswear is planning on releasing casual styled non-golfing minimal options and a representative told me, “We elude to the fact that our shoes can be worn on and off the course and we should have some exciting extension to that next year.” Having now worn their minimal golf shoes, I’m really excited to see what they might come up with for off the course.
So, is the barefoot platform of the TRUE linkswear golf shoes “the closest thing to a barefoot golfing experience?” Yes and no. Having now thoroughly tested them, I am convinced that the TRUE tour golf shoe has to be the most comfortable golf shoe out there. Compared to other golf shoes, these are absolutely the most minimal and closest to “barefoot.” With no minimal reference point, the TRUEs really are the best “barefoot” golfing experience.
From a minimalist perspective there are some minor issues keeping it from truly being “barefoot” and other minimal options do provide better barefoot feel. That being said, those other minimal options lack the features that make the TRUEs a great golf shoe. Any minimalist looking for a barefoot golf shoe should definitely give these a try. Overall they have a great balance of traction, flexibility, and barefoot feel. And, right now the TRUE’s are the only way to get the addition of traction and complete waterproofing with a minimal design specifically built to hold up to round after round of golf. As far as golf specific shoes go, the TRUE linkswear shoes are absolutely the closest “barefoot experience” you can get from a golf shoe.
1 — Sam Snead talks about overswinging, playing nine holes barefoot in the 1942 Masters Golf Tournament.
2 — Rocco Mediate talks about practicing barefoot.