Hickory golf gains favor from Scotland to French Lick, Indiana
On a recent golf trip to Scotland, I got the chance to do something I’ve never done before – play with hickory clubs. Just outside of St. Andrews, the nine-hole Kingarrock Course at the Hill of Tarvit is designed specifically for old school golf. And by old school, I mean hickory clubs and golf balls dialed back to the late 1800s.
The course, which is just 10 miles from the Old Course, is only 2,000 yards long, but because the combination of clubs and sticks, it probably plays more like 3,600 yards. What amazed me was how well some of the guys I saw managed to hit their hickory clubs. They didn’t seem to miss a beat, although they were naturally shorter.
My results, on the other hand, were somewhat less impressive. I found the grips slippery, the ball dead and solid contact very challenging ? and I used to hit blades and persimmon drivers. We were limited to four clubs ? a brassie, mashie, niblick and a putter, the latter of which looked more like a 1-iron. The limited set forced me to use feel; getting yardages were almost an exercise in futility.
While I’m not anxious to convert anytime soon, there’s a growing contingent of golfers who love to play golf this way. I know one golf writer, for example, who has made the change permanently (at least for now), and from what I’ve seen, his game has actually improved. One thing is for sure: not being able to nuke a golf ball means you’ll keep it in play more.
While the movement to hickory isn’t threatening the modern game, more and more players are playing the hickory sticks regularly. There’s also a national championship for hickory players, the U.S. Hickory Open Championship, which be held next Monday through Wednesday on the Donald Ross Course at French Lick (Ind.) Resort.
The venue is most appropriate, considering the Ross Course was built in 1917. It also recently underwent a $4.6 million restoration, so while the 81 hickory golfers from 27 states will be playing an old style course, they will be playing one under very modern pristine playing conditions. Still, the Ross Course brings a rich history (and contrast to the spectacular and difficult 8,000-yard Pete Dye Course) to the French Lick Resort. The Ross Course was the site of the 1924 PGA Championship won by the legendary Walter Hagen, and it hosted other golf greats and celebrities such as Gene Sarazen, Chick Evans, and Bing Crosby.
The field, which also includes players from Canada and Australia, also welcomes women for the first time. Run by the Society of Hickory Golfers, players are also encouraged to look the part, with knickers, plus fours, dress shirts and ties straight from the 19th century.
“We are very excited and honored to host such a historic type event at our Donald Ross Course,” said Dave Harner, French Lick Resort’s director of golf. “The gathering of these like-minded golf historians will surely be impressed with the historic combination of a great Donald Ross Course together with the West Baden Springs Hotel. Players will enjoy a golf event surrounded by history and beauty, the way the game was meant to be played.”
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The writer was obviously playing with a 'guttie' type ball. He should try using a modern 'soft' ball and good pre-1935 clubs (as opposed to pre-1900), and he may change his mind about switching!
Also Hickory clubs show up faults in the swing very clearly. Most people who play a lot of Hickory golf find their regular handicap improves dramatically. Mine went fro 13 - 7 in the course of a few weeks.
Now there's a good reason to try it out!
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