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Match of the Ages: 30 Years of Tech Goes Head to Head

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I vividly remember being a teenager watching the 1987 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club on television with my dad. The ever-stoic Scott Simpson made a slew of late birdies to dash the title hopes of my boyhood heroes Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros. Simpson hit a feathery 9-iron from 125 yards into the 16th and I said to my dad, “I can do that.” My dad just laughed and shook his head.

“Son, this is not the Rich Acres Par-3,” he said. “This is the U.S. Open.” I went right back at him. “I know,” I said, “but I can do that. My 9 iron goes 125 yards.”

Fast forward to the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Rickie Fowler is hitting 5-iron into a 250 yard hole. Brooks Koepka melts a 325-yard 3-wood. My 6-year-old daughter is watching with me as Koepka overpowers Erin Hills and she asks, “Daddy, can you do that?” I answered with no delay, “No chance.” But what struck me as odd was that I was starting to grow numb to the video game-like control and power we see week in, week out on the PGA Tour. Four-hundred-yard drives just happen now and that’s how it is. Sounds like fun, but I’m not sure it’s good thing.

Somewhere between my father’s 1987 dismissal of the crucible that was the Rich Acres Par-3 and Koepka’s brutish dismantling of Erin Hills, golf has become a wildly different game. But is it a better game? Is it more entertaining to watch? Does the technology that facilitates the game for the masses belittle the game’s rich history? Most importantly, is today’s game more fun to play? I set off on a crusade to find out.

Short of buying a silver DeLorean and traveling back in time to 1987, my best bet was to try and piece together the clubs I played as a teenager and pit them against my current set to see how they would match up. A Match of The Ages if you will; Teenage Me vs. Middle-Aged Me. The artistry of the late 20th century versus the power of the early 21st century. This was going to be fun.

Building My Teenage Arsenal

throwbacks

East Bloomington, Minnesota in 1988 was The Land of 10,000 Blades. My buddy Aaron played his dad’s old X-31s. The Hogan brothers (sons of PGA legend Terry Hogan) worshiped all things Apex. I played a set of Wilson Staff Fluid Feel irons handed down from my father. Persimmons were still King and my all-time favorites were Cleveland Classics that I bought off a guy at my barber shop for an incredibly low price. How he got them wasn’t important. What was important was that I knew at a young and tender age that there are certain questions you just don’t ask folks who are selling goods out of their trunks at barber shops.

I went online and was able to find a similar set of Fluid Feel 2-SW with Dynamic Gold shafts, a Cleveland persimmon driver and 4 wood, and a putter that was close to an old TPA that I occasionally had in play. I didn’t think playing a 30-year-old balata made much sense, so I splurged and bought some Titleist Professionals for $10 (I know the Professionals weren’t released until the mid-nineties, but I figured they’d have a puncher’s chance of still being round). All in all it cost me about $150 to recreate my teenage arsenal. Not quite barber shop prices, but a bargain nonetheless.

Middle-Aged Me: An Embarrassment of Riches

new set 2

I buy way too many clubs. Like, it’s-a-problem-in-my-marriage amount of clubs. I’ve had to pay off the doorman at my building to stash any deliveries so my wife doesn’t find them and throw them away. Currently my storage unit has more clubs than some pro shops, but here’s what’s in my bag as of right now. The Epic driver is incredible and the RBZ 14.5 and Tour Exotic 19 hybrid have kept their place in the lineup for months — not an easy task considering a few snap hooks with a utility club normally means an early retirement. This is my second set of AP2s (DGS300) and I’ve been a fan of the Callaway wedges since I got them. The 2-Ball putter might strike you as odd, but I side-saddle putted not that long ago, so the term odd is lost on me. I play the Vice Pro Plus and it’s a terrific ball. Middle-Aged Me is well-armed and ready for battle.

The Tale of the Tape

I took 16 shots with each driver and 8-iron using Bridgestone E6 balls. I took out the best and worst 4. Averages in gray.

club comp

The 8-iron data had me puzzled. Sure enough, the modern 8-iron was bent fairly strong. Thanks to Brendan Kelly and Tim Ellis at Roger Dunn’s Golf Shop in Seal Beach, California. Here are the specs for all the irons in play.

loft lie

The Match Begins

Rancho Park Golf Course is the epicenter of golf on the Westside of Los Angeles. Its 6,630-yard, par-71 layout from the tips makes it the perfect host for the Match of The Ages. The format is 18 holes of Match Play. Middle-Aged Me has honors and so my match begins.

The opening hole is a 381-yard par-4 and my first drive with the Big Bertha Epic might as well be a commercial for whatever Jail Break Technology is. I don’t come close to hitting it squarely, but the ball somehow stays in the air for a lifetime and carries the fairway bunker some 240 yards away with ease. I don’t exactly hit the Cleveland persimmon on the screws, either. Instead, I smack an embarrassing line drive that rolls out some 220 yards into the middle of the fairway. I make a pair of sloppy bogeys and move on.

welcome-rancho

The second hole is a 467-yard tree-lined beast of par-4. I hook the Epic left, which is my stock miss. Teenage Me, sensing an opening, bombs a high fade. I seldom hit fades, so this is shot is completely slightly miraculous. I pose on the finish longer than usual to savor the moment. Teenage Me has 215 yards left and a useful 3-iron finds the green. An easy two-putt gives Teenage Me a 1-Up lead.

For the rest of the front nine, the Epic catches fire. Middle-Aged Me has wedge into all of the remaining par 4s and is greenside on the sole par-5 in two with ease. The Epic is an undeniable, inanimate Death Star of a driver. It is completely robotic in every sense and lethal when programmed properly. Middle-Aged Me rides the Epic to a 3-Up lead through nine holes.

In a cinematic sense, if the Epic is the Death Star then the persimmon is Morgan Freeman’s Sergeant Major John Rawlins from Glory: old, dark, proud, regal, and loyal no matter the odds. Unfortunately, Teenage Me is facing long odds because the persimmon is consistently 50 yards behind the Epic. My swing with the persimmon seems to be a little longer, a little more deliberate, and even when I hit it one the screws it’s just not even close.

pregame-cart

As for the irons, the Wilson Staffs feel great, but they seem to drift left (hook) a little more than I’m used to. With exception to the 2 and 3 irons (which require Buddhist Monk-like focus), the Staffs seem just as playable as my AP2s. I would guess that any purists out there who still game a clean MB blade like the Callaway Apex, Titleist 718 or Cobra Kings would find little difference. As for workability, just about every single shot I’ve hit since age 12 has gone right-to-left, so you want to read about workability you’ve got the wrong guy.

Checking in on the golf ball battle through nine holes, the Titleist Professional is holding its own. Lots of check and surprisingly firm and durable considering the vintage (a skulled 3-iron on the 8th imparted more damage to my fragile psyche than the actual golf ball). Should the USGA ever move towards bifurcation, the Titleist Professional would be a great standard for ball construction. On the other side of the cart, if you know how the Pro V1x plays then you know how the Vice Pro Plus plays, which is to say incredibly well. When played side-by-side, the difference between the modern ball and the older ball is staggering.

Example: No. 4, par-3, 200 yards. Teenage Me rips 4-iron (24 degree loft) and I’m on the front edge. Middle-Aged Me hits a solid but not spectacular 5-iron (26 degrees) that flies to the middle of the green. I would confidently say there’s a one club difference in distance on irons (matching lofts, of course.)

clock

Back to the Match of The Ages: the back nine starts off with some real fireworks with blood exchanged on Nos. 10, 11, 12 and two gritty up-and-down par saves on No. 13. Middle-Aged Me is 4 Up and has the honor on the intimidating 14th that plays out of a shoot. A compact swing of the Epic produces a low draw/hook off the tee that ends up in the fairway about 160 yards out. Teenage Me (focusing too much on the canopy of trees surround the tee box) hits the persimmon off the toe and the result is a Clayton Kershaw sinker that goes about 60 feet 6 inches and dives into the junk. Needing a miracle, I hack the ball back into play but Teenage Me has met his Waterloo. Middle-Aged Me makes par and wins 5 & 4.

Middle-Aged Me may have won the match 5 & 4, but Teenage Me definitely won the fun 10 & 8. A big part of that fun was getting reacquainted with a game I hadn’t played in a while. A game that was less about distance and more about shapes and trajectories. A game light on predictability and loaded with variety where a good drive didn’t mean wedges into every green. I saw the golf course as the architect had intended it to be seen, which let me appreciate more of its features. I’m not denying the element of novelty, but playing with my old teenage clubs — despite shooting 86 — was nothing short of inspiring. And to emphatically answer my original question; yes, it was a lot more fun.

card

Trust me on this: go out and get a nice persimmon. If for no other reason than if you practice with it you’ll improve as a ball striker, just buy one. Don’t worry about how old it might be. Jack Nicklaus won every single one of his majors — including the ’86 Masters — with a 3-wood from 1958, so I think it’s safe to say the material holds up well. Yes, you’ll find the older clubs are heavier and they’re a little harder to hit, but they are far more rewarding… and they’ll make hitting your modern clubs seem like child’s play.

As you can tell, the old clubs are growing on me. Maybe it’s a nostalgic whim, or maybe there’s something more profound at play. It could just be that people out there want something with a little more heart and soul. I think that’s why we buy hand-stitched wallets and drive old roadsters; we want to feel the humanity and the craftsmanship that goes into someone actually making things. So if you’re ever around a driving range in L.A. and you see a guy with an old Wood Brothers driver working on his gentleman’s fade, stop by and say hello. I’ll give you a few cracks at the driver and you can tell me what you feel.

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Laz Versalles is a husband, father and golfer who lives in Santa Monica, California. A former club professional, Laz now works in aerospace, coaches a middle school golf team and strives to break 80 whenever he gets a chance to play. A native of Minnesota, Laz is a lifelong Twins and Vikings fan and believes Randy Moss is the most dominant football player than ever walked this earth. You can follow Laz on twitter @laz_versalles

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68 Comments

68 Comments

  1. Jeff

    Nov 10, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Thank you for an enjoyable read. Love your writing style. Many years ago I started with a set of Hogan blades and a couple of Ping persimmon woods. Would be very interesting to have that same set and take a whirl with them again.

    • EGR MN

      Nov 11, 2017 at 12:01 pm

      It’s called EBay.

      I play with a set of Wilson Staff Goosenecks I bought in 1992. 2-PW with a HOgan Apex SW for added comfort.
      Last year I found a 1 iron WS Gooseneck on eBay and bought it, though I’m not yet convinced it gives me more than the 240-250 I consistently get off the tee with my 2 iron.
      Last year I finally broke down and got rid of my old Burner Plus 9.5 driver, which I used to launch 310-320 consistently. My wife bought me a driver fitting and I got put in a Titleist 915D3 (I’d still rather put my $ into rounds of golf instead of equipment). 290 off the tee right down the middle…and I’m now 56 years old (10 handicap; used to be 3).
      Next up is my putter…since it too is from 1992. But…as much as I’ve test drove other putters, this Taylor Made is the perfect swing weight and it’s small imperfections are embedded in my brain and muscle memory.
      Dad used to tell me “It’s the Indian, not the Arrow.” With apologies to all the great equipment companies, he’s right.

  2. Carl-Gustaf

    Nov 8, 2017 at 8:03 am

    First of all, why you play DG S300 shaft is beyond me. Totally not the correct shafts for you seeing your swing speed and spin with your 8-iron.

    Second of all, why did you not correct the lofts in the old set first? Clearly it’s 4 degrees between clubs so the 8-iron in the old set should be 40 degrees but thru the years got bent a bit (which is common).

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 9, 2017 at 11:39 pm

      Hi Carl,
      A few things: I’ve had Rifle 6.5, and DG X100, but ever since I suffered a grade 2 separation of my AC joint I’ve gone down to the DG300. As for the old staff lofts, I was happy with how they looked and kept them as is.

  3. Mike

    Nov 7, 2017 at 11:36 am

    Very interesting! No. 3 is the par-3, not No. 4, just fyi.

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 9, 2017 at 11:40 pm

      Yeah- saw that. Funny how I seem to make 4 more on #3 than I do on #4!

  4. Mark Peck

    Nov 6, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    Fantastic article, thank you Laz.

    I’m 49 now and this really resonated with me. Brings me back to playing in my teens in the 80s. I’ve always played blades and currently have 3 sets of the Staff Fluid Feels in my basement, all full 1 iron through wedges. (though not with the W/S badge stamping). I believe my sets are circa ’86 – ’89.

    Also have a set of the Ram Tour Grinds but I couldn’t hit them as well for some reason. Currently playing Mizuno MP37s. I love when folks tell me that blades are only for good players. Then I let them hit mine and they get instant feedback on where they are missing on the face, even high handicappers. I’ve seen folks improve dramatically after a bucket of balls on the range with my butterknives.

    I’ve also gone full retro on my bag, used to tote a Vagabond (Jones knockoff) from high school through college and have since tracked down 3 on Ebay and am restoring them now.

    I’m sure I could lower my index w/ full kit of modern, fully juiced sticks, but I love the simple passion of walking, shotmaking (and shot failing!!) and enjoying the experience.

    PS – also loved your review of Goat Hills on GCA, bravo.

    Thanks again

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 9, 2017 at 11:45 pm

      Thank you, Mark. I appreciate your feedback. We just had the club championship at the goat and there was a lot of persimmon in play. Tons of good players there. I just bought a Wood Bros driver on eBay this morning. A friend had one in college and he tells me a lot of the old SWC players like Justin Leonard played that driver. Can’t wait. Funny you call the vagabond a knock off! I loved those bags but I was a Jones kid myself. Connect w/ me on twitter or FB.

      • Mark Peck

        Nov 12, 2017 at 10:44 pm

        Love it Laz. I’m headed down to my basement to dust off my old MacGregor m85w eye-o-matic. You’ve inspired me to get a new grip on it and put it back in play.

        I’ll hit you up on FB.

        Thanks!

  5. jgpl001

    Nov 4, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    Just puts Al Geiberger’s 59 into perspective and how brilliant it was with a similar bag of old school blades, persimmon woods and a balata ball on a course well over 7000 yards in the Texas heat

    Unbelievable

    • etc.

      Nov 4, 2017 at 5:22 pm

      Does anybody really believe that today’s GI and SGI clubs helps recreational golfers with their game? I think it’s all a gigantic hoax perpetrated on the gullible golfing masses to sow discontent with their current clubs and to trick them into buying the latest ‘improved’ clubs that will rescue their pathetic game.
      IOW, it’s not YOU, it’s your clubs trickery propaganda. Have you fallen for the scam?

      • Pp

        Nov 5, 2017 at 5:14 pm

        Ask the people who bought the P790 how they’re playing

  6. M. Vegas

    Nov 4, 2017 at 8:57 am

    Your teenage arsenal had a sweet lookin putter yo

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 9, 2017 at 11:47 pm

      It’s no longer in the teenage arsenal. It’s in the tournament bag now yo.

  7. Mat

    Nov 4, 2017 at 2:38 am

    To me, this is all the more reason to reign in the ball.

    If clubs can have a CoR, why can’t the ball?

  8. Tim

    Nov 3, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    I run a summer golf league at one of the local muni’s. Every year, I try to convince the league to play with “real” woods and blades on British Open week, just for the tradition and to put some of the fun you speak of into the round. I have enough in the garage to outfit anyone who wants to give it a try. I have one player out of 50 that will hit a ceremonial tee shot off the first tee, but other than that, it’s just me against the world. I’ve been trying for almost 20 years to get people to give it a try, but no success so far. I’ll keep trying, as everyone should have some perspective on how things have come along.

  9. Someone

    Nov 3, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    is it just me or were the loft gaps between the 7/8:9 in the wilson set off? wouldn’t it be more accurate to play modern day blade vs old blade?

    i used to think blades were all the same but i went to a fitter to just hit some of the new stuff and found that Mizunos new MP18 actually went 5yds linger while the new TM p790’s with microgrooves actually went shorter, obviously due to the additional spin, but that gave them a much steeper landing angle and possibly could hold more greens. game improvement irons have always been jacked lofts which is one of the reasons that i prefer to play blades, but to each their own. i always check the std lofts of sets on their websites and any game improvement is always jacked up to be stronger. i guess long and wrong equates to game improvement since you may be closer to the hole, however if you hit them center every time, they absolutely have a chance of going further. with blades I have had more consistent distance control. not a knock on the cavity back tho, i did start with cavity backs from the get go. I just enjoy playing blades now.

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 3, 2017 at 8:52 pm

      The Apex CF16 lofts are nuts. These were used, old clubs so I wasn’t surpised to see them all voer the map.

  10. asugrad1988

    Nov 3, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Laz:
    The best thing I got from your article was memories. As I read through your great story, it brought back memories of playing with my friends when I was just a kid. I can’t remember how far I hit my clubs back then but I can remember getting a hot dog and a Coke at the turn for less than $1.00.
    Thank you Laz!

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 3, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      Love it. We always played the par-3 and the loser bought lemonades and snickers. Normally 1.00.

  11. Matt

    Nov 3, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Golf seems a bit less fun with the newer equipment, regardless of the scoring improvements. I’m playing the latest and greatest, fitted properly and all my old gear is gone except for a handful of Mac and Hogan persimmons. With retro gear (bikes, surfboards, golf, etc) the handmade aspect simply makes sport feel more human, so if I had enough spare time it would include an occasional round with old clubs.

  12. Tom54

    Nov 3, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Wonderful article Laz. Lots of golfers who are not old enough to have ever played persimmon woods and balata balls cannot relate to the difference between older equipment. One of my longest drives ever was with a Macgregor 945. Whenever I stand on that hole even with today’s modern drivers there’s no way I could carry it on the green. I guess being younger had a lot to do with it though. I wonder if 25-30 years down the road will those clubs and balls be such a leap forward or have we reached the limits. It is funny how when you look at old persimmon drivers you say “ man look how small it is, I could never hit that”. I’ll bet in 1980 if you handed someone todays big headed monsters you would have said “man look how big this thing is, how am I supposed to hit this little ball with that”

  13. James Sweeney

    Nov 3, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Enjoyed this article. While highly unscientific, you’ve taken a fair shot at the question of whether this game has actually gotten better over time.

    One can fairly say, I think, that if the clubs used were tested using laboratory standards the differences betwen the two sets would be less than you experienced.

    I often play persimmon woods in casual rounds with friends whose abilities are similar to mine, and for the most part I can keep up, distance- wise. I practice with the persimmons, however. My persimmon driver and three wood are copies of clubs custom made for Tiger Woods by Louisville Golf in the late 90s. They were copies of his Byron Nelson driver and McGregor Armour three wood and made so he could use them in practice. I use modern equipment in competition. I play blades.

    Speaking for myself, I prefer the persimmons. I like the feel, the sound. I miss the Titlleist Professional, the best ball ive ever played. Some of the new “soft” balls are pretty good with the persimmons.

    Is the equipment better today? Maybe. Certainly more consistant. Is the game better? Well, the game hasn’t reallly changed, the way it is played has. Not necessarily for the better.

    In 1960 Arnold Palmer drove the 346 yard first hole at Cherry Hills CC in the fourth round of the USOpen. Even allowing for altitude at 5%, he drove that tee shot 325 yards. With persimmon.

    The game is played differently today. If I can could only play one set for the rest of my life, I’ll take the persimmons.

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 3, 2017 at 5:11 pm

      I recall Davis Love III killing drivers in the mid-nineties with persimmon. If you get a good block, they’re hard to beat.

  14. Dave Bourne

    Nov 3, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Those Wilson Staff irons are from 1989 or 1990. The 1989 model has the diamonds along the scoring lines while the 1990 models don’t. Your loft values in the table aren’t correct either, although the ’89 Fluid Feel 8 iron is 41 degrees. This model of the Staff iron is one of their best ever IMHO and I restore and sell 10-20 sets per year.

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 3, 2017 at 1:26 pm

      Hi Dave, the lofts may be off from the standard spec, but this is what they measured at. Can you DM me and tell me more about your restoration process? I am definitely keeping these clubs and would like to know what I can do to make them a bit nicer.

  15. rex235

    Nov 3, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Nice article. It is more of an apples vs oranges comparison, since your OEMs are different.
    All of the newer clubs are available in a LH model, with few restrictions. They weren’t 30 years ago.
    Of the traditional club set of Cleveland Classic persimmon woods and Wilson Staff irons, both were very high end, as the Driver and fairway wood have 5 screw butterfly soleplates. Neither was offered in a LH model. Quote Cleveland Golf- “You get 4 screw sweepback soleplates-nothing else.” Even the drill thru hosel for LH models was by request only. This Wilson Staff Fluid Feel iron model has the “W/S” crest, and they were only offered RH as well. The Wilson Staff TPXVIII putter came in RH/LH. Perhaps the test would have been closer with early cavity back irons vs modern blades.

  16. Grover

    Nov 3, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Laz
    Love the article
    Seems to me you have to get the ball right with the old irons and woods
    Can’t hit these hard new balls with persimmon clubs

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 3, 2017 at 1:42 pm

      Hi Grover, I seldom played the soft balatas back in the day, mostly the DT Titleist that were harder. I played mostly muni tracks that didn’t require the high spin softer balls.
      I hit some shots with the persimmon and the Vice ball and it was fine- as long as you hit it in the middle of the club face. There’s a few models of “deep face” persimmon drivers that have caught me eye recently. I may try one.

  17. Joseph dreitler

    Nov 3, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Great article. Thanks much. Hope i am around to read in 12 years what the writer’s number are when he is in his 60’s. For most amatuers, once you hit 60 or so, the numbers drop off a cliff. But, the biggest point was the original teaser — when i was 35 i could hit my irons close to the same distance and many Tour pros and the driver went about 250-260 including roll.
    Fast forward today and way too many courses have become irrelevant for the Tour pros unless they are gimmicked up around the greens or fairways narrowed and rough grown up like weeds. Absent that or making the course 8200 yards long, the only solution is to bifurcate rules on the ball.
    I have the proof (by the bucket every year) in my yard as i live across the street from the 15th green of The Ohio State Scarlet course of 450 yards and watch people hit 230 yard drives into the rough and then yank their 220 yard 3 woods into my yard.

  18. BB

    Nov 3, 2017 at 11:34 am

    Well done! Very interesting article.
    What shaft do you play in that Epic?

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 3, 2017 at 1:27 pm

      Thanks, BB. I play the Alida Silver Rogue Max X-75.

  19. david

    Nov 3, 2017 at 8:44 am

    I have a wooden tennis racket, Donnay Allwood a la vintage Borg, that I will warm up with before switching to my regular racket. Really makes me focus on form and watching the ball. I look forward to trying it with a persimmon.

  20. ActualFacts

    Nov 3, 2017 at 8:18 am

    Great article and fun experiment Laz!

  21. JB

    Nov 3, 2017 at 7:59 am

    What would you say the biggest difference was in tech?

    Was the blade harder to play than a CB tech hyped iron of today?

    Obviously there was distance issues off the drive. Do you think having to make up for that longer distance gap with an older longer iron (2 or 3 iron which are notoriously the hardest irons to play) played a part in why the scores differed?

    I’m relating it to strokes gained, which just off the drives alone, you should already be up almost a whole stroke over the older clubs. Simply because your approach shots are now longer and inherently harder.

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 3, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      Hi JB, Honestly 8-PW is the same feel. I think once you have that much loft, having a forgiving cavity is irrelevant. Hitting the AP2 4-iron vs. the Staff 4-iron is a different experience.
      But the driver was just an unfair fight. I’m currently looking around for a driver with a shaft that suits me a little better and maybe has a deeper face. The Old Wood Brothers drivers have my interest right now. We’ll see.

  22. The dude

    Nov 3, 2017 at 5:41 am

    Great article,…..now, do the same with hickory sticks ….now that’ll surprise you

    • alanp

      Nov 3, 2017 at 7:19 am

      agreed i just sent a group message to all the guys last week that we should do a hickory day at the club. that would be a lot of fun

  23. UnclePhil

    Nov 2, 2017 at 11:22 pm

    This was a great read!! I too miss my blonde TC15 Cleveland Classic persimmon driver with the diamond shaped black insert, and the walnut colored CC 3 wood. My first set of irons in ’89 were the Titleist Tour Model butter knives. Whew, those would still be tough to hit today, but when you “catch one out of the middle,” there is absolutely nothing like the impact’less feel. Like butt’a!!

    Great article and fun to flashback on!! Bravo

  24. Stuart

    Nov 2, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    Ah, Rich Acres. Before it was a runway, it was one of two exotic golf destinations from my home in Apple Valley, the other being Hiawatha, which is not long for this world. Time has passed by more than just our old driver.

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm

      God bless you, Stuart. Hiawatha appears to be on the chopping block from what I’ve read but the city is blessed with many, many great courses. Every time I land at MSP I wonder if my plane is rolling over the old course (not St. Andrews). I hear that little exec course in Eagan is also gone.

  25. Paul

    Nov 2, 2017 at 7:59 pm

    Very interesting article, I would love to see the pros play a “vintage” tournament, a 36 hole off-season event for charity on a classic course.

  26. Bernard

    Nov 2, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    “…….it was a lot more fun”.

    It’s why I still carry traditional irons, and will forever though the Driver will not be persimmon. The shot options on trajectory and maneuverability is 2nd to none. The good is greater the bad is worse, so it really becomes a more vivid time. It’s golf in 4K HD.

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 2, 2017 at 7:26 pm

      What kind of irons do you hit, Bernard?

      • Bernard

        Nov 2, 2017 at 8:42 pm

        Hi Laz,

        I have several in rotation, ’99 Hogan Apex, Greg Norman Signature MB, Titleist 681 and Wilson FG 59’s, another 6 sets that if had the right shafts I would play too. The Wilson’s are hot in the bag this moment.

      • Bernard

        Nov 2, 2017 at 8:44 pm

        Right now Wilson FG 59 but have 3 other in rotation plus more waiting on proper shaft fit.

      • SK

        Nov 2, 2017 at 9:15 pm

        I have a set (2-PW) of RAM Tour Grind model TW276 clubs (used by Tom Watson to win one of his Open claret jugs) in a beautiful brushed satin finish. I use them as training clubs because they are very small muscleback blades with a very low eccentricity between the shaft axis and sweet spot.
        This forces me to guide the shaft and hosel closer to impact point. This also creates an effortless supination of my left lead arm going into impact. It’s an interesting sensation and takes a few days to adapt. Then I return to my larger and higher eccentricity PINGs with some compensation and I can find the sweet spot more easily too. It’s like a refresh and reboot!
        The same thing would happen if you owned and played the Wilson Staff and Titleist AP2 clubs and alternated between each set of clubs.
        You see, there is no such thing as “grooving” a golf swing because the human body is not that accurate using the big slow twitch muscles at high speeds. It’s just an anatomical fact.

        • Bernard

          Nov 3, 2017 at 3:40 pm

          I really do not mind the miss hits on irons near as much as I mind the misses with metals. Truth is ball stays in play better with blades, coming up short on a misfire is 9/10 better than being offline to yardage.

  27. bill

    Nov 2, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    To GolfWRX Staff:
    That banner flashing ad you have at the top of the website is not only annoying, it gave me an epileptic seizure due to the rapid flashing. I did find the ‘Close Ad X-box’, but it a bit too much of an in-your-face promotion ad. Tone it down please.

  28. Jim Lahey

    Nov 2, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    Now repeat the test using a modern golf ball with both sets. I’ve done a similar experiment and found that the Persimmon woods don’t lag that far behind the modern metal woods when hit out the middle. I got curious and bought some balata balls at a 2nd hand store, and could instantly see the distance drop off (much higher spin).

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 2, 2017 at 7:17 pm

      Jim, That’s a great idea. I hit a lot of shots with the persimmon and the modern ball. All the data from the drivers is using a modern Bridgesotne ball. I think if I had a modern shaft inserted into a persimmon it would get even more interesting. Maybe an Aerotech or KBS Tour C-Taper.

    • mM

      Nov 2, 2017 at 9:25 pm

      “when hit out the middle”
      Of course! But the modern clubs give you the size to miss the middle and still get a lot out of it. THAT’s the difference.

      • Jim Lahey

        Nov 3, 2017 at 3:24 pm

        Yes, that is true. But the main point I was trying to make is that the ball is making a majority of the difference. Laz was reporting 50 yards difference on the course between new and old equipment (including ball), but I think he will see a much smaller difference when using modern balls.

    • NRJyzr

      Nov 3, 2017 at 9:03 am

      The biggest issue with these sorts of comparisons is the golfball. Wound balls suffer a great deal of performance loss due to age, far more than solid balls, and the loss tends to be more apparent with the longer clubs.

      Unless someone really is still making a few wound balls for pros who never switched, we’ll never be able to know for sure. Other than ball test data from 2001…

  29. SK

    Nov 2, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    The modern equipment should be played from the tips and the old equipment a tee box step down or two.
    As the golf courses got longer the club lofts changed to compensate for the extra distances.

    • Scott Francis

      Nov 2, 2017 at 5:21 pm

      True that would be more of an even match play old equipment from one up tees.

      • Laz Versalles

        Nov 2, 2017 at 7:19 pm

        Scott, Teenage Me would have never gone up a tee box against anyone. Never. Honestly, I think if I get a persimmon driver with a better shaft it’s a much closer game.

    • mM

      Nov 2, 2017 at 9:28 pm

      SK,
      At Rancho Park, the new Black tees are what the Pros plays during the 50’s and 60’s at the LA Open at this site. So what you say is not true, as the old tee boxes were recently restored.
      Which says that some of the bombers in the old days really bombed it, as we know, Jack hit it past 300 easily with the soft balata and with persimmons.

  30. iutodd

    Nov 2, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Seems like you could have more fun on the course if you got a modern mini-driver!!!

    Or if you didn’t hit driver on 375 yard par 4s. The game CAN be more fun – you just have to think differently. For instance – the 381 yard par four first…I guess if it’s wide open hit driver…but with a bunker at 240 out…why not play short of the bunker and have ~140 in? That’s still a 8 or 9 iron right? I guess I just don’t think driver should be an automatic pull off the tee on every par four and if it is then maybe you’re playing the wrong tees.

    I don’t like playing with other people (that I don’t know) mainly for that reason – I’m hitting my 4 or 5 wood or even an iron and they’re hitting driver. And it’s always like…like they think that I’m too cool for school or something. “Look at Mr. Golf over here – hitting less than driver….(wanking motion)” is kind of the attitude. (There is also a masculinity element to it somehow – like I’m not man enough to hit driver or soemthing) It ups the pressure on me to execute and gets into my head a bit and makes the round less fun. Anyway…

    Enjoyed the article BTW.

    • Laz Versalles

      Nov 2, 2017 at 7:25 pm

      Todd, I’ve hit 3 wood on #1 at Rancho exactly twice. Both shots are still rolling down Pico Blvd (O.B. left.) Maybe it’s because I go from trunk to tee quite often, but I like taking driver off the first tee whenever possible.

      • iutodd

        Nov 3, 2017 at 9:24 am

        Thanks for the reply – obviously I don’t know the course.

        And I get it with going right from the car to the course.

        Just the thoughts that were rolling through my head. Again – enjoyed the article.

    • mM

      Nov 2, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      iutodd,
      You would normally hit driver on that hole because it’s uphill quite a bit and requires at least a 250 carry type shot to get over the bunker uphill and with your first swing of the day, you’re hard-pressed to hit that unless you hit it square, which, for most amateurs with mid-handicaps, we know it’s not easy. Not on the first tee.

  31. George

    Nov 2, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    The difference in score could be from the learning curve of using a set that does not get as much practice. When I got my new clubs it took at least a couple months before I was able to notice any difference. If I switch back i would have zero control over my old clubs.

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Jason Day’s performance coach, Jason Goldsmith, joins the 19th hole

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In this episode of the 19th Hole, Jason Goldsmith of FocusBand talks about how the breakthrough technology has helped PGA Tour stars Jason Day and Justin Rose to major wins. Also, host Michael Williams gives his take on Tiger Woods’ return to golf.

Click here to listen on iTunes!

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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club

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Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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