At first blush, a similarity emerges with historical re-enactment junkies and hickory golfers. Both sets of aficionados strive for authentic recreation of apparel and equipment.
But here is where the two roads diverge. While the re-enactors hope to portray a particular episode from history, hickory golfers strive to create new history while remaining faithful to a bygone era of golf.
Hickory golfers are niche enthusiasts. They compete at courses named Oakhurst, Temple Terrace and Southern Pines. The numbers on the scorecard typically run between 5,800 and 6,000 yards and the clubs in their bags have names, rather than numbers. Terms like brassie, baffy, niblick and mashie emerge from a P.G. Wodehouse story into the light of a new era. Swings slow down or smooth out, and the dull “thlock” of a wooden head and shaft on a golf ball returns to the auditory spectrum.
“Before the 14-club rule went into effect in 1939, players could carry as many (clubs) as they wanted,” said James Davis, communications coordinator for the Society of Hickory Golfers (SoHG). “There are stories of up to 22 clubs in a bag. Players had certain shots they counted on and went to club makers of the day to have clubs made specifically for perhaps only one or two shots a round. Today, a good starter set of hickories might be only six clubs: two wood headed clubs — driver and brassie — and four irons — mid iron, mashie, niblick and putter. Of course there are dozens of other clubs that are commonly found in modern hickory bags from a more-lofted wooden headed spoon to irons such as driving irons, 1- to 4-irons, the jigger and mashie niblick. These are the most common. Other names of clubs get real involved.”
Hickory golf is an opportunity to commune with the era of Harry Vardon and Bobby Jones, of Old Tom Morris and Allan Robertson. It is the game of golf without the technological trappings of composite shafts, souped-up golf balls and massive titanium driver heads. Hickory golf allows the ball to move from side to side, to be curved intentionally, to be played low and trundling.
What Is Hickory Golf?
Mike Just, club maker for Louisville Golf and a reformed hickory player, discussed the province inhabited by hickory golfers in a recent interview.
“Some people play with clubs originally made in the early 1900s,” he said. “Because good, original equipment is hard to find, some play with replica clubs that are of the same design and materials as the club made during the hickory era. Many people dress in knickers and wear a shirt and tie like Bobby Jones and other great golfers of the period.”
Just also said Louisville Golf has been making wooden-headed clubs for 35 years.
“There was tournament, the National Hickory Championship, where people played with pre-1900 equipment on a course that was maintained the same way as when it was built in 1884 (Oakhurst in West Virginia),” he said. “Original woods from that era cost a few thousand dollars each and players didn’t want to risk breaking them. So they contacted Louisville Golf to see if we could replicate the woods. Our involvement has always been demand driven. After successfully replicating the pre-1900 woods, we were asked to replicate woods from the 1920s.”
Authentic or Replica?
As with many endeavors that seek a connection to the historical past, debate arises over authenticity. Hard-line wood golfers insist that tournament-approved clubs must be original equipment, built prior to the time when metal shafts replaced hickory ones. A second perspective is that, due to the cost and scarcity of original, quality clubs, approved replica equipment is to be permitted in tournament play.
Just affirms that clubs built as far back as the 1920s are viable for use still.
“Hickory shafts can and do break, but that is a rare occurrence,” he said. “The old vintage clubs need to be refurbished before play or they are likely to fail. But a refurbished club or a replica is much more durable than many people think. If I hand my hickory-shafted driver to someone who has never hit a hickory-shafted club, their first reaction is, ‘Is this going to break when I hit it?’ The answer is obviously no….Bobby Jones hit drives over 300 yards with his driver. That’s a lot of force on the shaft, and his clubs didn’t break.”
Now, don’t think it can’t happen. In 2012, I broke a brand-new hickory 4-iron and was gun-shy the remainder of the round. My hickory-wielding mates assured me that it was a totally random occurrence and that I should give the hicks another go. I’ll do that in mid-February in Pinehurst. Seems like an appropriate place, right?
Who Is Playing Hickory Golf?
Two fellows for whom the hickory game means a great deal are Greg Vogelsang and Kevin Lynch. The former has played hickory for a number of years while the latter is a recent convert. Vogelsang’s proficiency was such that he emerged as the 2011 Vermont Hickory Open champion. Lynch’s enthusiasm is such that he owns two sets of clubs, one from Just and another from Tad Moore. What binds men and women to hickory golf is a need to know the origins of the game, and Lynch and Vogelsang are no different.
“I was trolling around on the Internet and came upon the site of the Society of Hickory Golfers,” Vogelsang said. “Lo and behold, there were guys playing hickory golf. And then I thought, it would be really fun to play hickory golf at Grover Cleveland.”
Grover Cleveland Park, formerly known as the Country Club of Buffalo, hosted the 1912 USGA Open championship and stretches to 5,600 yards, well below today’s standards. Hickory golf, people like Vogelsang have said, brings relevancy back to courses from a different era.
For Lynch, it was about the feel not only of the shots but of the course.
“It’s almost a cure for your swing ills,” he said. “It’s a swing aid in a way. We had a guy, decent golfer, played moderns for two days, barely breaking 90. We told him, ‘Try hickory.’ Next day, at Dormie in Pinehurst, he shot 75 the first time he saw the course. Changed his rhythm. Not only do you feel the club, you need to show more care. Can’t just leave them in the trunk for a year. Store them flat and in proper temperature, so that they don’t warp or bend. They’re strong, but not indestructible.”
Hickory golf is growing across the world, with several European nations holding annual championships. There are hickory golfers in Australia and Japan. The SoHG sponsors a championship series of five tournaments with points awarded for various finishing places. The top finisher is acknowledged at the season-ending hickory championship at Mid Pines, N.C., in November.
The easy access to hickory clubs has been one factor in the popularity of their use.
“Anyone can pick up hickory clubs and have a go,” Davis said. “They are not hard to find, as there are scads of them on eBay for example. Trade shows held in various regions of the country by the Golf Collectors Society show hundreds and hundreds of such clubs for sale. An inquiry to the (SoHG) website will help put anyone in touch with hickory golf enthusiasts in their area. Find a mentor through the SoHG website and get help when choosing a starter set. There are also helpful ‘build a starter set’ stories on the SoHG website.”
At the inaugural Erie County Amateur, an event held in 2012 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of that fabled USGA Open, Lynch and Vogelsang, along with compatriot Eric Hoxsie, played the Grover Cleveland course in their plus-fours, schoolboy caps and their hickories. The modern-ball players asked question after question about the clubs and left with curiosity piqued. Perhaps the niche is growing.
Mondays Off: Jon Schoepf, Director of Instruction and Master Instructor, Jim McLean Golf
Jon Schoepf Director of Instruction and Master Instructor of Jim McLean Golf School joins the show! He and Steve debate Sean Foley, and Knudson asks if a launch monitor is a necessity to be a great teacher.
Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
Hidden Gem of the Day: Dodge Riverside Golf Club in Council Bluffs, Iowa
These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!
Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member golfin8, who takes us to Dodge Riverside Golf Club in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Located just a few minutes away from downtown Omaha, Dodge Riverside sits along the Missouri River, and according to golfin8, it’s a gem of a golf course that is well worth a visit.
“While it’s only 6,400 yards, it’s still one of the best-kept tracks in the area. Makes you work the ball left and right, has risk/reward decisions on almost every hole and the greens are always in great shape and fairly challenging.
It’s kept basically the same layout since opening in 1927, except for a reroute (only changing the start and end holes, the course still flows the same it always has) when the new clubhouse was built and a remaking of the 9th hole after the area had a flood a short while back.
It’s just a classic tree-lined fairway course that is in a town outside a larger metropolitan area that gets drastically overlooked when people think of golf in Omaha.”
According to Dodge Riverside Golf Club’s website, 18 holes during the week will set you back as little as $23, while the rate raises to $31 should you wish to play on the weekend.
How important is playing time in college if a player wants to turn pro?
One of the great debates among junior golfers, parents and swing coaches is what is the most crucial factor in making the college decision. My experience tells me that many students would answer this question with a variation of coaching, facilities and of course academics (especially if their parents are present).
I would agree that all three are important, but I wanted to explore the data behind what I think is an often overlooked but critical part of the process; playing time. For this article, I examined players under 25 who made the PGA tour and played college golf to see what percent of events they participated in during their college career. In total I identified 27 players and through a combination of the internet, as well as conversations with their college coaches, here are the numbers which represent my best guess of their playing time in college:
Player Percent of Events
- Justin Thomas 100%
- Rickie Folwer 100%
- Xander Schauffele 100%
- Bryson DeChambeau 100%
- Jon Rahm 100%
- Patrick Reed 91%
- Jordan Speith 100%
- Beau Hossler 100%
- Billy Horschel 100%
- Aaron Wise 100%
- Daniel Berger 100%
- Thomas Pieters 95%
- Ryan Moore 100%
- Kevin Tway 98%
- Scott Langley 95%
- Russell Hendley 100%
- Kevin Chappell 96%
- Harris English 96%
- JB Holmes 100%
- Abraham Ancer 97%
- Kramer Hicock 65%
- Adam Svensson 100%
- Sam Burns 100%
- Cameron Champ 71%
- Wydham Clark 71%
- Hank Lebioda 100%
- Sebastian Munoz 66%
Please note that further research into the numbers demonstrate that players like Pieters, Munoz, Clark, Reed, Hicock, Langely, Reed and Champ all played virtually all events for their last two years.
This data clearly demonstrates that players likely to make a quick transition (less than 3 years) from college to the PGA tour are likely to play basically all the events in college. Not only are these players getting starts in college, but they are also learning how to win; the list includes 7 individual NCAA champions (Adam Svensson, Aaron Wise, Ryan Moore and Thomas Pieters, Scott Langley, Kevin Chappell, and Bryson DeChambeau), as well 5 NCAA team champion members (Justin Thomas, Jordan Speith, Beau Hossler, Patrick Reed, Abraham Ancer and Wydham Clack) and 2 US Amateur Champs (Bryson DeChambeau and Ryan Moore).
As you dig further into the data, you will see something unique; while there are several elite junior golfers on the list, like Speith and Thomas who played in PGA tour events as teenagers, the list also has several players who were not necessarily highly recruited. For example, Abraham Ancer played a year of junior college before spending three years at the University of Oklahoma. Likewise, Aaron Wise, Kramer Hickok and JB Holmes may have been extremely talented and skillful, but they were not necessarily top prospects coming out of high school.
Does this mean that playing time must be a consideration? No, there are for sure players who have matriculated to the PGA Tour who have either not played much in college. However, it is likely that they will make the PGA tour closer to 30 years of age. Although the difference between making the tour at 25 and 30 is only 5 years, I must speculate that the margin for failure grows exponentially as players age, making the difference mathematically extremely significant.
For junior golfers looking at the college decision, I hope this data will help them understand the key role of playing time will have in their development if they want to chase their dream of playing on the PGA Tour. As always, I invite comments about your own experience and the data in this article!
Cameron Champ’s Winning WITB: 2018 Sanderson Farms Championship
Details on Jordan Spieth’s switch to the new Titleist TS2 driver
Spotted: “Titleist CNCPT-01” irons, via Instagram
Phil Mickelson WITB: The Match
Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake
Charles Howell III’s winning WITB: 2018 RSM Classic
Did Justin Rose confirm his switch to Honma?
Cobra launches new King F9 Speedback drivers and fairways
Bryson DeChambeau’s Winning WITB: 2018 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
Matt Kuchar’s winning WITB: 2018 Mayakoba Golf Classic
Tweets of the Week: Best golf posts from Twitter over the last week
Louis Oosthuizen cried tears of joy after winning the South African Open, while Patton Kizzire and Brian Harman triumphed at...
Exploring Ireland: Where to golf, drink and stay on the Emerald Isle. Pt. 2. Old Tom Morris Links, Donegal
In these series of articles, I will be taking you around the Emerald Isle providing you with great golf courses...
Tweets of the Week: Best golf posts from Twitter over the last week
Jon Rahm triumphed in the Bahamas, Cameron Smith got the job done down under, and Kurt Kitayama was victorious in...
Patrick Reed hasn’t spoken to Spieth since the Ryder Cup, tells media: “He has my number”
If you thought that the messy Ryder Cup fallout involving Patrick Reed was a thing of the past, then think...
Equipment3 weeks ago
Phil Mickelson WITB: The Match
News2 weeks ago
The Refund: Bleacher Report, cable providers to give viewers money back for The Match
Equipment3 weeks ago
Forum Thread of the Day: “Guys that shoot under par, what clubs do you use?”
Equipment2 weeks ago
Review: Miura MC-501
News6 days ago
Spotted: Callaway Epic Flash, Epic Flash 3-wood
News3 weeks ago
Charles Howell III on his switch to Titleist equipment, the ups and downs of the game, and more
Equipment1 week ago
Callaway Epic Flash, Epic Flash Sub Zero hit USGA conforming list
Equipment1 week ago
Jon Rahm’s Winning WITB: 2018 Hero World Challenge