Hickory Golf – Tournaments, Equipment, and My Bag

Step back into a simpler era with hickory golf – you’ll want to stay a while and enjoy golf as it was originally played

Hickory golf is a delightful step back into golf history. It’s golf played with mashies and niblicks, spoons and cleeks rather than wedges and 7 irons.

The 40 pound tour bags are gone, replaced by small round leather and canvas bags – easier to manage equipment during a game played as it was a century ago and more, on the ground, following the contours of the land.

Most hickory golf players can’t resist donning knickers and argyle socks, really celebrate the hickory era.

Promoting and preserving the sheer pleasure of playing golf with hickory shafted clubs, the Society of Hickory Golfers sponsors an annual, 4-event Hickory Championship Series:  The Southern Hickory 4-Ball Championship in Birmingham, AL (April 21-23, 2016 and hosted by Tad Moore-famous manufacturer of hickory golf clubs); The Belvedere Hickory Open in Charlevoix, MI (June 16-18, 2016); the US Hickory Open at The Links at Lawsonia, Lawsonia, WI (September 22-24, 2016); and the Mid Pines Hickory Open in Southern Pines, NC (November 4-6, 2016).

Marty Joy, the head golf professional at Belvedere Golf Club in Charlevoix, MI, has won the Belvedere Hickory Open twice. Marty also won the Mid Pines Hickory Open and the Wisconsin Hickory Open.  Marty has over 30 members at Belvedere who play the authentic hickory clubs.  Belvedere is 15 minutes away from Walloon Lake C.C. where I am near Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan, so I lean on his expertise on hickory clubs and tournaments.

Hickory Golf Equipment

In this era of high-tech shafts and monstrous club heads, where do you find the equipment you need to play hickory golf? Authentic hickory clubs are hard to find. They date from the 1935 era and before (1935 is when steel shafts were first manufactured).

Once you locate authentic hickory-shafted clubs – long forgotten and abandoned in attics and sheds and the backs of closets – they typically require repair. Call either Tad Moore Golf or Louisville Golf for repair.  They are the two biggest manufacturers of  modern hickory clubs and are excellent in repair of hickory clubs as well.

Finally, once the old hickory shafted clubs are in good condition for tournament use, the golfer must experiment and learn how to hit them and get the distances down as well.  They often require hitting “two more clubs” to  match modern clubs.

At major tournaments, Marty Joy said that approximately 10-15% of the field use the authentic clubs.  85-90% of the field use modern hickory golf clubs.  Belvedere will host a division for both the authentic division and the modern division this year.

Belvedere Hickory Open would like to be the role model for the entire country and promote the use of the two distinct divisions as the newer hickory shafts have a big distance advantage over the older, authentic hickory shafted clubs.  There are different divisions in the tournaments at various yardages, so several skill levels can participate.  The Open Division at Belvedere this year will play 6,000-6,100 yards.  Most hickory tournaments are 5,800 yards to 6,100 yards as the ball travels about 70% less far when compare to modern clubs.  I was glad to hear this news as trying to play at just under 6600 yards at Walloon Lake CC seemed like playing a 7,200 yard course!

My Hickory Golf Bag

Let’s take a quick look at my modern hickory set.  If I try for the first time to participate at The Belvedere Hickory Open, I will be in the modern hickory division.  I just ordered two pair of knickers with socks that match.  I’m one step closer.   I am getting used to “clubbing up” by two clubs to match my new modern club distances.  The shafts are measured carefully and are available in several different flexes.  My set has firm shaft flexes, which is between a regular and stiff shaft.

hickory golf

Pete Kelbel’s Hickory Set. Photo Credit: Pete Kelbel

#2     Mid Iron     24 degrees        Modern Equivalent  4 iron

#3     Mid Mashie    28 degrees   Modern Equivalent    5 iron

#4    Mashie Iron      32 degrees     Modern Equivalent   6 iron

#5    Mashie        36  degrees        Modern Equivalent      7 Iron

#6     Pitching Mashie       40 degrees     Modern Equivalent     8 Iron

#7    Mashie Niblick         44 degrees      Modern Equivalent    9 Iron

#8    Niblick                    48  degrees      Modern Equivalent     PW

Niblick Stewart Maiden      56 degrees    Modern Equivalent      SW

I also carry cleeks.  One has  21 degrees and the other 26 degrees.  They look like modern day hybrids.   My driver has 12 degrees with a much smaller head then the 460 cubic centimeters you see with modern drivers.  The putter also has a hickory shaft and will require some getting used to as well.  I do not carry a Spoon, which is the equivalent of a strong lofted 3 wood with about 13 degrees of loft.

I’m enjoying using my hickory shafted clubs for the first time and despite Marty Joy’s encouragement to find authentic hickory clubs to compete in the “open division”, I’m content to stay in the modern hickory shaft division for now. I must say that playing The Old Course at St. Andrews last year certainly gave me the bug to appreciate the way golf started!

Old Tom Morris and his son, Young Tom Morris are the two that accomplished the most with the hickory clubs.  Young Tom Morris actually tied his dad with 4 British Open Championships and died early at the age of 24.  If not for his early death, I believe he would have won several more!

Hickory golf isn’t for every player. If you thrill to the high soaring shot off the tee and the 250 yard approach with a 3 iron you may need to stick with your modern equipment. But if you want to get closer to the origins of the game and experience the battle of ball vs terrain, you may want to give hickory golf a try.  I like playing hickory golf “on the side” as its a great diversion from regular golf and another way to compete in golf.