For a particular segment of golfers, a quality day of golf is not about reaching island greens or spending the round swinging out of their shoes from the tips of punitive monsters.
Instead, golf traditionalists opting for vintage hickory-shafted clubs — yes, there are many of them — are most interested in testing themselves on venerable old courses using equipment from a bygone era. For these players, it’s about as close to the game’s roots as they can get.
“Part of the appeal of playing hickory golf on these old courses is you’re playing where Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones once played,” said Mike Stevens, the teaching pro at the Bay Palms Golf Complex on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.
Stevens, a three-time winner of the national hickory championship, switched to playing only hickory clubs 17 years ago.
“I guess it appeals to people who have a historic interest in golf and in the strategy of the game,” he said.
In the late 1800s hickory became the wood of choice for club manufacturers, and that continued until steel shafts were introduced in 1920. The U.S. Golf Association legalized steel shafts in 1924 and when the R&A followed suit in 1929, production of hickory shafts declined until their demise in 1935.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of vintage courses open to the public, with some even offering rental hickories so golfers can try out the predecessors of today’s modern equipment.
The par-4 fifth hole at French Lick Resort’s Donald Ross Course in French Lick, Ind. (Photo: Kevin Frisch/Fusion Media Strategies)
Courses such as Donald Ross’ Mid Pines Golf Course (built in 1921) in Southern Pines, N.C., and the Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort (1917) in French Lick, Ind., offer the golfer a chance to bump and run their ball toward the flagstick.
Wawashkamo Golf Club on Mackinac Island is Michigan’s longest continually operated course and part of the Mackinac State Historic Parks. The nine-hole, links-style test was designed in 1898 by two-time U.S. Open winner Alex Smith and offers rental sets of hickory clubs.
One of the more popular Michigan courses for hickory golf is Belvedere Golf Course in Charlevoix, a classic parkland tract with small, contoured greens. Opened in 1927 and designed by Scotsman William Watson, Belvedere recently included new hickory-golf tees in a recent restoration.
Hickory golfers visiting Orlando, Fla., might want to add historic Dubsdread Golf Course to their list of courses to play. Built in 1924, the par-70 course measures between 4,184 and 6,153 yards, and has hosted the likes of Sam Snead and Ben Hogan.
“Courses built in the hickory era measured between 5,800-6,100 yards,” Stevens said. “A long drive with a hickory-shafted driver may be around 235 yards, but the real challenge is using a sharp-edged niblick around the greens.”
There are nearly 30 hickory tournaments contested each year in North America. The tournament season runs from early spring in Florida to November in North Carolina. And there is an assortment of resort, municipal and daily-fee courses from which to choose.
Belvedere hosted its annual Hickory Open (http://bit.ly/2rOm4PV) June 16-17. In late July, some vintage-golf enthusiasts will compete in the 40th Heart of America Hickory Championship at the Bright Grandview Golf Course in Des Moines, Iowa. The course is a 1902 Warren Dickinson design.
But even USGA championship newcomer Chambers Bay Golf Course – host of the 2010 U.S. Amateur and 2015 U.S. Open – can tone down the bravado for a fun strike of vintage clubs.
This municipal, links-style, walking-only course located in the Pacific Northwest corner of University Place, Wash., offers rental hickory clubs and a memorable test measuring between 4,000-5,510 yards on a course where history is just getting started.
Bright Grandview Golf Course
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
Lisa D. Mickey has covered golf for the United States Golf Association, The New York Times, Golf World, Golf for Women, Virginia Golfer magazine, LPGA.com, the Sunday Scotsman (U.K.) and the Greensboro News & Record (N.C.).