Old School

To improve your play and connect with the heart of the game, try hickory
July 11, 2010

I'll admit it: I'm one of those guys who plays golf with 80-year-old, hickory-shafted clubs, and I do it in knickers with a wee dram o' whisky. So this story is an appeal to those who love golf but have never attempted to swing a hickory stick, and an ode to all my knickers-laden, lumber-toting, atavistic brethren—the gentlemen and ladies who know what it's like to hear the crack of a good shot jettisoning off a wooden clubhead.

Since my conversion, I've come to prefer a course with berms and heather and gorse. Something stewarded by a Dunn, not molested by a Dye, where a knock-down mashie hit into the teeth of a two-club wind can run up the throat of a links-style green.

In my bag, I long for a hand-hammered club born from the clanging Scottish hearths of a Stewart or Nicoll. Something that fills my nostrils with the heady whiff of leather, wood and pine tar; something that sprang from this earth, and that left to its own devices will return. Give me something I must tend, something trying to rot or rust or unravel. These clubs are quirky and cool and all too responsive to my actions—especially my imperfections. But I revel in the feedback I get from the clubs I play, rather than asking them to atone for the sins of my swing.

Just one round of hickory golf eight years ago got me hooked. Ever since, I've been collecting and refining a playing set of clubs. I've even helped organize state and national hickory tournaments. Through it all, I've improved my golf and developed an even greater passion for the history and craft of the game I love.

So I ask that you do this: Give it a try. Hickory players like myself will bend over backward to loan you a set of clubs or to help you find that missing mashie if you're looking to build your own. Go ahead, hold a hickory club in your hand. Look down the shaft. Swing it. Sniff it. And maybe, just maybe, it will speak to you too, inviting you into a greater love of a truly royal and ancient game.

Matt Dodds is a board member of the Society of Hickory Golfers and serves on the tournament committee of the U.S. Hickory Open, which takes place July 12--14 at Mimosa Hills Golf and Country Club in Morganton, N.C.

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PHOTODAVE PACZAK/PRESS-REPUBLICAN/AP (HICKORY GOLFER)STICK FIGURES The instant feedback from a hickory shaft tells you a lot about your swing. PHOTOCARLOS M. SAAVEDRA (ROSE)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)