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Golf is a much different—and in some ways better—game with hickory shafts GDISCOVERING I


sn’t there a part of you that wishes we still called our golf clubs mashies and brassies and niblicks


and spoons and jiggers? Every summer I get the chance to


play a throwback round of golf with hickory-shafted clubs during the annual Hickory Sticks Invitational at Peter Hay in Pebble Beach. (Full dis- closure: it’s a first-rate fundraiser put together by my mom to benefit the Pebble Beach Foundation. Hi mom!) We are outfitted with a set of


Hickory Sticks circa 1920—the USGA first approved steel shafts in 1924—and we play with reproduced bramble gutta percha or mesh pat- terned golf balls. Most of us even dig up plus fours and argyle, or find our finest Roaring 20s getups. It’s easy to forget that a golf staple as simple as the wooden tee didn’t become popular until the mid-1920s. So we begin each hole by reaching into a “tee box” to grab a handful of wet sand and shape it into a tee—just like the Old Tom Morris days. And then we swing our shovel-


like niblicks and putt with blades that could double as butter knives. Harry Vardon and Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones are nowhere to be found. We are naked without our 100 years of technology. Turns out those guys really were pretty good. Have you ever looked at those very


first U.S. Opens and checked out the scores that won? Horace Rawlins shot 91-82 to capture the 1895 U.S. Open. Willie Anderson won the first of his four U.S. Opens in 1901 by shooting 84-83-83-81. Golf was hard back then. The first thing that struck me is you can’t spin the ball. Maybe your tee shots will bite, thanks to those mini-sandcastle lies. But if you short-side yourself? Forget it. Aim for the fat of the green and prepare for a 30-foot par putt. A


18 / NCGA.ORG / SPRING 2016


flop with a 50-degree niblick requires more courage than I can muster, and bunkers are doubt-inducing hazards. I would love to play a golden age course with Hickory Sticks to fully grasp the challenge and the strategy of golf from that era. A brassie off a sand pile might roll out to 220 yards. A 25-degree mid-iron might go 175 yards, a 35-degree mashie could fly 150 yards, and a niblick was good for 100 yards and in. And you didn’t need many more


clubs than that for a game that was governed primarily by feel. “There are many golfers who feel


that they must have at least a dozen or 14 clubs,” Vardon once wrote in his book, The Gist of Golf. “Seven or


OLF’S ROOTS


eight ought to be ample—the driv- er, brassie, cleek, iron, mashie, niblick, and putter, perhaps, a jigger added to the equipment to give a sense of security.” And best of all, despite the added


challenge, golf was actually much quicker to play. “Golf courses are becoming far too


long,” lamented legendary architect Alister MacKenzie in 1934. “Twenty years ago, we played three rounds of golf a day, and considered we had taken an interminably long time if we took more than two hours to play a round. Today it not infrequently takes over three hours.” At least I can travel back in time


once a year for my Hickory Sticks fix. –Kevin Merfeld


To learn more about the 2016 Hickory Sticks Invitational on July 16, call (831) 649-7651.


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