Having been smitten by hickory golf (golf with wood golf shafts), I have been invited to post about some of my experiences with the game from the Golden Era of Golf, or the pre-1930 game as we hickory players refer to our habit. I bought some hickories to experience Grover Cleveland as John J McDermott experienced it almost 100 years ago. Or, as Walter Hagen experienced it in a practice round, although he never played in the 1912 US Open proper. And, I have really fallen hard for hickory golf, which is a great game for a short course. 10 or 11 clubs gets the job done (7 for the Vermont Hickory Open), and most players carry. A few here are pushing push carts because of the hills, but mostly it’s a walking game, which I have to say is about the best exercise that I get these days. And, a very good one at that.
This weekend is the last of the Big 4 hickory events. I played in number one, the Southern Invitational, hosted by Tad Moore in Birmingham AL in April. Number two was the US Hickory Open, played in French Lick, Indiana, on the Donald Ross course there, and won by a hickster from Australia. Not too sure about number three.
But this weekend brings out the committed hickory players (about 90 contestants by my count) to the Donald Ross courses at Mid Pines and Pine Needles. The tournament proper is a two-day affair at Mid PInes, played at about 6100 yards on a Ross course unchanged from its earliest days. Short and sporty, it plays really well for hickory golf. Today we played an alternate shot tournament at Pine Needles, a preliminary event.
I must say, PIne Needles has never looked better. Redone for a ladies event, the addition of fescue makes Pine Needles look like something out of the English heathlands, or perhaps the Scottish Highlands, or Glen Eagles – that’s it! Up and down, and all around, one rarely sees another hole, and finally you arrive back where you began, a bit the wiser.
Oh, by the way, the greens are very slick and very good at Pine Needles. Which, of course, makes them perfect for an alternate shot event, where you never have to say you’re sorry, but you almost certainly will. There may be nothing more embarrassing in golf than blowing a 5 footer 5 feet by, and then standing helplessly as your partner does the same thing to you – which is all part of alternate shot, and perhaps part of the charm of the format. For, when things go right, and you get a chance to ride a little momentum, the game goes along nicely and very quickly. But, when the wheels come off, things can get really nasty in a hurry, especially on a course that is strategically bunkered, with false fronts and deep side swales, and slick greens.
But I lucked out with a partner with big, strong shoulders and a long (for hickory) tee ball, and had a chance to experience some second shots that I would never experience on my own. And, I only had to hit out of the pines once! Thank heavens for Ted’s strong shoulders, because at 6300 yards, misty and air and 50 degree temperatures, Pine Needles was a man-sized course for hickory play, and certainly too long for my abilities.
Oh, and by the way, Peggy Kirk Bell, a legend in ladies’ golf, owner of Pine Needles, and soon to celebrate her 90th birthday, was having lunch in the dining room, looking none the worse for wear as the last time I was able to shake her hand and tell her that I had a marvelous time on her course. That must have been almost 20 years ago. She shared a little tip on her grip and how her two hands fit together, something Ben Hogan showed her a long time ago. OK, so I’m an admitted name-dropper! If you read books about Walter J Travis, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, and even Old Tom Morris, as I do, then you can’t help being impressed by the pictures of Peggy, Babe Zaharias, and others of their era, or the pictures of Julius Boros who was the pro at Mid Pines across the street.
Met up with a group of guys from Toronto who had played Mid Pines this morning and were over at Pine Needles for an afternoon round. Something about how the Maple Leafs are having a pretty nice start, and what’s wrong with the Sabres. Well, guess that’s another story. But, part of the point is that with two Donald Ross gems across the street from one another, and that No. 2 place down the road, this remains a great place for a little golf. My nice walk was only spoiled by the 43 shots that I had to hit this morning, thank you very much!