Fore! Hickory clubs turn golf into a blast from the past

Various wooden-shafted irons including a J.B. Halley mashie, Winton ‘Strong’ iron, Gibson mid iron, J. Bremner iron and a Taylor Pattern mashie. Image courtesy of Mullock’s Ltd. Specialist Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Golf equipment changes so frequently that your new clubs might be outdated before you can take them to the course. Stan Spring, however, has taken his game in a different direction, and he’s inviting local golfers to join him.

Spring is part of the Society of Hickory Golfers, and the clubs in his bag are from an entirely different generation.

Rather than steel or graphite, the shafts on his clubs are made of hickory. And the faces of some of his irons are as smooth as butter knives, lacking the customary grooves. As for the woods – well, you don’t have to explain how they got that name.

“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s completely different,” Spring said.  “It’s kind of like going back in time.”

Spring, 67, became interested in the old clubs in 2005 after watching two movies – Stroke of Genius, about Bobby Jones, one of golf’s early 20th-century greats, and  The Greatest Game Ever Played, about Francis Ouimet’s stunning upset victory in the 1913 U.S. Open. He began buying clubs from that era and learned to repair and restore them.

“I just get a charge out of knowing over 100 years ago, here was this golf club that somebody put together by hand and has a hand-forged head on it,” Spring said. “And nobody’s touched it and it looks like crap, and now it looks like it used to be and it’s playable.”

Spring has played in hickory-only tournaments around the country, but decided there was a perfect place for them in his own backyard – Baton Rouge’s City Park Golf Course, which opened in 1928. Except for a renovation that turned two par 4s into par 3s, the course remains much as it was. The course was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

City Park’s early players would have used hickory-shaft clubs. Steel-shaft clubs didn’t come into vogue until the late 1930s, and early versions were made to resemble wood for fear that golfers would object to the look of metal. They didn’t, and hickory shafts went the way of knickers.

Spring donated some of his hickory clubs to City Park and is encouraging anyone who owns them to do the same. Spring said he wants the course to have enough so that golfers who want to play the old course with old equipment can rent sets from the pro shop.

He’s been finding golfers who share his interest.

Pete Hittle, who moved to Dutchtown in 2014, began collecting antique clubs when he lived in Iowa, got them repaired and put together a set for playing.

“I’m just thrilled to find some hickory guys,” Hittle said. “I haven’t played modern clubs in at least 10 years. “

Danny Simoneaux, club pro at City Park, and his assistant, Charlie Marquette, have tested the old clubs. Even using modern golf balls – Spring also makes old-style balls from gutta percha, a tree resin that was used for decades starting in the mid-19th century – Simoneaux figures the clubs add about eight strokes to his score for 18 holes.

The shots don’t carry as far, he said, and the clubs are idiosyncratic. Spring has one wedge with a concave face that looks more suited for serving punch than hitting a golf ball.

“As far as the performance of the clubs, they’re very individual,” Simoneaux said. “You can’t get a set that have all the same shafts. You have to get to know each club. But they’re really pretty solid. There’s no forgiveness. They demand a really good swing.

“It’s super fun, because it’s completely different.”

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BY GEORGE MORRIS, The Advocate

Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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