The Thrill Is Back! Playing Golf With Hickory Shafts

For the second year in a row, I was invited to play a round of golf by Bill Vossen. This invite was nothing out of the ordinary except our round was to be played with a set of hickory shaft clubs! The Golf Historical Society of Canada was hosting a few members at Osprey Links Golf Course to expose modern day players to a round of golf using equipment technology from the late 1800s and early 1900s. I have to say it that even though it was my second time using these amazing clubs, I found that the experience invigorated my golf game.

When I arrived at Osprey Links, I was met by the usual crew of duffers. With smiles on our faces, we caught up on the happenings with the Historical Society their amazing news about how playing golf with hickory shafts is catching on all over, especially in Ontario. Lorne, my host, mentioned that Golf Canada and the GHSC are pairing up to expand the interest in golf. I do not have any more details at this time, but more to follow.

The Golf Historical Society of Canada players at Osprey Links Golf Course.
Different Clubs For use.
Amazing how well these clubs feel.

As we head to the first tee, I was excited to start hitting these vintage clubs. My set consisted of Walter Hagen blades that responded very well to my type of swing. The longer irons were a bit easier to hit, for me, because I did not have to adjust my tempo for half hits or delicate chips. I did struggle with the higher loft irons, but that was a person problem. I found that I did have to club up by two than my modern clubs, but that had nothing to do with technology.

Walter Hagen International irons
My set of clubs for the day.

Lorne brought up a very good point about lofts. The number on the club was really a red herring because the lofts associated with, let’s say the 5 iron, the number is actually the same loft at my current 7 iron. So, the loft is actually most important when selecting an iron to hit. I guess this is true for all our clubs, but we really focus on woods and hybrids for this number vice irons. Maybe this is an area that needs more attention when buying new clubs.

Rick Hitting a 2-iron

Rick joined us this year and he started off hitting the hickory shafts very well. Once he dialed in his tempo, he seemed to be cruising along at a very manageable tempo. His favourite club to hit was the 2-iron. He was most consistent with this club and routinely hit it between 160-175 yards. This particular club equates, in loft, to his 4-iron in his new Mizuno clubs which he hits well, so I guess that just makes sense.

Rick and I found that if we did not over swing and let the hickory shafts do the work, we were successful at making consistent and solid contact. It really was all about the tempo with these older clubs. It is a lesson that we continued to learn all day.

During the round, Lorne explained the history of all the clubs and their origins. He outlined how different clubs were developed to meet the evolving nature of golf. I found his recounting of the explosion of interest in golf in the late 1800s and early 1900s impact on the supply of hickory wood (or actual shortage of wood). The supply and demand relationship of golf equipment drove the advent of metal shafts around 1925.

“The first few decades of the 1900’s saw a lot of experimentation and innovation in the club design. Around 1925 the steel shaft was introduced in the United States, although blacksmiths had experimented with them since the late 1890’s.

Not only did I have fun playing with the hickory shafts, I learned a great deal about the evolution of the game I love to play. All sports start from somewhere and golf is not different. Interestingly, golf technology has not really changed that much when I examine the foundations of club manufacturing. The lengths are about the same, the face of the clubs are similar, and the swing mechanics to use older and modern equipment is really similar. Of course there are some new innovations, but basically the equipment is the same at its core.

My two favourite clubs for this round were the driver and 4 wood. The driver was a persimmon style type club. It had a large head and face (comparatively), but the sweet spot was very small. It reminded me of the Ping Eye 2 woods I played when I first started golf. I was very comfortable with this club and hit it about 210 to 220 yards off the tee. On a side note, I knew I hit the ball well when I felt the whip of the shaft. It is difficult to describe, but the feedback from contact was more apparent than my modern Mizuno clubs. This feedback helped me control and maintain the proper swing tempo for the clubs; something I found very valuable when shooting my 79.

My favourite club of all was the “Bull Dog”. This 4 wood did not look like much, but hitting it off the fairway our out of the rough was a breeze. Lorne indicated that it was an early version of a hybrid. I would agree with his assessment because nothing seemed to inhibit its motion through the ball. I hit this club about 175 yards with a baby draw. It definitely was a stroke saver.

The “Bull Dog”
Rick, Lorne, Jim (The Grateful Golfer) and Mike. We had a fantastic time playing a fun round of golf.

I want to thank Bill and Lorne for inviting/hosting the Golf Historical Society of Canada event at Osprey Links Golf Course. I am grateful that this positive experience expanded my understanding to another facet of golf I did not realize was even out there. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go renew my Golf Historical Society of Canada membership.

I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!


12 thoughts on “The Thrill Is Back! Playing Golf With Hickory Shafts

  1. Pingback: Osprey Links Golf Course - Golf Historical Society of Canada

  2. It was a lot of fun on Saturday and you did very well especially since it was just your second time. You have a nice tempo to your swing which works great with whatever clubs you play.
    The challenge is always with the scoring clubs when playing the old equipment. The mid to long irons are really not that different to play. From the Mashies to the Niblicks, the historic game is different. The big difference is learning to use the ground game better which comes with practice. The reason why hickory golf is growing around the world is that many golfers are rediscovering the creativity in shot making. The player of the 1920’s chose each club for its specific purpose and their sets tended to evolve.
    I have been playing with hickory clubs for four years and now play them 70% of the time. As you know, I have acquired a large inventory of playable clubs and play all of them. I have broken 80 with five different sets of hickory clubs and two different sets of “classic steel” clubs. All of these sets are blades that conventional thinking says that a 67 year old 10 handicap player with a slower swing speed should not be using. Some of the sets have 4 degree gaps, others 5. With hickory, I prefer 5 degree gapping and have learned to control trajectory and use different clubs to hit the various types of shots.
    Playing hickory golf has restored my love of the game as well as an appreciation of the history and growth of the game. It has challenged me and I have learned a lot.
    There was a comment about the balls to use. The early wound balls were low compression and so most players prefer Calloway Supersofts or equivalent. There is no advantage to using a urethane covered ball in my opinion. Never hit range balls with these clubs because they are too hard and could damage a shaft especially with high swing speed players.
    Jim, the next time you play I suggest using a mixed set. It will challenge you and get you to think more like a hickory golfer instead of playing modern golf with hickory clubs. It will make you more creative which will benefit your modern game. You will rely on feel and develop new strategies to score.
    It was great to play with Rick as well. Next time I will give him a different set with stiffer shafts and heavier swing weight.
    Again, thanks for playing. It was my pleasure.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Thrill is Back! (by Jim Burton) - Golf Historical Society of Canada

  4. You need to pick up a pair of knickers for the round next year! I am sure this is already part of your wardrobe for late nights on the town. Great article and even better to see the members of the historical society enjoying a round with the hickory sticks.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. With our newer clubs loft surely needs to be considered. Some, mostly blades, will have traditional lofts more or less but others will have much stronger lofts. And that can through off the gapping between your irons and wedges. Our scoring clubs need more attention than we generally give them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kevin,

      You are right about that. It is a challenge to discern all the details needed when selecting the right club for our game. We sometimes get into information overload and become decision paralyzed. Definitely more time is needed when selecting the right clubs.

      Cheers Jim


    • Brian,

      Great question. I used a Wilson 50 for the first 7 holes. It is a 50 compression golf ball. Then I used a Pro V1 for the next 12. I found that both balls worked about the same when hitting from a distance, but the Pro V1 was better within 100 yards. It was a softer ball and the clubs grooves could do their work better. Lorne even mentioned that a softer ball was a better choice for the hickory clubs, not just because of the shafts, but the face of the irons.

      Cheers Jim

      Liked by 1 person

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