While I’m not an expert in all things “hickory”, I do share a passion for a well-hit shot with an antique golf club that was probably wielded in a much more competent manner than I by perhaps several previous owners. Therein lies a bit of an intriguing mystery but I digress. I am a later-in-life adherent to any form of golf having not played the time-honoured game to any extent until my mid 30’s. I did have chances though, but in my youth felt golf was better suited to rotund old guys in loud-patterned polyester pants. I preferred to stick to my high-adrenaline sports.
An old neighbour (Archie Martin) who lived near my parents ranch in Alberta exhorted me to take up the game on several occasions with comments like …. ”A man that winna lout nor lift a mashie will ne’er be worth a groat…” (translation: Anyone who won’t swing a golf club will never be worth anything). As an aside, my father and Archie were not always on the best terms as Archie was in the habit of playing his bagpipes out in a field as the sun was setting which drove my dad’s cattle into a frenzy often causing stampedes and breaking through several sets of fences. Furthermore, Archie was filling my head with more ways to waste time and money through the pursuit of golf, a total misuse of resources in my highly pragmatic dad’s mind. Despite all this, I did venture out onto the links with Archie on a couple of occasions. Archie continued to spout off incomprehensible Scots phraseologies which I am still not sure were words of encouragement or despair, but in the end we both agreed that I was better suited for skiing and mountain climbing and besides, I was too young to share “a dram” with Archie and I think that was the tipping point for him. In my defence, before we went out, Archie asked me what hand I wrote with (left) and lent me a set of left- handed clubs but as it turns out, I am a preternatural right-handed golfer. Strike three, Arch.
Academic pursuits culminating in medical school kept me away from any notions of golfing for a very long time. I established a practice in family medicine in Cambridge, Ontario and in 1992 was presented with a set of golf clubs from a very grateful pedorthist to whom I sent a lot of referrals (hmm…just occurred to me that this is probably a “kickback”….). His comment to me at that time was “you are a doctor and all doctors play golf on Wednesday afternoons”. He and I ended up playing on Thursday afternoons (did you know that Thursday is statistically the fairest day of the week weather-wise?) and my golf trajectory was set.
The use of hickory shafted golf clubs to hit the ball was, to me, a very odd suggestion made by a former patient and member of the GHSC – Patrick Mihm. Pat wore me down after several invitations to join him and the other members of this organization and I finally agreed to give it a try. I can’t quite remember the date of this encounter (late 1999?), but I recall clearly that the event was at the Paris on the Grand Golf Course in Paris, Ontario and during the course of the game I managed to hit a few crisp, clean shots and a feeling of exhilaration nearly surpassing that of skiing a double black diamond run at Lake Louise or completing a “grade 8 climb” in the Sawtooth mountain range of the Rockies.
My main collecting interests are hickory golf clubs.
I became a devotee of hickory golf and in order to further that pursuit bought a set of clubs from Jerry Caskanette, a Cambridge GHSC member and club maker/modifier. This was a “mongrel set” of mostly Thistle irons and woods that Jerry had “implanted” with wooden dowels to “improve distance and durability” (probably not legally conforming). These served well for a year or so but then I met Paul Dietz at one of the GHSC Hickory Scrambles and Paul’s trained eye as a golf instructor and club fitter led to a superior set of swing-weighted clubs and woods.
This set remains in my possession and is played regularly by my sons and by whoever wants to borrow a set of solid equipment. As is the case with most of us, I kept an eye open for “better” clubs and Mr. Dietz sourced a fantastic set of matched Stewart irons and a custom-made set of forged irons which we believe belonged to William Lamb, former head of the CPGA and long-standing head pro at Lambton GC in Toronto in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
My Tom Stewart irons are clearly my favourite hickory clubs and are lofted at 4-degree increments (22 degree driving iron to 44 degree niblick). There is an indescribable beauty in the construction of these irons and a solid feel upon good contact the like of which I have not found in any other irons. They have a decidedly “modern” feel but do demand precision in order to maximize results. This set is completed with the addition of a Walter Hagen reproduction sand wedge (Louisville Golf) and replica woods made by Tad Moore.
I have several authentic “period” woods that I use for games that require them but prefer the resilience of the reproduced clubs. I remind people that may be a bit contemptuous of reproduction hickory golf equipment that ‘Bobby Jones did not play 100 year old golf clubs’.
I have recently dug out my very fine set of smooth-faced pre-1890’s clubs (also sourced from Paul Dietz) that I neglected for many years and use them weekly with Vaughn Perusse who is a superb “smoothie” player. I got the long-nosed woods for this set from Mike Just at one of the C.B. MacDonald tournaments at Niagara on the Lake. Mike and his brothers owned and operated Louisville Golf and it was a genuine pleasure meeting Mike and playing with him at that fine annual get-together.
GHSC events marking significant milestones at many of the finest private golf courses in Ontario have enabled me to savour these otherwise inaccessible places.
My good friends and GHSC members Lorne Emery, Peter MacPhedran and Chris Cade are building a list of memorable hickory golf rounds on some of Canada’s great courses including Cabot Links, Cabot Cliffs, The HIghlands of Cape Breton, Fox Harb’r and more to come.
I have forged great friendships and found terrific mentors in my GHSC experiences. Playing golf with living legends like Tony Matlock, Doug Marshall, Norman Moreau, Ian Clark, Ron Archer, Bill Stewart has created endless anecdotes and stories to recount over fine single malt scotch whisky.
The thrill of making good hickory golf shots has not waned in the 20 or so years that I have been associated with the GHSC. I feel rewarded by and take pride in the accomplishments of players that I have introduced to golfing with hickory clubs.
And Archie, wherever you are…Slàinte Mhath.