The clock turned backwards to 1925 when devotees of hickory golf competed in April in the "Tad Moore Hickory 4-Ball" at Selma [Alabama] Country Club. I partnered with all-time friend Dan MacLellan- a fervent hickory golf disciple. His enthusiasm was sufficiently contagious that I was inspired to accompany him and his lovely wife Simone to
Selma. Dan claims that "there are only two stages of golf: pre-hickory and post-hickory!" Similar hickory ephipanies were related by the other competitors in last week's event.
Above: Dan MacLellan and Bill Case; below: Simone and Dan MacLellan;
Right: license plate shows evidence of
All of them are members of the Society of Hickory Golfers, http://www.hickorygolfers.com/ . They came from distant points in the south and midwest to play in this tournament. They donned knickers, white shirts, ties, and snap-brim hats evoking golf fashions of an earlier time. They played with
right: players warm their ancient putters up on Selma C.C.'s practice green
hickory shafted relics painstaking-ly collected over the years or with replica clubs matching the original designs. Many of the replica clubs were hand-crafted by two of the competitors in the event: Mike Just of the Louisville Golf Company
( http://www.louisvillegolf.com/ ) and tournament organizer Tad Moore (http://www.tadmoore.com/ ). If you are serious about your golf, you know that Tad has designed and manufactured fine golf clubs for over 30 years. A sentimental sort who cherishes traditional golf, Tad loves to play with hickory clubs , and enjoys networking with others who share his passion. Tad also markets the "Tom Morris" label of replica clubs. A native of Toledo, Moore recently moved to Selma. Tad and wife Carol spared no effort in making sure all in attendance had a memorable time.
Tad and Carol Moore; far below Tad greets the competitors at Selma C.C.
At about 6100 yards, Selma Country Club is ideal for hickory golf. There are several memorable holes including a fitful 127 yarder where the prudent play is to lay up short of the postage stamp green. The bermuda greens required special study, and we learned quickly that leaving iron shots to the sides of the narrow greens left little hope for successful recoveries. It was no surprise to us that seven different Selma members had won ten Alabama Amateur championships. The shotmaking and strategy called for by the tight layout would be the perfect primer for a competitive player. As I was concluding my practice round with Dan and Simone, I noticed that the "whipping" on my woods was coming unwound. Selma's genial professional, Tommy Burns adroitly and in short order made the necessary repairs. When I asked Tommy what I owed him, he just laughed, remarking, "I wouldn't know what to charge you. I haven't changed out the whipping on a club for thirty years!" Tommy proved to be an interesting guy. Tommy became the head pro after his father retired from the position. His father took the job in 1955. I doubt there is another club in the country where the head pro position has been continuously occupied by members of the same family for 55 years. Tommy also played on the University of Alabama golf team with Jerry Pate in the early 70's.
After Dan, Simone, and I played our practice round on Thursday, Tad and Carol feted the players at Sturdivant House, an eye-popping neo-classical "Old South" home in the midst of the Old Town area of Selma. While downing the first of several scotch and sodas, I chatted with Roger Hill who is deeply enmeshed in the activities of the society. Roger informed me that like the PGA tour, the society has endured internal controversy regarding technology. Some players take the doctrinaire view that only authentic relic clubs should be allowed in the society's competitions. Ultimately it was decided that such rigidity would be counter-productive to the goal of encouraging new players to join the hickory ranks, and replica clubs were allowed in competitive play, provided that the remake matches a design used in the wood-shaft era. This outcome was dictated by increasing scarcity of supply caused by inevitable breakage (I have already snapped two irons) and collector hoarding. A few die-hards resigned in protest, but the decision was generally accepted by the members. After this enlightening discussion with Roger, I eavesdropped on discussions in which the participants argued the relative merits of Jack White drivers, George Nicol putters, and whether it is better to carry a "baffy" or "bulldog" (both are forerunners of what are now called "hybrids").
Dan and I were paired in Friday's first round with clubmaker Mike Just and his young marketing director Josh Fischer. We got off to an abysmal start: twin triple bogeys on our first hole! I double-hit a putt. Dan later missed a 1 footer. We were lucky to shoot net 71 best ball, far in arrears of the scintillating 60 shot by Dan's wife Simone and her partner Barb Kopec, the only women in the event. Understand that this is one of those events that is 75% social and 25% competition, but it is always more enjoyable to play well! Fischer exhibited solid shotmaking while Just displayed a tidy shortgame. Both had college golf experience at Belvedere College in Louisville.
Bill Case, Dan MacLellan, Josh Fischer, Mike
We were treated to another convivial evening of entertainment by the Moores on Friday at yet another beautiful ante-bellum building, the Smitherman Historic Building which contained an exhibit of civil war firearms and documents. I assumed initially that most of the hickory devotees played country club golf. After talking with several of the players, I discovered to my surprise that several were public course players. A husband and wife played their golf at the local military base where the husband was employed. I also learned that hickory golf has really caught on in both the UK and in Sweden with both countries sporting a bevy of tournaments. Former Ryder Cup player Pierre Fulke is among those that compete. It was suggested that those countries have taken to hickory play because wooden "play clubs" are more readily available at reasonable prices in Europe. Few clubs in the U.S. have been successful in getting large numbers of players in the game. An exception is Chagrin Valley Country Club in Cleveland where my friend Dan and his fellow hickory advocate Frank Boumphrey had been successful in instituting a "Hickory Day" every Thursday in the summer. Unfortunately, after Dan and Frank left Chagrin, hickory play fell off. At Friday's cocktail party, Dan entertained all with a side-splitting impression of Frank who has been ailing and did not make the tournament. Frank is a magnetic character with an outsized personality who tells wildly entertaining stories, many involving tales from his own most colorful life, with appropriate embellishments. I also met Selma native Otey Chrisman, also a noted club designer. With the golf business down at present, Otey is currently employed as a roofing contractor. He (as do Dan and Roger Hill) plays guitar, and Otey has also done some preaching. Otey is also a songwriter, and he confided that his compositions just kind of "show up," in his mind as he passes time driving down the highway. We found him to be one of those rare individuals who has never met a stranger.
The ever-affable Otey Chrisman
Saturday dawned wet. Thunderstorms doused the course for hours. But it wasn't so bad spending the rain delay with the likes of Roger Hill and Josh Fischer and fellow kindred spirit golfers. When the rain finally let up around 1 PM, the sandy-soiled course quickly drained and we were able to play 9 holes. We played an improvised sixsome with competing teams Roger Hill-Tad Moore and Simone MacLellan-Barb Kopec. Finally Dan and I managed to make something happen, making some putts and other decent shots and carding a net 32 on the final 9. Tad, wielding a wooden headed center shafted mallet putted like a fiend, holing three lengthy putts in 9 holes. But the real revelation was the Simone-Barb team. Simone with her long, lyrical super-smooth swing perfectly suited to swinging hickory clubs, hit all her shots solidly. Barb has the powerful wristy swing that you see in old films of the likes of Vardon and James Braid. The female team emerged the low net winners by one with a score of 92.
Immediately above: Tad presents low net trophy to Barb Kopec and Simone MacLellan ; further above: the winning net team of Simone and Barb in their 1920's finery
The diminuitive scratch player Roger Andrews and his partner Tom Johnson finished low gross with 109 for 27 holes beating Ted Kopec (Barb's husband) and Jay Harris by one shot. The event culminated with a sumptuous catfish-fried chicken awards dinner at Selma Country Club.
Hickory golf provides an opportunity to experience the bygone days of the game. You should be able to play within three or four shots of your regular handicap. I recommend you try it. Visit the society's website for a complete list of events and tips on how to get started.
Above: Tad Moore with low gross champions
Roger Andrews and Tom Johnson