By Phyl Newbeck
The game of golf is at least 600 years old and in that time there have been some significant changes in equipment. Club shafts have gone from wood to graphite and club heads from persimmon wood to titanium. Golf balls, gloves and shoes have also been transformed over time.
Of course, not everyone covets the newest equipment. The Vermont Hickory Golf Association (VHGA) is a group that plays with hickory shaft clubs, which were made prior to 1935 (replicas are acceptable). This is the group’s second year as an association, but they have been putting on tournaments for eight years. Tournament Director Jay Cooke said the VHGA started as a group of collectors who at one point decided it would be fun to play with their collectible clubs. Some also enjoy wearing period costumes when they golf.
Cooke said there are many reasons why people are drawn to hickory clubs, including nostalgia and history.
“For the most part, people who really love hickory love the playability,” he said. “There are different dynamics and hickory shafts are strong, durable and have a great amount of torque.”
Cooke said the stiffness of hickory shafts can also be controlled so younger and/or smaller players can use different clubs than their larger compatriots.
“Most people love the way they feel and the sound they make,” he said.
Cooke conceded that modern equipment is easier to use.
“These clubs demand more precision at first,” he said, noting that modern equipment allows players to hit the ball higher and have perimeter weighting, which reduces spin.
This is the eighth year the VHGA has run a tournament called the Vermont Hickory Open. The event has been so successful that for 2014 it has been relocated from Copley Country Club to Stowe Country Club, which has an 18-hole course. The tournament has also been moved to early October to take advantage of foliage season. A brand new team event called the Vermont Hickory Fourball was plannedfor early June at Copley. Previous tournaments have drawn players from across the United States and Cooke is hopeful that trend will continue.
This year’s VHGA events are also promoting a good cause. A portion of the funds, as well as money from other events put on by VHGA members at their local courses, will go toward a new Vermont Golf Museum and Hall of Fame. The idea is still in its infancy and will begin as an online presence before hopefully expanding to a brick and mortar location.
Kelley may be a proponent of modern equipment, but he tips his cap to the hickory golfers and their nod to tradition.
“All these improvements have been made to enhance the experience of playing golf,” he said. “The goal is to make it easier and to have more fun, no matter what equipment you use.”