About Hickory Golf

What is hickory golf?

From the Michigan Hickory Tour:

"Hickory golf is golf played with antique wooden-shafted clubs or reproduction wooden shaft clubs. Club heads must date from 1935 or earlier. Golf is played on regulation courses at appropriate distances for hickory clubs. Rules are constructed to include a number of clubs from the period that were subsequently made illegal and there is no limit on the number of clubs that can be used. Balls are modern balls, also modern reproductions of vintage balls."

Why do people play hickory golf?

The reasons are, of course, a unique as the people who play with hickory golf clubs, but for most hickory golfers the answer is a variation of "playing the game the was it used to be be played." Hickory golf clubs can help a golfer reconnect with the spirit of the game. It represents an opportunity to break away from the pressure to buy the latest and greatest golf equipment, and provides an excellent excuse for a bad round. It allows people to combine other hobbies (antiquing, wood working, etc.) with the game of golf. And most importantly, it makes the game fun!

How do I identify hickory golf clubs?

The first thing to look at is the shaft -- hickory shafts tend to be thicker than steel or modern graphite shafts, and you can often feel the grain of the wood. At different points in golf's history it has been trendy to imitate hickory golf clubs. You'll find 1980s and 90s clubs that are hickory with steel cores, or steel-shafted clubs coated in pyratone in a wood-grain pattern. Often a close examination of the hosel can provide a clue as to whether a club is truly wood-shafted, as many (though not all) wood shafts taper out to be a bit thicker where the shaft meets the hosel. Plastic ferrules are usually a giveaway that a golf club is metal-shafted. If you're shopping for hickory clubs but aren't sure what you're looking for, take a magnet with you to test the shaft. Your best bet is to look at lots of hickory golf clubs on reputable sites -- you'll be surprised at how quickly you learn to spot faux-wood clubs!

How do I get started?

To get started you'll need a basic play set. This consists of at least four clubs for most players:

  • Brassie -- similar to a modern fairway wood

  • Mashie -- roughly comparable to a six iron

  • Niblick -- a lofted club similar to a wedge

  • Putter

There are dozens (if not more) types of hickory golf club (long irons, driving irons, spoons, drivers, mashie-niblicks, etc.) that you can add to your arsenal over time, but these four will get you started. There is no club limit, so you can carry as many clubs as you like, but most hickory golfers revel in the simplicity of the hickory game -- 6-10 clubs is fairly typical. As for golf balls, any "soft" or low compression modern ball (such as the Wilson 50s or Titleist ProV1 (not ProV1X) will do just fine, although you can buy replica antique golf balls as well. To learn more about the different types of clubs, click here.

Where do you find hickory clubs?

Most people who are new to hickory golf will get their first sets passed down from family members or from antique shops. The best place to get new (old) clubs is to buy from other hickory golfers at swap meets. The Society of Hickory Golfers has a list of tournaments, many of which are accompanied by marketplaces where golfers will sell and trade equipment. You can also find online vendors who specialize in selling hickory clubs. If you are looking for a cheap and quick way into hickory golf, bargains can be found on Ebay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace. These clubs will usually require considerable restoration to be ready for play, and some may not be suitable for play at all (damaged shafts, unwieldy swingweights, etc.). You can find good deals this way, but you may end up spending money on unplayable clubs.

Another option is to buy new replica hickory clubs. Louisville Golf and Tad Moore Golf make modern replicas of hickory-era golf clubs that are legal for hickory golf tournament play. This is the quickest way to get a consistent and high quality playset if you're not comfortable doing the research or restoration on antique hickories. The downside for this convenience is a premium cost.

Where can I learn more?

Hickory play groups are one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the hickory game. Here in New England we have the Vermont Hickory Golf Association and New Hampshire Hickory Golf Association. For national and international resources, we recommend the following: