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Jacob Orcutt

Co-Founder of Connecticut Hickory Golf and President of the Connecticut Hickory Golf Association

How did you discover hickory golf?

I picked up hickory golf back in 2013, which was the first year of my graduate program studying history. I began playing golf in middle school, played competitively in high school, and worked at my local golf course through the end of college. During college I picked up a set of persimmon-era clubs with the idea that they would help me improve my ball striking with my modern clubs. While I didn't see a whole lot of improvement in my game, I had a lot of fun playing familiar courses with old equipment, and the persimmons and blades reminded me of my grandfather's clubs that I first learned to play with, so I continued to break them out occasionally. During my searches for old clubs I stumbled across a sales listing for hickory clubs and the description said they were playable. I couldn't believe people actually played with wood-shafted clubs, but after a few hours of research I decided I needed to try it. I bought the cheapest set of clubs I could find and I've been hooked ever since.

How often do you play hickories?

With two (amazing) children under the age of four I don't play as often as I once did, but whenever I play I exclusively play hickories. Transitioning back and forth between hickories and modern clubs has never suited my game, so my modern clubs are enjoying a long rest from use.

What’s in your current play set?

Like most hickory golfers it's a constant evolution! But at the moment my set consists of the following:

  1. Alex Smith Special Driver - 43.5", 11* loft

  2. Alex Smith Special Brassie - 42.5", 19* loft

  3. Alex Smith Spoon - 41.5", 21* loft

  4. W.C. Gordon Cleek (Driving Iron) - 40", 16* loft

  5. Gibson H. Logan Genii Model Medium Iron - 39.5", 26* loft

  6. Spalding Gold Medal Gene Reilly Special Mashie - 37.5", 32* loft

  7. Burke Grand Prize Mashie Niblick - 37", 44* loft

  8. Spalding Niblick - 36.5", 47* loft

  9. Spalding Aluminum Mallet Putter - 34.5"

My goal is to build an entire Connecticut-themed set; I'm more than half way there. Alex Smith was the golf professional at Shennecossett in Groton, William C. Gordon was the professional at Hartford Golf Club, and Gene Reilly was the Waterbury Country Club professional.

Favorite club?

It changes every round! But I think I fairly consistently like my Burke mashie niblick -- it's nothing fancy but I always seem to hit it pretty well.

What ball do you play?

Pretty much anything, though I prefer Pro-V1s (refurbished or found on the course) when I have them. I usually keep a few vintage balata golf balls in the bag too.

Any particular player or aspect of golf history you especially enjoy?

I've become very interested in golf architecture recently. This website began as a personal project to find the oldest golf courses in Connecticut. I ended up getting very lucky, as Connecticut conducted an aerial survey of the state in 1934, which is generally considered the end of the hickory golf era. I was able to check every existing golf course in the state against that aerial survey to find which golf courses that exist today were also extant during the hickory era. My research into these courses and the people who designed them have sparked an interest in how golf in America took off in the 1890s to become one of the leading leisure activities of the 20th century.

Best thing about hickory golf?

For me I think it's the perfect combination of personal interests -- golfing, history, and antiquing. I love that hickory clubs are so affordable (lately I've been spending $5-10 per club, not including supplies for restoration) and I love playing courses the way they were originally designed to play. It's a great talking point when I get paired up with other players, and it's nice to be able to walk the course with just a few clubs and a light bag. It has really renewed my love for the game.

Ideas to promote hickory golf?

Like Christian has said, I think making golf accessible and affordable is key. Golf is perceived to be expensive and antiques are usually expensive, so I think a lot of people view hickory golf as something of an eccentric hobby for people with lots of money -- but that's really not the case. For the cost of a new driver you can buy a full set of restored hickory clubs and a carry bag. We have some great historic courses in Connecticut where you can play 9 holes for under $15, and with the lighter equipment you won't need to pay for a cart!

I'm also a strong supporter of persimmon and classic golf. Anything that evokes a sense of nostalgia and fun should be encouraged in golf, and I can attest from personal experience that persimmons and vintage blade irons can be a bridge to hickory golf. My hope is that hickory golfers and the growing persimmon golf community can come together to celebrate the history of the game and have fun playing clubs that don't cost an arm and a leg.

Christian Williams

"The Hickory Hacker"

Co-Founder of Connecticut Hickory Golf and President Emeritus of the Connecticut Hickory Golf Association

How did you discover hickory golf?

I first became aware of hickory golf through a short film by Erik Anders Lang from his “Adventures in Golf” series on YouTube. At that time, I’d been playing modern golf for about 20 years and just wasn’t enjoying the game as much as I did when I first started playing. I was putting too much pressure on myself and my enjoyment of the game became contingent upon how well I scored. Golf became unnecessarily stressful for me as a result. The folks playing hickory golf in Erik’s film just looked like they were having more fun. It was refreshing to discover a way to play golf that emphasized the history and leisure of the game. Watching that film opened my eyes to a totally different perspective that rekindled my love for golf. I started searching for clubs in antique stores and have since spent countless hours reading as much as I can find about the clubs, clubmakers, and how to repair them for play again. A lot of the fun for me is the trial and error involved with searching for the right clubs for my constantly evolving play set. I’ve built up a substantial collection of clubs at this point, but that just means I have more options not only for myself but for new players I meet who need help building their own play sets.

How often do you play hickories?

I’ve been playing hickories pretty much exclusively since August 2019. Occasionally, I’ll play with one of my vintage steel-shafted sets, but I almost always think to myself during one of those rounds that I’d be having more fun if I’d played the hickories.

What’s in your current play set?

(loft in degrees followed by swingweight and shaft length)

  1. WH Special Spliced Neck Driving Brassie by Louisville Golf, 13 degrees, D3, 44 inches

  2. Jack White Fancy Face Spoon by Louisville Golf, 21 degrees, D0, 42 inches

  3. Tom Stewart midiron, 25 degrees, D2, 38-1/2 inches

  4. Wm. Gibson deep face mashie, 31 degrees, D2, 38-3/4 inches

  5. MacGregor OA mashie, 36 degrees, E3, 37-3/4

  6. Tom Stewart mashie niblick, 42 degrees, D8, 37 inches

  7. Wm. Gibson flanged niblick with Maxwell hosel, 42 degrees, E0, 36 inches

  8. Tom Stewart RTJ putter, 34 inches

All grips are suede treated with Tiger Stick with one wrap of underlisting.

Favorite club?

The Stewart RTJ putter. Aside from being my most valuable club, it’s also my most reliable. It has nice weight to it and works better for me than any modern putter I’ve played. It was one of six clubs I rescued from an attic in Omaha, NE – my best field find yet.

What ball do you play?

In warmer weather, my go-to is the Titlest TruFeel. I hit it well off the tee and it feels just right to me around the green. In cooler weather, I like the Wilson Duo Soft. The low compression helps it fly well on cooler days and the feel around the green is outstanding. I also have a variety of McIntyre hickory-era replica balls, but I reserve those for hickory tournaments and more formal events.

Any particular player or aspect of golf history you especially enjoy?

When I first got interested in hickory golf, I was fortunate to find How to Play Golf by Harry Vardon in an antique store outside of Kansas City. Aside from being an instruction manual for playing with hickory clubs that’s still extremely useful today, the book is a delight to read because of Vardon’s personality. Speaking of personality, Walter Hagen has become another inspiration for me with the old game.

Best thing about hickory golf?

Aside from the history, there’s an endless amount of tinkering you can do with these clubs to dial them in just right; I love that they’ve helped me discover how much I enjoy working with my hands. I get so much satisfaction from finding a club in a dusty attic or forgotten corner in an antique store, learning how to repair it, and then playing with it. I must have been a clubmaker in a previous life.

Ideas to promote hickory golf?

The best one I have is enhancing accessibility. Like any hobby, collecting and playing with hickory clubs and attending events at private courses can get expensive fast. For that reason, I build inexpensive beginner sets and try to organize events at public courses that any player can afford. I consider myself an ambassador for the old game whenever I play and welcome the conversation that my full hickory regalia sparks when I walk up to a group of strangers on the first tee at my local muni. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many younger golfers approach me with a genuine interest in learning more about the history of the game and how to play with the old clubs. That bodes well for the future of hickory golf and the game as a whole. Those of us in the hobby need to make sure that interest doesn’t get squashed by exclusivity.

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