Golf Vacation Travel

The Best Places to Experience “Golf as it Used to Be”

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hickory golf

Looking to try something new on your next golf vacation? Some say playing hickory golf is a wonderfully rewarding experience.

Did you see the PGA Tour pros who recently dressed in period garb and played with hickory-shafted clubs?

If so, I’m guessing you had one of two reactions:

1. That looked ridiculous.

Or,

2. That looks like fun.

If your reaction was the latter, you’re in luck.

There is a hickory golf revolution of sorts going on.

There dozens of hickory golf enthusiast societies around the world.

There are companies that sell and rent hickory golf clubs.

There’s full schedule of hickory golf tournaments anyone can enter.

And — the point of today’s tip — not only are there a bunch of hickory golf courses, at least three of them are located at top golf destinations you may already be planning on visiting.

For instance, only four miles from The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., is Oakhurst Golf Links (oakhurstlinks.com), the oldest course in America. This 1880s layout annually hosts the National Hickory Championship.

Heading to Bandon Dunes? Drive 10 miles south of the resort and you’ll find Old Bandon Golf Links (oldbandongolflinks.com), a nine-holer dating from 1927 that rents hickory-shafted clubs and replica gutta percha balls. If Bandon Dunes is, “Golf As It Was Meant to Be,” Old Bandon is, “Golf As It Used to Be.”

This next one is a bit of an outlier, but on Michigan’s Mackinac Island you’ll find Wawashkamo Golf Club (wawashkamo.com). Dating from 1898, it’s the oldest, continuously played golf course in the state. It also rents hickories.

You can even get your hickory on at The Home of Golf. Kingarrock Golf Course (kingarrock.com) is 12 miles inland from St. Andrews. Open seven days a week from Easter through October, “all players will be provided with original hickory clubs, an old golf bag, together with balls and tees that represent the early 20th century golfing experience.”

Now, could you theoretically bust out a mashie and cleek on any course you play? Sure, but at least at the ones above you won’t get funny looks.

(Speaking of funny looks, I now understand why that, “Golf Knickers” ad is in the back of every issue of Golf Digest.)

Some people say “playing hickory” is the most enjoyable golf experience they’ve had; that the “step back in time” promotes a deeper connection to the game.

What do you think? Have you ever played hickory golf or have any interest in trying it?

Please share your comments or see what others are saying below.

23 Comments

  1. Gerry Stratford

    May 8, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Indeed, playing with the wooden shafted clubs gives one a new perspective on “feel” and “timing”. There is little in the way of “forgiveness” for miss-hits, although misses do not go as far so balls are usually found to be hit again. Those interested in Hickories should check out the Society of Hickory Golfers.

  2. Tom Bedell

    May 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Don’t forget Musselburgh Links in East Lothian, the course that some say predates the Old Course at St. Andrews! I had the pleasure of playing at Oakhurst and recommend it highly. If you can’t have fun playing golf at Oakhurst, you can’t have fun playing golf.

  3. Mark Zamudio

    May 8, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    If you love golf, you love tradition.
    I’m 54 and I’ve played golf mostly in California since I was in high school. With all that time and practice, I’m a little embarrassed to say my handicap ranges between 9 -11 and it’s NOT for lack of effort. In 2001 I had the chance to travel to Scotland and play many of the courses within that incredible country, the best of which is St. Andrews; and from that trip I took away an even deeper appreciation for the game and history of the sport. One aspect I still marvel about were the conditions under which the game was played many years ago – the rough terrain, the horrendous weather, the inferior equipment (clubs and balls) and yet they had superstars that were able to play the sport as well as some of our modern day pros. I was intrigued when I grabbed the Long Spoon, the Niblick, the Cleek and the Rut Iron within one of the golf shops and imagined playing with these “tools of the trade” – talk about holding lumber in your hand. I have yet to play with those clubs but I’m game for the experience – it will add even greater depth of understanding what our early golf pioneers encountered and it may even help me understand some of the inherent flaws of my swing.

    On a personal note, I’m traveling to Miami with a golfing friend (he’s a 6 handicap – errr!) the end of May beginning of June, ’12 and we are looking for a member sponsor that belongs to Seminole G. C. in Juno, Calusa Pine in Naples or Trump International in W. Palm Beach. We are very happy to pay our way and to compensate the magnanimous person for their time and effort. We also have many connections to the finest golf here in N. California if that is of interest as well.

    Thanks for reading!
    Mark

  4. David Ivey

    May 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I have often thought how much fun it would be to play with the old Hickory Shafted clubs. Your article has spurred me on to get a set and play with them periodically.
    I also thought I would try to get a few of the members at our club to get them also.
    Thanks for piqueing my interest again.

    David

  5. mike henderson

    May 8, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    There are close to 250 members with monthly events and tournaments almost every weekend somewhere. I quit playing with “contemporary crap” 10 years ago. Metal woods with heads the size of a toaster, anchor your 56” putter to your body and hit your 7 iron 235yds to a water-logged green. Sorry, but that is not golf. Come join us (Carolina Hickory Golfers Association) and see how the TRUE game of golf was meant to be played. FUN, FUN, and more FUN.

  6. Lloyd K

    May 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    My dad had a set of hickorys that he let me use as a kid. All I remember is that I wanted to use the “real” clubs that he was, not understanding the opportunity he was giving me then. Since he passed 12 years ago what’s left of that set have a prominant place in my home. I’ve never used them out of respect for my old man as well as fear that I might damage them. Maybe one day…
    On another subject, referring to the Costa Rica golf blog from a couple months ago…I just returned from the Guanacaste region and played at Hacienda Pannilla in Santa Cruz. Course was in great condition for the end of the dry season, we got 1/2 price (at full $185 still a good deal) due to green aeration, yet only had 3 greens with any work done at all and the rest were fast and fun. The oceanside holes were amazing. The course was full of wildlife-birds, monkeys, snakes and iguanas the size of Beagles-and no golfers. With only 6 other players out there was no waiting and no rush. If you’re in the northwest region and not staying at one of the members/resident/guest only resorts, or if you are and want to go outside to play, I highly recomend it.

  7. Randy

    May 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Banff Springs also offers hickory rentals and old timey golf balls-we played the Stanley Thompson 18 with our modern golf clubs and then played the Bill Robinson 9 with hickory clubs. It was a lot of fun and a beautiful setting,highly recommended if you have the time.

  8. Tad Moore

    May 8, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    I manufacture reproduction hickory golf clubs. I was the first and I think I am the largest in the world now. Take a look at my clubs and look at the Society of Hickory Golfers web site (hickorygolfers.com) for what is going on in hickory golf. If you get a chance to play hickory golf i strongly urge you to give it a try. Tad Moore

  9. Christopher DeBlois

    May 8, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    I have played with hickories and enjoyed the experience, though I find plenty of challenge and enjoyment with my “moderns” so haven’t quite caught the hickory bug. But I have a dear old friend, Matt Dodds, who is very active in the Society of Hickory Golfers, once won the net division of the national hickory open, and now plays with and collects exclusively hickory clubs. We played a number of rounds in the Highlands of Scotland last summer where many of the caddies, old timers, and golf enthusiasts were thrilled to see his fancy equipment and devotion to the game’s origins. While my handicap is lower than Matt’s, I don’t always beat him and to show that there’s more than just novelty involved in the hickory game he dropped a 78 on us at Nairn on our final day. His short irons and putting would have been impressive with any clubs, let alone with 90 year old equipment on a course he’d never seen before, but it was one of those magical days that we all appreciate whenever they appear. He’s still dining out on that round even now. If you are at all interested in learning more I urge you to contact him directly and know he will be happy to hear from you: vthickoryopen.org.

  10. Kim Russell

    May 8, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    We appreciate the mention of our course, Old Bandon Golf Links, in this article. Our supplier, Chris McIntyre of PlayHickory.com, provides clubs and balls for hickory events nationwide. Visit his website (playhickory.com) to bring the experience to your home club! Or, come see us in Bandon!

  11. John Riordan

    May 8, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    My wife and I played “Hickory Golf” at Oakhust 2 years ago while volunterring at the Greenbrier PGA Golf Tournament. We had the priviledge of meeting Lewis Keller, the man who reopened Oakhurst and maintained this relic of Hickory Golf. He gratiously took us on a tour of the museum by the pro shop. He told us about his friendship with Sam Snead and the history of the Oakhurst course. We had dressed in our knickers and Mr. Keller provided 4 hickory clubs that had been made in St. Andrews, Scotland. Some of his hickory clubs had been used in the filming of “The Greatest Game.” It was a wonderful experience playing with the hickory clubs. We were amazed how much golf has evolved since the early 1900’s. I was especially pleased with a par on the 1st hole, as I sunk my 1st “Hickory Putt”.

    We highly recommend that lovers of the game of golf experience “Hickory Golf” as it was first played. You’ll have lots of stories to tell your golfinh freinds afterwards.

  12. James Davis

    May 8, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    You got it right. There is a hickory golf revolution happening. Been growing for many years. The Society of Hickory Golfers has almost 400 members now and more are joining all the time. There’s a Championship Series of events anchored by the U.S. Hickory Open, this year on the Donald Ross Course at French Lick Springs Resort. There are people who make replica hickory clubs, dozens of guys who restore clubs for playable sets of authentic old clubs and plenty of fun to go around. Visit the website, check out the tournament schedule or just head out to the local course and explore the old clubs with your friends. You’ll discover what other guys are now enjoying… that golf doesn’t have to be controlled by the equipment, that you can have fun playing golf. (P.S. You don’t have to wear knickers. Modern hickory is a modern sport.)

  13. Felix

    May 8, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Nice! I’ve always liked to try hickory golf.

    Thanks Randy, i didn’t know Banff Springs does that. Good info.

  14. dave brown

    May 8, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    I have enjoyed hickory golf for the last five years and have a new love in my life! great guys and tournaments around the USA. But the best experience is playing hickories in the UK. Just like Bobbie Jones and Harry Vardon. Sweet feel when you hit a Brassie on the sweet spot

  15. Roger

    May 9, 2012 at 8:33 am

    For any interested; the Society of Hickory Golfers is playing it’s United States Hickory Open July 24 and 25 at the Donald Ross Course in French Lick, Indiana. Spectators are all always welcome and everyone is very friendly.

  16. J D Hart

    May 9, 2012 at 9:30 am

    It is totally refreshing that the 3 + million of us that play “hickories” are now being recognized as being the saving grace to the longest standing game on this planet. Why would any one fall for that “you can play forgiving golf with this volkswagen on the end of a stick”, forgiving only a lack of skill and tenacity. Join a hickory golf organization and enjoy “feel” and real camaraderie.

  17. Jeremy Barth

    May 9, 2012 at 9:31 am

    My Grandfather taught me to play using hickory shafted clubs. Cleaning out my dads garage I found them again and begain playing them. I had such a good time I filled in the set with some reproductions. The best part was shooting an 86 and beating my friends who used their modern clubs. They even gave me strokes, which I didnt need. It just lakes a little practice to get the nuances and you can’t over swing.

  18. Randy

    May 11, 2012 at 12:58 am

    You’re welcome Felix-and I neglected to mention that Banff also offers(offered??…it’s been a couple years) the opportunity to play the course with hickorys and play the Thompson course in it’s original routing(teeing off at current #15) and finishing on (current) #14 green with the Hotel as the backdrop.

    They changed the routing of the course in 1989 to accommodate the extra 9 holes and the current #1 tee was originally the 5th hole. They only offer a handful of tee times(with the original routing) in the summer months due to logistics but you might get lucky.

  19. earl

    May 24, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Niagara on the Lake golf course in Ontario, Canada is said to be the oldest golf course in North America. You have to bring your own hickory clubs though.

  20. Jim Thomas

    December 10, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Another hickory course, especially for pre 1900 play is Foxburg Country Club, in Foxburg, PA. A hickory tournament is played there as part of the “Gutty Slam” in the middle of August.

  21. Learnedithere

    January 2, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Foxburg has been played continuously since 1887 – interesting track to play whose conditions mirror that time period. Also a “museum” on the premises. Logo balls are a tad expensive though. Old Musselburgh (where some of the early Open Championships were held) is also a fun place to play with hickories.

  22. Pat Costello

    February 24, 2014 at 4:35 am

    I found an old hickory golf club, then picked up a few more, and eventually found a few my grandfather made in the 1920s and started to play with them. I’ve renovated each club to make them playable. It’s been years since I’ve played with anything but the antique hickory clubs. My enjoyment of the game has greatly improved. Although I still get a few odd looks and comments, most just wonder how much better I would play with new clubs. (I have no desire as I went through the competitive and gambling stage years ago). I am the only person on the island (and possible in Alaska) who plays exclusively with hickory clubs.

  23. Bill langlands

    May 22, 2016 at 11:35 pm

    Love playing hockey. Wish there were more courses. Thanks for this site.

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