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Does playing with hickories better reveal a golf course?
« on: December 22, 2014, 10:52:46 PM »
The question related primarily to older courses that were developed on a more intricate scale than the newer, more jumbo scaled primarily aerial courses. It can also apply to modern courses built in that style - - the courses at Bandon, other work of C&C, Doak, and others in that direction.

I've just started playing with hickories on a fairly regular basis at Mid Pines and Pine Needles. The two courses are a joy to play with modern equipment, but with hickories they come alive in whole new ways. For me, playing with hickories is so much more fun than playing with my modern clubs. 

The architectural features seem to take on a much greater role in the planning and play of each hole. I find myself tacking more, working backwards from the hole to the tee and then planning out the play of the entire hole. With my modern clubs all too often it's just bombs away off the tee, find the ball and loft it onto the green, putt, then rinse and repeat.

Sometimes the ground game is an option with modern clubs. With hickories it's an everyday fact of life, and not being able to use the ground renders a course boring and tedious at best and unplayable at worst.

The need for careful strategic planning escalates, as the amount of shot variance per degree of mis-hit is much greater with hickories. I usually shade approach shots 10'-20' to the safe side with my modern clubs. With hickories the margin or error I have to plan for could be twice that or more because I have far less confidence (and borne out by my results) in my ability to control my shots.

If we all played with hickories, would our discussions about the features and architecture of the courses discussed here be meaningfully different and perhaps "better"? Would we have a superior knowledge base because our experiences of each course would involve a greater degree of interfacing with the hazards and other features of the architecture? If GCA somehow developed its own course rating system and we were all raters, would the ratings be different if we all played with hickories vs. modern clubs? 

Kevin Lynch

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Re: Does playing with hickories better reveal a golf course?
« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2014, 01:16:03 AM »
I really enjoy playing my hickories so I'm going to say yes, but not as much as you may expect (or perhaps not exclusively via hickory). 

I think any time you mix things up at a course, you're going to notice features more.  If you switch from modern equipment to hickories, you'll have entirely new perspectives simply by hitting different distances and having certain limitations imposed on you.  As you mentioned, from the tee, former hazards you flew or ignored may need to be reconsidered.  A short par 5 easily reachable with modern equipment may require you to really look at layup options more than you ever did before.  Without a 19 degree hybrid, the greenside bunker on your 190 yard approach can't be ignored via an aerial route and you'll need to find that run up angle (or shape a shot more).  And with the amount of mis-hits that can occur, you may see new areas and angles you didn't know existed (of course, with my wild game, that happens with my modern equipment, too).   :D

But, I guess I question whether this different perspective is solely due to playing hickories:

In some regards, the change in perspective by switching to hickories is not much different from what happens to shorter hitters or formerly long players who age.  Just from the recent Ballyhack thread, I was amazed at the different perceptions and interactions with the features among a longer, high trajectory hitters and some shorter, low trajectory players.  In this case, your thread could be entitled "do shorter hitters better reveal of golf course"?  For a shorter hitter, playing hickories may not add much at all to their appreciation because they're already confronting the architecture more than their flat-belly counterparts.

What you're also describing is that hickories don't lend themselves as much to the "get out of jail" free card that can come from the modern ball and equipment.  If you can hold a green with high loft or spin from anywhere, playing angles become less relevant.  Playing hickories is a way to force the issue by taking away that safety net (at least for longer, aerial players).

But another way to have the same effect would be for courses to simply allow their greens to firm up.  If there are slopes and shoulders in the green that promote an approach from a preferred angle, a firm green will make that evident quickly.  I've been playing in a member/guest at a Rochester area course for the last few seasons.  They hired a new super who convinced the Greens Committee they could take out trees, and have less green (and even some brown) on the course.  My attention to angles was heightened substantially (and I enjoyed listening to some members complain they couldn't get close to that pin just over the bunker anymore).

But until more courses make the same decision, hickories are a decent proxy.  However, for me, even when playing hickories, I'll only notice the difference from the longer clubs. The Spade Mashies / Mashie Niblicks and other shorter clubs still have plenty of loft and won't reveal that much a difference if the course is not firm (an aerial game is still available). In those cases, if I want to use the ground features, it needs to be a conscious decision to set aside the available aerial option and try the more fun run-up shot.

One final way I've discovered hickories increase my architectural awareness.  My set does not have a sand wedge with the large flange, so routine sand shots are anything but.  Before Sarazen's invention, I bet players were much more keenly aware of the impact of greenside bunkers.

John Percival

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Re: Does playing with hickories better reveal a golf course?
« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2014, 06:59:56 AM »
Your points on hickories are spot on. Interesting that many of the details you mention are regular parts of Ladies' games. The lack of clubhead speed makes stopping shots almost impossible, thus mandating a much different game than most men.
Also, while hicks obviously change strategy, the modern ball still allows great leeway in play. The replica balls from McIntyre Golf go a long way to restoring the true feel of vintage play.
Finally, agree that firming conditions goes a long way toward not only responsible water use, but creates nuances that are more challenging for the advanced, yet actually help the lesser. Played Carnoustie with hicks and had to factor the firm (and incredible thatch) fairways, plus the wind, plus the hazards, when playing shots. Obviously, the shot's trajectory also impacts the wind and roll, so yet another factor became involved. Knocking 80 yards off a long, downwind approach isn't something we normally do, but it happened multiple times.

Thus, not only do the hicks allow the player to enjoy strategies employed by the architect, but also savor the success of their own well-executed plays

Thomas Dai

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Re: Does playing with hickories better reveal a golf course?
« Reply #3 on: December 23, 2014, 08:01:14 AM »
I can't disagree with what's been written above.

Playing hickories has I believe enhanced my knowledge of the game generally and aided my understanding of architecture in realtion to pre-1930's courses.

When you play hickory, and perhaps a controversial digression here, you use very thin iron heads with narrow soles made before 1930 (rather than replicas/reproductions some of which have slightly more forgiving heads with wider soles etc and are also available with more loft) you really appreciate what a hazard is.....and a modern sand bunker is not a hazard, it's a joke! With hickory, or rather most pre-1930's heads, hazards need to be treated with respect, frequently tacking around them rather than being brave and aiming over the top safe in the knowledge that you have a modern club that'll get the ball out of the sand pretty easily. And shot trajectory, degree of curve and spin, or lack of in the case of spin, are totally different to the modern day.

One other aspect of playing hickory is course maintenance. You don't need the course to be maintained to the same (high) standard. Rustic and unwatered is suddenly okay as are greens that would probably measure about 5 on a stimp, so costs can be lower.

If you haven't played hickory but want to try, go on ebay. Usable hickory stuff is pretty cheap and there seems plenty about.

If not try this semi-mock examination instead - remove all the clubs from your bag with more than 40* loft. Now remove every other iron that's left. Now get that old wooden headed Hogan/MacGregor/etc driver plus a fairway wood out of the cupboard. You should end up with a total of about 7 clubs inc putter. Now acquire some of those range balls that only go about 75% distance, scruffy ones though, not new ones. Now go and play from the very back tees carrying your bag, not using a glove and wearing flat soled street shoes. I'll let you off wearing the jacket and tie!

Enjoy :)

« Last Edit: December 23, 2014, 10:19:10 AM by Thomas Dai »


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Re: Does playing with hickories better reveal a golf course?
« Reply #4 on: December 23, 2014, 07:27:52 PM »
Thomas - - you've pretty much described what's probably a comparable set to what most players used back in the day. But there's no need to go to that extreme to still get the full effect while having a playable set of clubs with which you can play with a pretty good degree of proficiency, especially when you hit it solidly. I've got an 8-club set, a mix of reproductions from Tad Moore and Louisville Golf. They were built to specs that I provided, and there's a 56 degree sand wedge in there that's also a reproduction of a club that was popular then. With greens being faster than in the old days, it's not unreasonable to adjust things with the equipment to keep things on par.

But getting back to my original question, would the perception of what makes a golf course great (and therefore the rankings) change if everyone who rated the courses played with hickories? Would some courses shoot up in the rankings while others that are considered top shelf fall back?

Thomas Dai

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Re: Does playing with hickories better reveal a golf course? New
« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2014, 05:16:59 AM »
A 56* hickory shafted SW! "That's ney right laddie, that's cheatin!" I can hear an aged and distant voice saying. :)

My seven club hickory set, acquired from various second/third/fourth etc hand sources includes a putter that cost 2.99p and a sand/bunker club with less than 40* (it's a pre WW-One made club, has a flange thinner than a young kids finger and no bounce!). Great fun though!

Not sure about getting full effect or adjusting equipment to keep things on par with modern courses/maintenance. That's a debate that been raging in hickory circles seemingly for ever so not really one for here.

So getting a bit back to the question, I guess the first thing is that any course built after hickory time, say 1930, as a general date for discussion purposes, would have to be removed from any ranking. Courses built before then but with now irrigated fairways should also be removed from such list and an argument could be made for removing any course with non-hand irrigated greens. So the list becomes quite a bit smaller. Not so many courses for rankers to rank, so yee olde ones that have dropped down ranking lists over the years will now be more at the top.

But then again, if some rankers had to hit over things like this (un-raked too, so footprints in play) -

to greens like this -

with clubs akin to this -

and balls akin to these -

they'd probably go fishing instead! :)

It's always amazed me how the game 'took off', even lasted at all, given what folks had to play on and use in the early days. Glad it did though.


PS - here's a cross-reference to a thread about the clubs carried by Harry Vardon in 1916 -,60155.0.html
« Last Edit: December 24, 2014, 07:35:40 AM by Thomas Dai »


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