Are you into the AARP phase of life and struggling with your golf game?  Can’t hit those 250-yard plus tee shots any longer?   Feel like the courses are getting longer?  Maybe you should consider hickory.

On Monday, two dozen golfers clad in knickers and toting antiquated hickory-shafted clubs participated in the United States Professional Hickory Championship at Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club in Temple Terrace, Florida.  The course hosted the Florida Open in 1925 and remains true to its original design, playing at 6,400 yards.   Eddie Peckels of Tuscawilla Country Club in Winter Springs, Florida went home with the trophy, carding a 76, aided by an eagle on the 12th hole when he holed out with his mashie from the fairway.  Temple Terrace professional Jim Garrison used his home course knowledge to tie Peckels, but conceded the playoff due to an injury during the round.  Tournament director Mike Stevens of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa finished in third place with a 78.

The United States Professional Hickory Championship is just one of many hickory tournaments held annually in the United States, as enthusiasm for this relatively obscure cranny of the golf world has mushroomed in recent years.   In June, the Vermont Hickory Players Club will hold its annual tournament at Copley Country Club.   

Brian Schuman, who shot an 85 on Monday and founded the Metropolitan Hickory Society (which encompasses New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut), told us that he became obsessed with the avocation soon after experimenting with hickory-shafted clubs several years ago.   “I just fell in love with hickory,” he said, explaining that the game involves more finesse and feel than playing with modern clubs.  “I love to watch people hit these clubs and see the enjoyment on their faces,” he remarked.   “How often do you find something to be so passionate about later in life?”  He compared the experience to “an old button-down shirt you find in a closet – you put it on and it feels comfortable.” 

Schuman emphasized that the camaraderie with other golfers who share a passion for the history of the game is a large part of the hickory experience.  “ It’s a very giving group of guys, “ he said.   The sport, of course, is not limited to male golfers.  Two women competed in the tournament Monday.  Jennifer Cully won the women’s tournament with an 85.

Schuman explained that the easiest entre into hickory golf is to purchase a set of reproduction clubs, noting that there are several companies selling such clubs on the internet.   However, true hickory aficionados assemble sets of clubs by buying original clubs from various sources, often at trade shows and tournaments.  Schuman noted that early golfers like Harry Vardon and Bobby Jones generally did not purchase complete sets of clubs, but rather acquired individual clubs from various craftsmen in St. Andrews, Scotland.   The feel of each club was a bit different. 

If you do experiment with hickory, be prepared to make some swing adjustments.   A smooth, rhythmic swing is the key to success.  It’s not a power game.  Stevens told a reporter after the tournament Monday:  “The challenge is hitting a ball with a less-than-perfect implement, but when you pull off a good shot it’s exhilarating.  Hickory golf is difficult, but it really opens up your imagination.”

Schuman confessed that his initial experience with the clubs was perplexing.  “I hit about 50 balls and got none of them into the air,” he laughed.  “It’s a personal challenge to hit them,” he said.  “We like to say that after a well-struck shot you smile and laugh, and after a bad shot you just laugh.”   

Information about hickory golf may be found on the websites of the Society of Hickory Golfers (www.hickorygolfers.com) and the Metropolitan Hickory Society (www.hickoryplayersclub.com).