By Peter Owen
THEY’RE a devoted bunch, these hickory golfers.
They see beauty in rusty old golf clubs that most of us would consign to the scrap heap. And they readily take responsibility for upholding the traditions and behaviours that have made golf such a special game.
So they happily cop the jibes that greet them when they turn up at the course in shirt and tie, wearing a pair of plus-fours, with a tam o’shanter perched on their heads.
And they’re prepared to suffer the competitive disadvantages of playing with old, wooden-shafted clubs against golfers armed with the latest hi-tech equipment.
Take Bruce Collins, for instance. He’s a member of Brisbane, one of Queensland’s toniest golf clubs, and he’s got a fancy set of nearly new Mizuno irons in his garage that he concedes cost him ‘a fortune’.
Yet every time he plays, it’s with a collection of mismatched old woods and irons, some of which he bought for $5 at garage sales and others that he cobbled together from bits and pieces of assorted clubs.
Like his Brisbane Golf Club mates Alan Grieve and David Mansfield, he’s a fulltime hickory player – one of a devoted group of enthusiasts who love the history of golf, appreciate its customs and values, and revel in the challenge of playing the game as it was intended.
He talks about a ‘shared passion’ for hickory golf, about ‘staying true to the game,’ and, most of all, about the joy of navigating his way around a modern golf course with the same sort of implements used by long ago masters like Bobby Jones and Carnegie Clark.
Bruce has more than 100 hickory golf clubs at his home – a prized collection of brassies, mashies, spoons, putters and wooden-shafted long and short irons – but restricts himself to a maximum of eight or 10 clubs when he plays.
Hickory custom impresses on us that the better the player, the fewer clubs he carries. Bruce will often change the mix of clubs in his bag, choosing clubs that will perform best in the prevailing weather conditions, the condition of the course, and the width of the fairways.
Hickory golf rules stipulate that club heads must have been made before 1935, though the original wooden shafts may be repaired or replaced with an old or new shaft. Clubs must have a leather-wrap grip and weight may be added to the head. Some replica clubs are allowed, and modern golf balls are used.
Bruce says hickory golf is particularly strong in Queensland, with about 50 members belonging to Hickory Golfers Queensland, many of whom turn up for regular competitions at Royal Queensland on the last Friday of each month.
Most, like Bruce, belong to the veteran class of golfers, and Bruce says his goal is to introduce more young golfers to the joys of hickory golf.
The biggest event on the hickory golf calendar is the Australian Hickory Championship, which will be played this year in Queensland in September.
Action begins with the foursomes championship at Nudgee on Sunday, September 11, followed by the first 18 holes of singles play at Royal Queensland the following day, and the final 18 holes at Brisbane on Tuesday, September 13.
The titles are open to members of Hickory Golf Queensland and its affiliates, the Australian Golf Heritage Society and the Golf Society of Australia. Only 52 spots are available.
Early entrants include multiple Australian champion Alan Grieve, who also won the US Hickory Open Championship in 2011, Sydney father and son James and Jeff Mansfield, Adelaide’s Andrew Baker and a trio from Cooroy on the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
Bookings can be made online at www.hickorygolfersqueensland.org