Golf Column: Stepping back in time, with hickory clubs

JAY DEMPSEY PHOTO | Brian Schuman, far left, was among those who participated in the Long Island Hickory Open.

One of my favorite films is “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” I’m not a big movie guy, but I love this flick and have seen it a few times. It’s a golf story (what else?) about a young man, Francis Ouimet, an amateur golfer, who plays in the 1913 United States Open Golf Championship, competing against the biggest names in golf at the time. It’s a true story pitting David against Goliath. I will not spoil the ending. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth every one of the 120 minutes.

The film is a wonderful period piece. The golfers are decked out to the nines in time-appropriate apparel. Nickers, dress shirts and ties. They use golf equipment that was manufactured before World War I; wooden shafted hickory clubs. No steel, titanium or graphite shafts in those days. It was a time when golf was pure.

That time in golf history may be a thing of the past for most, but there is an ever-growing group of “Hickory Golf” enthusiasts who are not letting  go of golf’s time-honored traditions and the history of the game.

Long Island National Golf Club in Riverhead hosted the first Long Island Hickory Open Sept. 16-18. Players had to compete with original, or approved reproduction, hickory clubs and wear period attire. The event, spearheaded by Brian Schuman, had a small but enthusiastic field of players.

Schuman had left a set of demo “hickories” at Long Island National over the summer and your golf guy, along with my wife, Jean, had the opportunity to give them a whack.

Walking to the range with my bag of hickories in tow, my first thought was that I would probably break the clubs. After all, these sticks were almost 100 hundred years old and made of wood. Yeah, right Tarzan. You just signed up for Medicare and you think you have the strength to bust these babies? Dream on big fella. The old hickories had nothing to worry about.

After hitting a few balls and getting comfortable with our new equipment, Jean and I made some pretty nice shots. Granted, the sweet spot on the face of the club is about the size of a shriveled-up pea, but when you hit these puppies right it feels great.

The final round of this year’s Long Island Hickory Open had the course playing at 5,600 yards. A respectable distance a century ago and a distance many should be playing from today. (Here I go again on playing from forward tee boxes.)

Hugh Menzies, who is from North Carolina, said before teeing off, “You have to be a little off center to play this game, referring to hickory golf.

Schuman led the introductions on the first tee, delivering a brief and entertaining golf biography of each player.

For those of you who are not familiar with the course, Long Island National gives you the feel of a links course in the United Kingdom. Add a spot of wind, which the players had this day, and the only thing missing is the clubhouse at St. Andrews.

Tim Alpaugh, who is from New Jersey said this, “If you have insecurities in your life, this [hickory golf] is not the game for you.”

From what I saw, this group of golf history devotees did not show one sign of being insecure. They all played the game with the class and skill that would have made their links predecessors proud.

“There is no cursing in hickory golf,” Schuman said. “If we must, we do it with a deep Irish brogue so no one will understand.”

Hickory golf events are gaining in popularity and are held almost every week around the country.

If you would like more information about hickory golf, contact Brian Schuman at: [email protected].