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Unable to play (or write much) due to limited daylight and nearly unlimited work, I have found myself reflecting again on why we choose to play the style that we do. Our desires and motivations are not always obvious, but a few different schools of thought have been crystallizing in my mind re: traditional golf.

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Gear from an Earlier Time:
This mindset is best characterized by the various hickory groups sustaining momentum in the US and worldwide. Golfers who embrace this paradigm seem motivated by a desire to recreate a style enjoyed by an earlier generation. I know we have a fair amount of seniors and super-seniors in our ranks but unfortunately I doubt there are more than a handful who actually played golf when hickory was “state of the art”. The appeal here, I think, is in exploring not only a new style but also a specific time in history. Even the most modern kids today love attending a Great Gatsby themed party – those pre-war years have a lovely hopefulness in them that aligns nicely with a modern golfer trying to break out of the commercial monotony of modern golf and its branding. Exploring the hickory game is like opening an old novel and immersing one’s imagination in the courses, attitudes, and attire of the hickory player from long ago. It is essentially a time capsule from an era that is familiar to us but in which most of us never actually participated.

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Gear from Your Time: The process of re-normalization sometimes brings us back to the gear that we played in our earlier days. This might cover gear from the 60′s, 70′s, 80′s, or 90′s. How often have we seen a posting about some vintage model of club and found ourselves thinking: “I used to game those clubs in college!” or “The best player at the course I grew up on had those same woods!”. The first set of clubs with which we began exploring this great game usually has a special place in our hearts, however hideous the design may appear to the outside observer. It’s a different type of nostalgia than “gear from an earlier time” because we are connecting with a tangible (if distant) time in our own lives. Most of us can find persimmon gear that is still “of our time” – Cleveland Classics and Wood Brothers Texans seem to always be at the forefront.

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Modern Traditional Gear: Not an oxymoron – This is the mindset that gets most overlooked by the collector but is perhaps most important as it relates to the state of the game. The modern traditionalist cares more about the basic nature of the equipment than the nostalgia factor. If a modern clubmaker can produce a forged blade or a small-headed wood in a manner consistent with the traditions of the game then the modern traditionalist will embrace the gear, regardless of marketing. Titleist, Mizuno, and Miura spring to mind as current manufacturers that provide a nice, clean blade. These are clubs that are designed to enable workability and improve our best shots rather than hide our flaws or overpower the course. Tad Moore and Louisville Golf (amongst others) offer lovely modern persimmons in steel or hickory shafts that represent the natural progressions of traditional designs of the persimmon age. These manufacturers are often at a disadvantage because the price point for modern traditional equipment must be higher than the older equipment we find on Ebay, yet the collectability factor remains relatively low.

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As for myself – I have spent the last few years exploring the world of “gear from an earlier time”. Classic gear was all new to me and I love the nostalgia and imagination rush of playing old gear on an old course. However, as time goes on, I suspect that I will move more into modern traditional gear. I think it’s important to acknowledge that new gear in the traditional form (steel/hickory shafts, forged blades, small headed woods) is still abundant today. I would like to support any manufacturer that embraces classic designs in their newest offerings. The past has its place and there is much to learn from those who came before – but I think it’s more important to sustain the ideals of the game into the future and that requires more than the classic gear of the 20th century.

12 Responses to “Three Mindsets for Traditional Golf”

  1. Avatar of dpark dpark says:

    Nice post. I also have not been as active on PGT for a while due to work pressures as well. I have dabbled in all three categories above, but spend most of my time/effort on the “golf gear from my time”. That is where the greatest “values” are for me, in addition to the fun factor. I can put together a killer set of classic clubs for less than $200 (all in excellent shape) and sometimes less than $100.

    I have a set of hickory irons and putter that I dink with, but without woods (which are still too expensive to buy for actual playing) it is not practical to play an actual round of golf with them.

    If I could find some decent modern woods (I tried Louisville and was disappointed) I would play modern traditional equipment as well since except for a hybrid, fairway wood and driver, all my “modern gear” is pretty traditional (Titleist 680 irons, Scratch wedges, Napa putter).

    In Portland there is an annual vintage golf show in March that I am always looking forward to attending. There are some great older guys there who have really cool vintage gear and I always end up adding to my collection every year.

    • Avatar of Jeff Stern Jeff Stern says:

      D., You are missing out the full affect of playing hickory golf witout hickory woods.
      On occasion you can find pre-owned Louisville Golf or Tad Moore hickory reproduction woods on the web-based auction sites for good bit less than new retail. There are even period made clubs that are in very playable shape to be found; the key is knowing that the seller is knowledgable about the product they are selling. You can get recommendations from many that frequent this blog as to reliable honest sellers.
      What did you find disappointing about your LG hickory woods? I’d like to address your concerns on this matter.
      Have fun and stay warm, the Forged radical (Jeff)

      • Avatar of dpark dpark says:

        The Lousiville golf woods were the more recent variety, the SMART drivers. I did not find them to be very playable (easy to hit, or elevate). I bought one and sold it within a month.

        As part of my wood collection, I still have my PowerBilt woods from high school, the Citations. I still can’t hit the driver (not enough loft) but I can hit the 3 wood and 4 wood quite well and put them in the bag from time to time.

        I have always had loft issues with the driver. For many years, I played a Callaway Big Bertha Deuce as my driver, as I could not get a modern driver airborne. I am a “one swing” golfer, I use the same swing for my woods and irons. I don’t like trying to change my swing just for the driver. Messes up the rest of my game. So I have a negative angle of attack on all my swings. Works great with irons and high lofted woods. Does not work well with the driver on a tee. As long as I have 11+ degrees of loft on my classic driver, all is good.

        As for hickory woods, I am just not going to pay $270 for one club (Louisville’s website prices) and even at half off for a used one is still more than I am interested in paying. As I said in my original post, I can put together an entire set of classic clubs for that price. I keep looking, but am not holding my breath that I will find some in the price range I am willing to pay.

        • Avatar of Jeff Stern Jeff Stern says:

          D., I also have a couple of the Louisville persimmons which I
          occasionally put into play. Among the laminates that are in my “modern club” bag are Stan Thompson Gintys; I’ll tee off with a Louisville Golf Ginty #2 wood that matches with my genuine Thompson gintys. Those are among the easiest woods I’ve ever hit.
          As for the hickories, I use an LG Driving Brassie (now sadly out of production) of 12 degrees loft and regular flex. Tad Moore model 1930 spoon and matching cleek round out the woods. I acquired all via the secondary market at good savings from full retail.
          I must admit that had I simply straight purchased a ‘matched’ replica set from one of our two existing hickory makers I’d probably have spent less by now on such hardware than picking out these sticks one at a time. I’ve bought my share of clunkers too; but then I realize that the hickory golf habit would not be so easy on my wallet. I got into it for the fun.
          Isn’t that the primary reason we play this crazy, awesome game?
          Stay warm and have much fun, the Forged radical

  2. Thanks dpark. You and me are in the same boat I think. I bought a few hickory irons for 10 bucks a piece. Haven’t taken em out yet as I’m trying to hold things (relatively) constant and tinker with my swing instead of my gear. Haven’t played since Christmas though!

    • Avatar of dpark dpark says:

      I have hickory clubs from cleek to niblick and of course a Calamity Jane style putter. All are different makes/models. Got them from $5-$10 a stick. Fun to goof around with in the summer with a Lady Precept/Bridgestone. I don’t hit them very far. The mashie niblick goes about 120 yards where my 7 iron goes 155. I keep looking for some woods so I can play the red tees with them but the prices for a playable wood are ridiculous ($150+) and I just won’t pay that.

      Classic golf is the best. I have a set with works perfectly with my swing. Driver goes 220-230, once in a while I’ll poke it out there 250. My irons are set on a 51* PW. I can usually work my way around a 6800 yard course under 80. A 6300 yard course and I can get close to par.

      There was a guy recently dumping a bunch of “modern” woods on ebay but the prices just got too crazy (lots of Clevelands). I haven’t found a modern wood (late 70s -80s) that I can hit worth a darn. The lofts on the drivers are just too low and I can’t elevate the modern ball. I found out (via the Macgregor catalog) that the “2″ wood sets, like the MT2W woods from 1961 have a driver with 11* of loft, vs the MT1W woods with a driver of 9* of loft. The 2* additional loft make a HUGE difference with me. I started playing with M85 2-woods to get the loft I wanted, but I also sacrificed head size. Going with later model woods allowed me to get the bigger head sizes with more loft, albeit with a softer shaft. A fair tradeoff IMHO.

      • Avatar of Blade Junkie Blade Junkie says:

        Hey dpark!

        120 yards with a Mashie Niblick is a good hit. It is more likely the Mashie that best compares to a classic 7-iron.

        I have a few different Mashie Niblicks and the strongest lofted has been 42 degrees which would be a classic 8/9 iron. Average is 46 degrees or 9/PW. They do though tend to be a little bit longer shafted than the equivalent classic-lofted club, with most of my Mashie Niblicks being about 36.5″

        Regarding woods, I have bought some cheap original hickory woods that were $30-$50 and they were playable without any modification (I made sure pre-purchase that the whipping was good, no shaft splits, straight shaft, playable original grip). You might want to look for a Brassie with loft 12-16 degrees and 41-42″ long, as this will be easiest to get airborne. Drivers are typically 8-10 degrees … from what you say this will not suit you unless you get the face recut to add loft (can be done here in UK for about $70 for a total club refurb, including adding loft, recutting face lines, adding weight to head, re-finish, shellac, and new grip).

        For modern Louisville clubs, I have found the Thumper Max easiest to hit – easier than the Smart series for sure, although a have a Smart 5-wood that is a really good club. The Smart driver I have is 9.5 degrees. The Niblick fairway woods are worth trying as well.

        • Avatar of dpark dpark says:

          Hi Blade,

          I don’t know where you are finding playable hickory woods for that price, but I can’t get them. If I want to pay big bucks, they are around, but I won’t pay $100+ for just one. But I will keep looking. And yes, I need something with 15* or more of loft.

          I have not tried the Louisville Thumper Max but will start to look for them. I could not hit the SMART stuff well to save my life. Would rather play my M85 3 wood than those clubs.

          dpark

          • Avatar of Blade Junkie Blade Junkie says:

            eBay has been one source for me, but also there are some hickory “dealers” over here in the UK that have alot of clubs in their inventory. I know these types of guys exist in USA as well. If you go for clubs that aren’t “collectable” but are in good playable shape then that ought to cost less than $50. Try a few generic eBay searches for “Brassie” or “Spoon” or “Hickory Wood” or something like that.

            If you had a change of heart and did pay $100-150 then that club is unlikely to lose any value during the lifetime of your ownership. Good wood club makers like Gibson, Ben Sayers etc are always in demand!

  3. Avatar of propel1 propel1 says:

    Nice post, PGT. I’m 56 years old and I fit into the “gear from your time” category. In addition to various makes and models I grew up playing with, I identify strongly with models that the tour players were using at the time. I grew up in Arizona and used to caddy the qualifiers and the pro-ams for the Phoenix Open and Tucson Open (wow, even the tournament names sound persimmon-ish), and it was always a treat to see what was in pros’ bags. They all had cool MacGregor drivers, Tourney Custom 985 irons, etc. Out of my price reach at the time, but not now.
    Another mindset I’d mention that drives me to play persimmon golf is that it brings challenge back to courses that, length-wise, are looked down upon by today’s titanium generation. I play at old Brackenridge Park GC in San Antonio (A.W. Tillinghast, 1916), which at 6300 yds from the blues, is plenty of course for my old MacGregors. I routinely get to use every club in the bag, not just driver and lob wedge (not that I own a lob wedge – I can proudly say I’ve never owned anything other than a SAND wedge!).
    Here’s the cool part: Brackenridge hosted the Texas Open for several decades, dating back to the 1920′s, and the winners are listed on a big board in the club house: Walter Hagen, Lawson Little, Hogan, Nelson, Snead, Palmer et al. I’m sure a lot of your readers have Ben Hogan’s Power Golf. It has a distance chart in it, where he lists the typical distance (typical distance, in Hogan-ese, means plus or minus 6 inches) that he hits his clubs, and the distances are surprisingly short, about what I hit the ball now: 135 yard 7 iron, and so forth. Consequently, when I’m in, say, the 7th fairway with 135 yards to the hole, and a 7 iron in my hand, I can honestly say to myself “wow, Hogan probably had this exact same shot!” I can’t tell you how much enjoyment that brings! It’s a joy that’s totally lost for those that insist on pounding it 340 yards off the tee.

    • Thanks for the background propel. Bringing the challenge back is surely one of the important advantages playing traditional golf. I think it can be achieved with any of these “mindsets” and their associated equipment. Modern traditional gear doesn’t hit any farther than stuff from the 60′s – anything of similar design will pair well with a short, classic course. It’s like a good wine/food pairing – why mess it up? Titanium gear has a place – modern championship courses.

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