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Plenty of happenings in the world of traditional golf lately – today is the day we try to catch up. None of the material below is “breaking” these are the things I’m keeping my eye on and I feel should be of interest to traditional golf connoisseurs.

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First up: Tour winner Patrick Reed highlighting one of the more under-rated benefits of playing smaller headed, traditional drivers – the game improvement factor. The nostalgia and appreciation of craftsmanship is undeniable in the boomer generation, but “millenials” will probably be more attracted (at least at first) to the idea of a persimmon club as a challenging tool that can be used to refine your swing. That’s the reason I started.

“It teaches you to hit the center of the clubface, especially with the driver,” he said inside Callaway’s PGA Tour trailer Monday.

Asked how far he can hit a modern ball, such as his Callaway Speed Regime 3, Reed said, “I can still hit it out there about 290, maybe 280. I’ve noticed that you don’t lose distance with it if you hit it in the center of the face. If you don’t hit it in the center of the face, you’re going to hit it 230 and the ball is going to be head-high and either slicing or hooking. It really gives you feedback quickly.”

So, add Patrick Reed to Fowler

and Tiger who both know how beneficial persimmon can be to honing your technique.

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Next Up: Ben Hogan’s playing set from the magical 1953 season can be yours! And there’s a back story… Courtesy of Green Jacket Auctions, who seem to get their hands on all the best stuff these days. Current bid at the time of this article: $15,692. Will this be the most expensive set of irons ever? We shall see.

These are Ben Hogan’s actual set of MacGregor irons from his magical 1953 Season – when Hogan won all five official events that he entered, including the Masters Tournament, U.S. Open and British Open.

And this isn’t just any Ben Hogan iron set that he may have used once or twice. These are Hogan’s actual “working” set from 1953, when he not only won 3 Majors, but was fine tuning his idea for the perfect golf club. Hogan fulfilled his lifelong goal by forming the Ben Hogan Golf Company in late 1953. Once the Ben Hogan Golf Company was formed, Hogan, of course, never used MacGregor clubs again. Therefore, since all of Hogan’s used MacGregor clubs date to 1953 and before, they are coveted by collectors.

The offered set is one of only three Ben Hogan-used MacGregor iron sets known to exist, and the only set in private hands. Those two other sets are owned by the USGA Museum and Merion Golf Club – the site of Hogan’s 1950 U.S. Open victory.

We were most interested in the USGA Museum set, as it also dates to the 1953 Season. According to the USGA Museum, that barely-played set was used by Hogan to win the 1953 U.S. Open. The USGA recently granted us access to their 1953 U.S. Open set, which is displayed in the Ben Hogan Room at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, NJ.

So what happened when we closely inspected the USGA Museum set? Well, let’s just say that we were in for the shock of our collecting lives!

The USGA Museum set of Ben Hogan irons attributed to the 1953 U.S. Open was actually a partially mixed set – it was missing the original 9 iron that matched the rest of the set (Ben Hogan Personal Model 1037). Well, guess where that 9-iron resides? YES! – the missing 9 iron from the USGA Museum set is in our possession and is included with our set of Ben Hogan’s 1953 irons.

Quite significantly, while the USGA Museum set shows little use, our irons (with the exception of that 9 iron, which also doesn’t show much use) are without question Hogan’s actual “working” clubs from one of the greatest seasons in golf history. You want to know how Hogan came up with “the Secret”? It was by pounding thousands of balls on the range and at the course with clubs like these. Just inspecting these irons brings back the memory of Ben Hogan; the well-worn irons exhibit a extreme amount of use, and underwent an extraordinary amount of the Hawk’s famous tinkering. Every amount of custom clubwork imaginable has been performed on these clubs – the soles, heels and bounce have been ground, the hosels bent, the lofts and lies altered, and a substantial amount of lead weight added. Most of the grips appear to also contain the reminder wire for which Hogan was known to use on occasion.

These Ben Hogan irons are attributed to Hogan’s magical 1953 season. Six of the seven clubs (3 iron through 8 iron) are identical Ben Hogan “No Series Number” Personal Model irons exhibiting an extreme amount of use, and the seventh club is a Ben Hogan Series 1037 Personal Model 9 iron exhibiting light to moderate use.

Hogan’s 1953 irons are being offered today by former PGA Tour player Jimmy Powell. They have been Powell’s most cherished possession for well over 35 years, and originally belonged to Hogan’s best friend Dennis Lavender.

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Moving on…

Sharp Park in Pacifica isn’t the only classic track in California under threat – the Center City Golf Course near San Diego (lovingly known as “Goat Hill”) was, until recently, at risk of getting repurposed into a soccer facility. Goat Hill, like Sharp Park, is an easy target because it is a city-run course and not of “championship” length or condition. While it may be tempting to proclaim such courses obsolete, discerning golfers will instead see the perfect venues for quick, cheap, beginner/vintage friendly tracks – the lifeblood of the “public” side of the game. Now there’s nothing wrong with receiving alternate proposals for use of public land, but the shocking aspect of this case was that the Linksoul team, headed by John Ashworth, appeared to already have the green light to proceed with a restoration led by the great Tom Doak. Here’s the full back story from the Linksoul Blog:

In the Summer of 2012, The Oceanside City Council put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to seek alternate uses for the Public Land including Center City Golf Course (Goat Hill) and its surroundings.

Linksoul, in partnership with several parties, formed Goat Hill Partners, LLC and submitted a proposal that would keep the golf course in tact, while giving it a much-needed facelift, and cultivating the land into what would be Oceanside’s version of Central Park. (Downloadable here)

World renowned golf course architect, Tom Doak (Pacific Dunes), signed on to oversee the course improvements. The grounds would include a public amphitheater, community supported agriculture, a sculpture garden, and days when the course would be closed to golf and open to the public for recreational use.

At the workshop, our proposal was praised by the public and members of the council. And we began talks toward a lease agreement.

Days before the scheduled lease signing in December, the signing was put on hold by the council for 90 days, with no explanation as to why. And for the past four months, we were left in the dark.

Within the last week, we became aware that the council was courting a new developer (while working out our agreement), a minor league soccer owner from Utah. And then we learned of his plan (all through third parties).

The proposal includes:
-The golf course would be turned into a 9 hole kids course.
-6 soccer fields built for a private soccer academy.
-A minor league soccer stadium with 5K capacity.
-2 Hotels.

Thankfully, community support for the Linksoul proposal was strong (over 40 people spoke at the decisive city council meeting and multiple PGA tour players wrote in with written support) and negotiations with the soccer group were directed to end. Here is a nice writeup of the finale.

Two big battles and two big wins. Golf needs more courses like Goat Hill and Sharp Park. Three cheers to Linksoul (who also happen to be great supporters of traditional golf) and the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance for leading their respective charges.

One more summary article in GolfWorld


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Finishing on a sad note – former USGA Executive Director and ABC announcer Frank Hannigan passed away last week. Aside from bringing the open back to Shinnecock, Hannigan knew the score when it comes to state of the game and shepherded Geoff Shackelford into credability where he now carries the torch. I have been catching up on Mr. Hannigan’s writing and have been very impressed. Here is my favorite edition of “letters from Saugerties”, a somewhat regular feature on Geoff’s blog.

Dear Geoff,

There are no words to express my gratitude for your posting of The Crazy Swing of a man in Egypt. I wonder what happens when he finds himself in a bunker?

Peter Thomson ran for the Australian equivalent of our Congress. His politics? Let’s just say he was not a man of the left. He came here in 1985 to play on the senior tour for only one reason: to beat Arnold Palmer like a drum. He told me not to pay much attention to his scores since “we are playing from the ladies tees.”

He is also memorable for his speaking the ultimate truth about instruction which is that neither he nor anyone else could teach a newcomer anything useful other than how to grip the club properly and to aim. Peter once covered a US Open at Oak Hill in Rochester for an Australian newspaper. I asked him what he thought of the course. “It’s too good for them” was his response.

Slow play by the women in the Solheim Cup, with 4-ball rounds approaching 6 hours, could be cured immediately by the simple device of sub-letting the role of the committee to officials not employed by the LPGA or the European women’s tour. I would put USGA alumnus Tom Meeks in charge and tell him that if any given round takes 4 hours 45 minutes to transpire that he would not be paid.

Corey Pavin’s average driving distance on the Tour today is 260 yards, or 8 yards longer than he was in 1999. You figure it’s the mustache?

Comparisons of some other short drivers: Jim Furyk 278 now, 268 then. Paul Goydos is up 12 yards in a decade to 276, Billy Mayfair has become a brute at 284 but was only 269 a decade earlier.

In the early 1990s I was a consultant (unpaid) for a golf course project at Liberty State Park – the site of this week’s Tour event. It required the blessing of then New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, herself an enthusiastic golfer.

She wouldn’t help us because the mayor of Jersey City said that golf was inherently elitist and that none of his city’s precious land should be wasted on the rich. Never mind that the land in question was poisonously polluted. My idea was for a daily fee course supplemented by renting the course out once day a week for huge fees from Wall Street firms who would arrive by boat. What’s happened is the creation of a $500,000 private club that is out of the reach of anybody who isn’t loaded.

Liberty National is a design of the architectural pair of Tom Kite and Bob Cupp who survived the misfortune of designing a 2nd course at the Baltimore Country Club. It’s adjacent to the wonderful Five Farms course created by AW Tillinghast. There were to be 36 holes as routed by Tillinghast. Because of the Great Depression the second course was put off for 50 years. The contrast between the two courses? Let’s just say that the Kite-Cupp course concludes with a double green.

I twitched whenever I heard the name “Solheim” on television last week. Remember the great U groove wars of the 1980s when Ping sued both the USGA and the PGA Tour? There were endless meetings in attempt to resolve the matter without litigation. One took place in our USGA offices in New Jersey. Karsten sent one of his primary technicians. The man recorded the meeting secretly with a device hidden in his briefcase, hoping I or my colleague Frank Thomas would be caught saying something that might be useful to Ping in the suit to come.

Never mind how we found out. The tapes are stored in Mayer Brown, the USGA’s Chicago law firm. Pity the
meeting did not take place in New York where such bugging is a crime. Anything goes in New Jersey.

Frank Hannigan
Saugerties, New York

And a really important article on A.W. Tillinghast from the July 1974 edition of Golf Journal that, according to Shackelford, “motivat(ed) others to dig deeper into the lives of all the master architects”.

—> HANNIGAN ARTICLE

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