Hickory golf is making a comeback in the Northwest

Updated: February 2, 2015

Hickory clubs and tournaments are making a comeback in the Pacific Northwest. There will be the Hickory Championship May 24 at Chambers Bay.
By Brian Giboney, Special to Inside Golf
Becoming a hickory golf addict starts with the first swing. Even though I have been playing golf for over 20 years, my first hickory swing did not take place until January 26, 2014 on the range at Lipoma Firs golf course. I had been invited to play in the Ye Ole Hickory Meet Up Tournament by a good friend. At first I wanted to say “no.” I really wanted to say “no.”

But for one reason alone I decided to give it a try. As a skydiver I have over 1,000 skydives and there is an old skydiver training motto that says a skydiver is not complete unless he or she is able to fly on their back, on their head, feet first, and then back onto their stomach to open their parachute at a safe altitude. That means getting out of the comfort zone and trying something unfamiliar in order to improve. Translated to golf, hickory was a way to throw myself into the deep end of the pool and see if I could swim. Perhaps I could become a more complete golfer by learning to play hickory golf.

Typically in golf tournaments we are familiar with our golf clubs. Not on this January day. Driving to the golf course I was nervous like I was for my first jump from a perfectly good airplane. I had yet to swing a hickory golf club and here I was going to be playing in a tournament with a set of rented wood sticks. Now attending a 6 hour ground school prior to my first static line jump later that day from 3,000 feet was nuts and this hickory stuff was nuts too!

Typically my comfort zone with modern equipment is a round in the mid 70’s with a couple of birdies, but that was out the window – question was, how bad was it going to get? A word on the attire here, the normal uniform back in the hickory era was knickers, a button down shirt and a tie. I had the shirt and tie handled, but no knickers, so I wore an old pair of corduroy, which also made me nervous. “Will I get laughed at for these?” was the thought all the way to the golf course. However, I was able to find an old school paperboy hat at Ross for $7.99 that would at least fit in.

Upon arrival to the course I was greeted very nicely by the other hickory players and was handed my rental set of hickories. Made my way to the range and took my first swing…a bladed iron that barely got off the ground. My second shot was not much better. The third started to get airborne and by the end of the bucket had hit some good ones and was having fun. A lot of fun. The hickory wood shafts were much stronger than I thought they would be and I learned by swinging smoothly at about 75% produced the best results. So it was off to the first tee.

My opening tee shot in my inaugural hickory tournament was a weak flare into the rough that left me with serious tree trouble. Walking to my ball I started re-calibrating my goals for the day. “Break a hundred” was my first thought, but dang that is a big number for a 2 handicap player. Would I be happy with that? After a few more hacks, a chip, and a couple of putts, my opening double bogey got me thinking about a 95. Yeah I would be a happy with a 95 with a canvas bag of wood sticks I had never seen before in my life. So I settled in and made bogey after bogey after bogey. Funny thing is I was having so much fun. I was making good bogeys and I was proud of them. My first par felt like an eagle and I said to myself “This might be the most fun I have had on a golf course and my score is awful.”

Hickory golf is for everyone. We all want to shoot a good score, but in hickory golf everyone is going to make bogeys so it lowers the expectations and the emphasis is on the fun. There is not enough space to go over every shot or every hole, but I was able to win the KP on the par 3 11th hole with a niblick to 10 feet after a good Scottish bounce. That was the shot of the day and the key to my round of 86. Was the best 86 of my life and I was hooked.

Next thing you know I am on eBay buying hickory sticks, having a set of custom knickers made, and going to Goodwill looking for jackets and anything in tweed or argyle. Then I get my 13 year old son (Grayson) into it and get him decked out with a custom hickory bag from Steurer & Jacoby, a dozen McIntyre replica golf balls, and a full set of hickory clubs — some of which we pieced together from Don Mojean’s at Highland Golf Course (by the Tacoma Narrows). The rest were ordered from Louisville Golf in Kentucky. By summer Grayson and I had both broke 80 at Mill Creek Country Club, which was no easy feat. Clearly the hickory was helping Grayson’s modern game and patience on the course as he made the cut at WJGA State in Spokane and finished Top 5 with three nice rounds in the 70’s. He added the Jackson Jr’s title to his resume two weeks later at Jackson Park and shot even par 72 at Chambers Bay this Fall.

To top off his year, Grayson won the Washington State Hickory Open at The Home Course and we are headed to Dayton, OH for the United States Hickory Open in July. From one hickory swing to entries into the national championship in a matter of months – the hickory addiction is real.

Yes, hickory golf can help your modern game and it all starts with the first swing. If you have not made yours yet, you will have many opportunities to do so in 2015.

• Feb. 8: Glen Acres Country Club Jim Barnes Cup.
• March TBA: Jefferson Park Old Sticks Hickory Classic (Centennial).
• May 2: Meadow Park 3rd Annual Vintage Hickory Invit. (Centennial)
• May 23-24: Chambers Bay “The Open before The Open” Chambers Bay Hickory Open Cham. sponsored by Michelob Ultra
• July TBA: West Seattle GC Crooked Mashie Challenge.
• Sept. 19: Riverbend Puget Sound Hickory Amateur Champ.
• Oct 3: The Home Course Washington State Hickory Open Championship sponsored by Jones Financial