Why, and How to Get Involved with Playing Hickory Golf Today

Eric Peyton Equipment, Opinion 1 Comment

A couple years ago I realized that I had hit my golfing peak and my skills were beginning to decline slightly. I don’t work full-time at a golf course anymore, so I don’t get to play and practice every day.

One of the things I’ve always loved about the game of golf is that there’s always room for improvement; you can’t master the game. Even the greatest players in the world spend hours working on their game to get better.

So, when I realized that I would never be able to reach a new skill level, that was a little difficult for me. The element of constantly improving was, in some sense, lost. As a result, I started to enjoy the game less. It was more frustrating than enjoyable, but enough about my relational history with golf. My point is, I eventually found a renewed love for the game when I picked up my first hickory golf club.

For those who may not realize it, golf clubs haven’t always been made of graphite, steel, and titanium. (Gasp!) Instead, the first golf clubs were made of wood; both the shafts and heads. When I was struggling to love the game, I stumbled across a store in Omaha that restored and sold antique golf clubs for actual use. I purchased a putter (aka: cleek) on a whim to hit around my house.

The more I used that putting cleek in my living room, the more I thought about assembling a full set of hickories to play with. So, I started doing some research on what that would take. To my surprise, it was fairly cheap and easy to get started. 

In this article, I wanted to share the basics of why I think every golfer should try playing hickory golf and how you can start.

History of the Game

I wouldn’t call myself a history buff, but I do love hearing stories and learning about things that have happened in the past. Another thing I really love about golf is that it’s a game that’s been played for centuries. It’s so old, there’s not even consensus as to when and how it began. When I think about it, I feel like I have a special connection to history through the sport.

The golf link at Pau, winter health resorts abroad, France,…

The golf link at Pau, winter health resorts abroad, France, engraving, illustration from the magazine The Graphic, volume XXX, no 787, December 27, 1884. Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images

Playing with hickory clubs has given me a new appreciation for the history of golf and players in the past. It allows me to experience the sport that our game’s forefathers fell in love with.

Without their first passion, golf might not have continued to be around for my enjoyment as well. I’m still in awe of the scores that guys like Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen were able to shoot with hickory clubs.

Side note: My next club is going to be a “Sabbath stick.” Basically, golf used to be illegal on Sundays, so golf addicts created a club that looked like a walking stick when held by the head. Then, when the authorities weren’t looking, they could sneak in a few shots. I know, genius! Right?!

Golf Courses

Hickory golfing also allows you to see courses through a new lens, even the ones you’ve played hundreds of times. You land the ball in different spots, forcing you to hit new shots, and use a different strategy. It’s almost as if you’re playing an entirely new course when you use clubs that are a century old.

Golfer Mats Gylldorff, from Sweden, takes part in the World Hickory…

Golfer Mats Gylldorff, from Sweden, takes part in the World Hickory Open Championships at Longniddry Golf Club on Scotland’s Golf Coast, East Lothian. Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images

It’s also fun to play older courses with technology from a similar time period. You get a glimpse of what the architect was going for with his original design. Yes, a lot of older courses have been updated a bit to maintain the spirit of the design, but few are completely transitioned to modern day.

Improved Modern Game

I’m definitely not advocating that everyone throw out their modern clubs, I still have mine and play with them regularly. Instead, I’m just suggesting you assemble a second set of clubs that happen to be made from hickory. It can actually help improve your game with modern clubs.

Golfers take part in this year’s World Hickory Open being held at…

Golfers take part in this year’s World Hickory Open being held at Kilspindie golf course on October 3, 2017 in Aberlady, Scotland. A field of international amateur and professional golfers have… Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images

Hickory clubs require you to hit more quality golf shots. A miss hit can literally hurt, both your hands and your score. Modern clubs provide us a significant amount of forgiveness that hickories don’t.

You’re forced to think differently and approach the game with your mind more than your muscle. That slight change will spill over to your modern game and help you shoot some lower scores.

New Challenge

We all love the game of golf partially because it’s a personal challenge every time we step on the course. As I touched on in the beginning, hickory golf gives you a new challenge to conquer. It’s almost like creating two games out of one.

For example, with my modern clubs, I’d be really upset by a 9-hole score of 40, but with hickories, I’m pumped. Even a “bad” score becomes “good” again.

If you feel like your golf skills have plateaued or started to decline, hickory golf gives you the chance to see dramatic improvement again. My first time out with hickories, I shot a 48 on 9-holes and thought, “Not bad I guess.” The next time, I nearly broke 40. I can’t remember the last time with modern clubs that I had an 8-shot improvement so quickly.

The Basics

Now that I’ve convinced you to start playing hickory golf, on to the “how to” part. First, you need to assemble a play set, obviously.

If you just picking up the modern game of golf, you can expect to spend several hundred dollars on a set of clubs and bag; quite the investment. You might think that refurbished hickory clubs that are 100 years old would be expensive too, but they really aren’t too bad. I put together a starter set (6 clubs) for about $125 all from eBay.

Of course, there’s always the more expensive route if you’d like to jump in head first. There are some really great modern companies who are making quality replicas. Louisville Golf is one that I really love and I’ve heard Tad Moore is another good brand. They won’t cost you as much as a brand-new Titleist, but it will be more of an investment than the former.

I would recommend going with inexpensive clubs first to see if you want to continue. It also makes it less devastating when one of the clubs breaks like my driver did recently.


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Old clubs made of wood can be frail, cracks are going to happen. Keep that in mind when buying a club. I have a mid-iron with a shaft crack that I taped over with athletic tape. A lot of times they can be fixed that way, but other times you may need to just buy a new club.

As for a golf ball, there’s no need to go and buy a bunch of old-style golf balls unless you really want to go all out. Just try to grab some softer modern golf balls to play with. If you do want to play with vintage golf balls though, check out McIntyre Golf Ball Co.

Assembling a Set

Like I said above, a good starter set is only about six clubs; a brassie (driver), mid-iron, mashie, mashie-niblick, niblick, and cleek (putter). As you can see, hickories also have awesome names instead of the boring numbers we have today, a practice I’m definitely in favor of bringing back.

You might also notice that six clubs isn’t very many by our standards today. A little history lesson for you, 14 clubs hasn’t always been the limit. In fact, golfers sometimes had up to 30 clubs in their bags. They’d have clubs made for one specific shot that they might face in a round. So, for those of you who have joked about carrying a club of the opposite dexterity in case your ball comes to rest against a tree, that’s not far from the truth of how the game used to be played. Anyway, for a starter hickory set, you really only need those six clubs listed above. As you play more, you can slowly fill in your gaps.

As you start to assemble your set, just look for something that looks like it’s in good condition and not too expensive. Don’t buy a club at a price you’d be upset if it broke.

Golfers take part in this year’s World Hickory Open being held at…

Golfers take part in this year’s World Hickory Open being held at Kilspindie golf course on October 3, 2017 in Aberlady, Scotland. A field of international amateur and professional golfers have… Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images

Also, I always look for the ones with a quality grip and no visible cracks (in the head or shaft). If you happen to run in to a club that has a small crack in the shaft, simply tape it up with some athletic tape and keep going. I’ve got a couple clubs like that.

Go play

Once you get that set together, you’re ready to hit the links. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to move up a tee box or two when playing with hickories. The back tees aren’t there to test a hickory golfer. You’ll spend the first round or two figuring out your distances. In general, the clubs from longest to shortest distance are brassie, mid-iron, mashie, mashie-niblick, niblick, and cleek.

There you have it! Go get yourself a set of hickories and enjoy the game.

About Eric Peyton

Eric Peyton has been playing and teaching the game professionally at golf courses all over the Midwest since 2006. Previously, he was a pro at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, KS, a top 30 golf course in the United States. He now owns and operates his own golf business, Eric Peyton Golf, out of Des Moines, IA, where his passion is for helping people love the game.

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If anyone is interested, I am trying to assist my 78 year old friend sell a HUGE collection. This historical assembly consists of fine, antique wood shafted, pre-1930 golf clubs, antique balls, trophies, ephemera and other memorabilia (approximately 17,000 clubs and a few thousand other pieces). Only a single sale will be considered for the entire collection. For more information and a detailed listing, please visit: http://www.ecogrun.com