Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Hickory golf: The ultimate hipster sport?

By Tom Sweetman, for CNN
updated 12:48 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
In hickory golf, players use wooden-shafted clubs which date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Modern authentic clubs are also made, but the number of companies manufacturing them is declining. In hickory golf, players use wooden-shafted clubs which date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Modern authentic clubs are also made, but the number of companies manufacturing them is declining.
HIDE CAPTION
Golf's 'anti-modern' movement
Golf's 'anti-modern' movement
Golf's 'anti-modern' movement
Golf's 'anti-modern' movement
Golf's 'anti-modern' movement
Golf's 'anti-modern' movement
Golf's 'anti-modern' movement
Golf's 'anti-modern' movement
Golf's 'anti-modern' movement
Golf's 'anti-modern' movement
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • World Hickory Open Championship set for its 10th year this week at Panmure
  • The hickory golf movement is becoming more and more popular
  • Players use hickory-shafted clubs that date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s
  • Former pro Paolo Quirici is aiming to defend his title in Scotland

Follow us at @WorldSportCNN and like us on Facebook

(CNN) -- While most professional golfers pride themselves on using the latest whiz-bang equipment, deep within the Scottish countryside a very different tournament is taking place -- one where the players are happily swinging antiques.

In fact, anyone watching the World Hickory Open Championship could be forgiven for thinking they'd stumbled 100 years back in time.

It's not just the old-fashioned equipment -- wooden-shafted clubs that date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries -- but also the clothes: the players trek across this dramatic landscape dressed in plus fours and flat caps for the men and long skirts for the women.

It's as if they are unwitting sports hipsters.

"Hickory golf has taken on a new lease of life in the past few years because, I'm not sure I really like the word, but it's a bit sort of retro," Lionel Freedman, co-founder and director of the World Hickory Open, tells CNN.

"It's almost anti-modern in some ways."

The heartland of golf
Golfing history comes to life

Freedman has played his own role in hickory golf's ascent over the past decade with the creation of the tournament, which takes place at Panmure Golf Club on the east coast of Scotland on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Upon joining the British Golf Collectors' Society -- founded in 1987 off the back of the U.S. version created 17 years previously -- he became aware of a number of hickory events that initially grew out of members wanting to test their antique clubs.

Keen to promote the movement to the masses, Freedman decided to introduce an open competition of his own that anybody could play in, and so the maiden World Hickory Open was staged in 2005 at the Old Golf Course in Musselburgh, Scotland -- recognized by many as the oldest course in the world and the oldest on which play has been continuous.

"I cheekily called it the World Hickory Open, which was a bit of a joke really," Freedman says.

"I held the first tournament -- 36 people played and I had to give out 36 sets of clubs. But everybody enjoyed it so much, so I said I would continue it."

And so he did, with Freedman's brainchild having gone from strength to strength, annually touring some of Scotland's most prestigious courses and becoming one of the world's leading hickory tournaments in the process.

Next year, it will take place at Carnoustie Golf Links to become the first modern hickory tournament to be played on a current British Open Championship course.

Hickory golf is almost anti-modern in some ways.
Lionel Freedman, co-founder and director of the World Hickory Open

Freedman estimates that 90% of the 100-plus competitors this week -- including ex-professional golfers -- will arrive fully-stocked with their own antique equipment.

"Over the years it's developed and it now really is a World Hickory Open," he says. "My tournament this year will have Americans, Swedes, Germans, Swiss, South Africans, Australians, English and Scots."

What is it that attracts these golfers from around the globe to hunt down a rare club made out of wood, when a souped-up version with the latest technological advancements is so readily available instead?

It's a chance to play on some of the game's oldest courses, which by today's standards are often considered too short and antiquated due to the distance the ball can be hit with modern clubs.

Courses dating back to the 1930s and older are often around 1,000 yards shorter than those the likes of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods find themselves playing on week-in, week-out, and so offer a different kind of challenge for hickory golfers, who also play with an older type of ball.

Golf course with dark past
Ryder Cup teams prepare for a tough battle

"I don't think the modern golf course can get any longer, it's a joke," Freedman says.

"On the great old courses you walk straight from the green onto the next tee. With the modern golf course you might walk 50-100 yards for the next tee, so you need an enormous piece of land and it takes you much longer to go round."

According to Paolo Quirici, who is defending his title at Panmure, this is golf in its purest form.

"It's all about distance in the modern game and the putting becomes even more the game inside the game," says the 46-year-old Swiss golfer, a member of the European Tour from 1989-2001.

"In the old days, I think the skill of the player was really more put into value, whereas today the clubs are much better than they used to be so many players can get away with hitting bad shots."

For Freedman, that thrill of finally connecting with a more technically challenging swing is the true essence of hickory golf.

"The reason I have a passion for hickory golf is because you really know when you've hit a good shot. You don't know when you've had a good shot until you hit the sweet spot from the face of the club," he says.

"The modern club is much more forgiving. I know with a modern club, if I haven't connected properly I still get a result. It's almost like you're cheating a bit. But if I do that with a hickory, you don't get the result."

One worry for the movement of hickory golf, however, is that, as time passes by, antique clubs inevitably begin to become that much harder to locate.

How the Ryder Cup rivalry began at Gleneagles
What does it take to win the Ryder Cup?

Fewer and fewer companies manufacture modern authentic versions today -- St. Andrews Golf Company is one -- and certain collectors will always prefer to hang their clubs up on the wall rather than sample them out on the golf course.

Some tournaments, including those held by the British Golf Collectors' Society, state that pre-1935 golf clubs, and not replicas, must be used.

"If I have a wish, it's that people who are collecting the clubs considered giving some of those clubs back onto the market to try to get people into hickory golf. People would enjoy it a lot more if they had the old clubs to play with," Quirici says.

"I have been repairing over the past few years about 10 sets of clubs, then I resell them to friends who want to start hickory golf. I don't like to keep them in the house, I want to keep the movement of hickory golf going."

However, Freedman is sure hickory golf will continue to attract waves of new players in the years to come.

"I don't think there's any doubt that it will continue to grow," he says.

"I've already been asked if I will hold a World Hickory Open at a golf course in 2017 to celebrate their 150th anniversary. It's definitely got a bit of wind in its sails."

Read: Michelle Wie: The dark art of a golf star

Read: Five things we learned from Gleneagles

Read: FootGolf: A hole new ball game

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:47 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
If golf has a reputation for being a bit stuffy, then the Bryan brothers and their trick shots are a much-needed blast of fresh air.
updated 8:18 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Not many people make the leap from teenage market trader to golf pro and fashion entrepreneur, but that's just what Ian Poulter has done.
updated 6:29 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
"Sleep, as far as mental and physical recovery goes, has never been more important ..." says sport sleep coach Nick Littlehales.
updated 5:24 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Joe Miller is devouring his second steak of the day and the clock has barely nudged 2pm. You need lots of fuel to smash a drive 474 yards.
updated 10:49 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
There have been many dark days for Oliver Wilson, but golf's unluckiest loser is finally riding an upward swing of his career roller coaster.
updated 12:48 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
They dress like it's the 1930s and they swing antique equipment that eschews cutting-edge technology -- this is hickory golf.
updated 12:09 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
CNN's Living Golf focuses on women's golf, charting the growth of the sport from royal pastime to multi-million dollar machine.
updated 4:46 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
"I don't know how to paint happy," says golf's poster girl Michelle Wie. "I think it releases a lot of the darker feelings in me."
updated 8:13 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Phil Mickelson of the United States talks during a press conference after the United States were defeated by Europe after the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland.
If you're a U.S. golf fan, or Tom Watson, look away now.
updated 7:18 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
A ban on uploading social media pictures from the course at Gleneagles was dropped for the Ryder Cup.
updated 6:52 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
A spot of shopping, the odd spa day and some serious flag waving. Welcome to the life of a Ryder Cup WAG.
updated 9:01 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Tom Watson has learned plenty in the 21 years since he was last U.S. Ryder Cup captain, but social media is proving to be problematic.
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Patriotism will reach fever pitch when the USA and Europe collide in golf's Ryder Cup ... and it looks like Rickie Fowler has let it go to his head.
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Pressure is inescapable in the cauldron of Ryder Cup competition -- pressure and ping pong.
updated 7:50 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Millions of golf fans were watching on television with great anticipation. All Martin Kaymer could think about was getting his phone out.
ADVERTISEMENT