Watching a recent Golf Channel discussion group on the state of the game, the subject, as often does, came around to how to grow the sport. The ideas were thoughtful and sincere, with mentions of getting more juniors playing, getting behind things like 15-inch holes, foot golf and Top Golf. These are all fine and good, but I am amazed that no one ever brings up an area of the game that has shown steady growth for the past 15 years – hickory golf. That’s what we who play it reverently refer to it as. Twenty years ago, one tournament existed where men and women played with clubs that came to America or were produced in America from 1890 to 1930. It was part of the Golf Collectors annual meeting week. Today, you can travel the world and play in a hickory event almost every week of the year. More and more golfers – I say golfers, not dabblers – are discovering that hickory golf has relevant and valuable qualities that are disappearing from the game. So, why don’t we hear anything from the media, the USGA, the PGA, or the golf industry in general promoting this as a viable means of growing the game they are so concerned with? Could it be that manufacturers are controlling the game rather than serving it? Every year, technological changes attempt to make previous-model clubs and balls irrelevant. Sometimes, they don’t even wait a full year. Technical innovation feeds an insatiable appetite, they tell us, for stuff that creates distance beyond our wildest dreams. Then again, Jack thought the magic beans would make life so much better. If the keepers of the game continue to dance to the suppliers’ tune, we may wake up one day and find something we once loved unrecognizable. We don’t have to have huge expensive tracts of land requiring drives of 350 yards on golf courses that all look the same. Hickory golf offers players the opportunity to rediscover that hidden gem, an older, shorter course like Highland Park in Birmingham, where Bobby Jones won his first tournament. At 5,800 yards, you can get around it in three hours. Golf as an all-day adventure is not sustainable. That only adds to cost, time and difficulty, not things that will bring people back. Maybe at some point someone on the Golf Channel or the golf media will recognize that hickory golf is a viable way to expand the enjoyment of the game, and that golf played on a traditional course with hickory clubs is a challenging test for anyone of any age. One can only hope.
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