Balata Balls and Hickory Sticks


#1

This thread is for the historians and architecture nerds who enjoy toting a Sunday bag with century old clubs and Balata golf balls. Let’s talk early 1900’s style golf.

What are some great short courses that would be intriguing to play with hickories? Where can you find these old clubs and balls? Any good hickory stick tournaments? Unique games to play with your Sunday foursome?


#2

Paging @MatthewM. Come in @MatthewM.


#3

Great thread @sundaybag !

I would think Rustic Canyon would be a great venue for hickory play. Wide, firm, open green fronts, interesting contours, and well placed hazards! Few forced carries too.

There are great eBay merchants who are USA based, selling old clubs and balls. One called stixnstuff I can highly recommend. You also have claret dreamer in the USA who is very adept at refurbishing notable clubs that aren’t in great shape.

I use Macintyre balls or modern low compression balls (DT Soft, Chrome soft, Supersoft) with hickories. The Macintyre Ouimet and RTJ models are fun to play.

The Society of Hickory Golfers is your go to source of tournament information for wooden club play too.

Enjoy!


#4

I don’t have a set. I played a round as a single at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, MI. I get paired with a chatty fellow gaming hickory’s. Turns out he was a caddie at Oakland Hills and had boat loads of stories. We had a lot of fun and he ask me several times to give the hickories a whack. It was so much fun. I will own a set one day. It’s a feeling that has never really left me. One of the rare really good golfing as a single stories. He was playing newly built Tad Moore stuff.


#5

So cool that someone was out there just gaming some hickory’s for the fun of it.

We had a group of six go out last week at the club. Only a few of us had legitimate early 1900’s gear. After just a few holes, everyone was sharing clubs and balata balls. Was one of the most fun weekend rounds I have ever been apart of.


#6

We’re gonna bring this to life in our Australia video series. Stay tuned!


#7

Anyone have any idea of the age of this gear? Got a 2-iron, Mashie 5-iron, Niblick, and putter stamped with a “10” at the top. They are steel shafts painted to look like wood. Leather wrap grips with wooden plugs at the end. Also came with balls from what I would assume to be the same time frame. Tried putting around with some of the balls and the cover started to disintegrate - whoops. Thinking they may be from the 1930’s, but could be way off on this.

Also got a hold of this amazing hickory shafted putter. This thing has got to be old.


#8

The coating around the steel shafts is pyratone. I suspect the clubs are 1930+ and the balls look to be a similar age.


#9

So we are looking at 85 year old equipment here. Any insight on the Hickory shafted putter? Gotta think it has more age to it then the irons. Knowing the dimple marks on the face are post 1890’s era, thinking it may be early 1900’s?

Appreciate you looking through and dropping some nuggets.


#10

You’re right @sundaybag - the hickory putter will be older. USGA deemed steel shafts legal in the mid 1920s. Everything prior to that was hickory.

The face punch marks are a reasonable guide to age but not bulletproof on club age. It will be around 100 years old I suspect. Club makers at that time had trademarks known as cleek marks which they used to show who manufactured clubs. Tom Srewart’s pipe, the Nicholls hand, Gibson star, Forgan crown and so on.

I suspect the Rob Roy stamp on your club is a brand name of sorts. Not sure who made it…


#11

I posted a series of (admittedly) dumb questions in the other hickories thread, so I’m just gonna go ahead and own the title of Resident Dumb Hickory Question Asker and pose this question:

If you’re not supposed to hit range balls with hickories, then how do you practice? I have a toddler, so most of my time with a golf club in hand is in one-hour increments spent at the range.


#12

Ha! No dumb questions on this topic. I didn’t know what I was doing before I bought a few sets and played them.

Totally understand your situation and maybe my thoughts are unfair given my CC’s range is hard mats only until the grass starts to grow regularly. Always been nervous that I will snap my antiques on the cement under the mats. So for me, I do not pound balls at the range with mine. I’m sure hitting balls at the range would be fun.

I use my old clubs to force myself to think through shots, be creative, and play the course as the architect intended it to play. If I only had an hour to practice, I would grab my modern clubs.


#13

Thanks, man. So am I understanding that, realistically, the only way to “practice” is to get out and play 9 or 18?

To be clear, that’s not the worst answer in the world. I’m just trying to make sure I understand.


#14

Hell, you can do whatever you want! Practice is cool. I am just not fully sure that you will get the most out of it by just hitting balls.

If this were me, I would practice with my modern gear and break out the hickories when I had the time and a group that wanted to give them a try on the course. Maybe play them during the winter months or 10% of your rounds throughout the year. Not sure you would get the value out of practicing with old gear.

The value and growth as a golfer you will get by playing hickories will come by playing longer shots into greens, being forced to be creative in shot making, embracing the ability to work the ball more, and focusing on strategically plotting your way around the course. Yes, there are swing benefits like better tempo, smooth distance, and being forced to hit the ball in the center of the club face, but you can work on all that without hickory clubs.

There is something about being 138 yards from the flag with a 5-iron mashie in hand that makes you look at the course and shot differently. You can’t just grab the 140 club and swing away.

If you’ve got a killer imagination at the range, sure you would get a lot of value out of it.


#15

This sounds fun as hell but impractical from a number of standpoints, mainly financial and ease of use.

If i’m understanding correctly, you simply cannot practice with hickories barring some serious outliers. You need access to a course where you’re able to drop a bunch of balatas that you own. Has to be done on a hole (pray for the course being wide open?) and not a range otherwise your balatas are getting picked or other guys are drilling you with balls. I guess you could go to a field somewhere?

I’m all about getting better by playing instead of the range but not being able to hit them at all outside of playing is a tease. I’d be over the moon to get a set but would probably take them out like 10x a year tops.

I want to get them but I really have so many doubts for reasons like this. Appreciate your info and hope you can help convince me!


#16

Fair points. However, I have to disagree that the conditions/situation/environment has to be just such to play your old clubs. The whole point is to have FUN! These will not be your gamers (unless you are a boss like @RaynorMan). You do not have to hit balata balls. Why not snag some limited flight range balls and go hit it around? It is almost garage sale season - sure there are some elderly folks trying to sell their clubs and old balls from 1990.

The ball goes so much shorter. You will not reach a lot of the hazards you would have otherwise. There are a lot less lost balls when using the old clubs - as it should be.

Why do you have to wait for the course to be wide open? By playing shorter tees, you will get through your round much faster than normal.

I did a little searching around on craigslist and went into a few Goodwills. My entire bag cost me under $30. You can see what I was able to get in this thread above.

I think the biggest challenge here is the shift in thought of buying these clubs so they can make you better vrs. enjoying the hunt for these clubs and playing them for the fun of it.


#17

Maybe the answer to this question is self-obvious, given the title of this thread. But here goes anyway:

How wide is the Street Cred Gap between (a.) old-school hickory shaft clubs and (b.) mid-20th century steel-shaft clubs? Is there something to be said for the latter, or do you kinda have to go all-in to get the full thrill?

This is kinda like asking, “Can I lose weight by just changing what I eat, or do I have to work out too?” The truth can be tough, but it’s important if you want to look cool and feel your best. So hit me with the brutal truth.


#18

Having actual hickory shafted clubs is for sure the “cool” thing to have IF they were actually built in that era. I’d beg that having clubs with actual age to them is way cooler than hickory shafted clubs that have been built in the last few years. To me it is like Jordan sneakers. If you walk into the store and get the Jordan 1 brand new, well that’s cool that you like the old models, but it sure as hell doesn’t compare to someone who has the original 1984 release of that shoe - even if they are ratty and torn.

If you had some clubs built between 1900 -1950 that you sought out and discovered, ones that have a cool story behind how you got them, your street cred would be pretty damn high in my book. If you hopped online and spent $1500 on a set from Louisville Golf (which are a true hickory but built with modern equipment and methods), your street cred may not be as high. You betcha that I would ask to give your Louisville a rip, however.


#19

I admire the history lesson. But why?? Why would I want to go backwards?? Why would want to use outdated equipment???


#20

For the challenge and fun of it. It’s fun to see how hard the game was for folks 75-100 years ago. You will find yourself in positions you have never thought was possible with your modern gear. Adapting to those situations and working with what you’ve got is an entire new and exciting challenge - testing every skill besides how fast you can swing.

Some folks that play with old clubs are purists and feel the game is best in it’s rawest, most original form. Some think modern tech has decreased shot values/need for skills. Some course designs have become obsolete due to technology and the only way to play as the architect intended is with old equipment. Personally, I just think it is fun as hell to mess around. I don’t care if I shoot a 95 with this gear - which is unbelievably refreshing.

IMO, one of the biggest problems in the game today is we, as players, feel that we have to fit our golf into the perfect mold. 18 holes, championship test, hit it deep and straight, keep track of your score for handicap reasons, and (hope to) collect money from your buddies at the end of the day. There are more ways to have a blast with this game and playing with previous generations gear is certainly one of them.