In an era when modern golf equipment allows good players and duffers alike to hit longer and straighter, a few are enjoying a retro game — hickory golf.
Evoking the 1920s and '30s, they swing wood-shafted clubs called mashies, brassies, niblicks and cleeks, and dress to the nines in their plus-fours, knickers and other period golf clothes.
Dr. Kevin Cawley of Omaha even has adopted a nickname, engraved on his golf bag — the Hickory Dickory Doc.
"This takes you back to a time," Cawley said, "when you had to play within yourself and not rely so much on technology."
Modern clubs include flexible shafts of lightweight titanium, graphite, aluminum or fiberglass. Clubheads made of metal alloys seem as big as frying pans.
The modern club is so forgiving of an imperfect swing, radiologist Cawley quipped, that it's almost like cheating.
On March 14, about a dozen folks who prefer old-fashioned, pre-1935 golf ratified the charter of the Happy Hollow Hickory Golf Society.
On a windy Sunday this week at the Happy Hollow Club, southeast of 105th and Pacific Streets, 27 hickory golfers — some from Iowa, Kansas and Missouri — competed in a tournament.
Orthopedic surgeon David Brown of Omaha, who won the event, said the biggest difference is length off the tee. If you drive 250 yards with a modern club, he said, you might hit 220 with a hickory-shaft driver.
In regular golf, he carries a 6-handicap (six over par); in hickory golf, his handicap is 9. So why does he enjoy hickory?
"To pretend that you're Bobby Jones," he said. "The 1920s was a golden era of golf."
Hickory golfers revere the memory of the late greats such as Jones, Francis Ouimet and Walter Hagen.
On Feb. 23 at the Happy Hollow Club, hickory enthusiasts enjoyed golf-history lectures by Randy Jensen of Omaha and Connor Lewis of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who also showed dozens of antique golf clubs.
They included two of Bobby Jones' clubs as well as Hagen's from the 1929 Ryder Cup and British Open. There was even a club that had belonged to baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb — with a baseball design on the face.
Drs. Brown and Cawley, both 59, play hickory golf with vintage clubs, some of which they purchased online on eBay. It's also possible to buy recently made replica hickory clubs.
With modern pros hitting the ball so far, some golf holes have been lengthened. Hickory golfers say their game is "greener" because it doesn't require as much land, water and fertilizer.
Many have poked fun at golf. Mark Twain called it "a good walk spoiled." A modern writer, asked how he could be so prolific, replied: "It's amazing how much you can accomplish when you don't play golf."
Dr. Brown, who enjoys reading golf history and owns a golf instructional book from 1902, said that for him, golf is "a way to get away from phones and beepers." (This week he and Jensen will pair up in the Southern Hickory 4-Ball Championship in Birmingham, Ala.)
In a way, hickory golfers are making the game harder on themselves. But they find a kind of purity and even formality in the game.
"One of our players wears cuff links," Dr. Cawley said. "Putting on plus-fours and a nice shirt kind of motivates you to step into a different era."
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