Those old, used, golf clubs I bought a half-century ago for just a handful of George Washingtons were classics. It was then that I was introduced to the beauty of the historic hickory-shaft club.
Yesterday, a young Bill Haas took the first round of the 2014 Masters Tournament at the fabled Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. Of course, he was not using hickory-shaft clubs.
Also yesterday, but 90 years ago, which was April 10, 1924, officials authorized tubular-steel shafts for championship play. By the next year, tubular steel was realizing the demise of hickory shafts.
Anyway, there I was in the early 1960s, beginning my brief foray into golfdom, using clubs with shafts made of beautiful, strong, old wood. A couple of those clubs were so old and weathered that they were slightly warped. I didn't care.
I bought the classic clubs from my childhood friend Bob Burton. I guess he'd just bought some shiny-new steel clubs. My hickory clubs came in a blue, beat-up golf bag. I think Bob felt sorry for me and gave me a few beat-up golf balls and whacked-up tees to get me started. Yes, I hit the Locust Hills Country Club golf course in real style.
I was not a very good golfer. Yet, I wasn't awful, either. And I pretty much spent my whole summer on the golf course in that glorious season of my first year on the links.
Locust Hills was a nine-hole course. I would get there in the morning and catch a caddy job. In the afternoon, I'd play nine holes myself. And in the evening, I'd scour the rough and the lake for lost golf balls that I would clean and try to sell the next day while I waited for a morning caddy job.
Eventually, after a couple of years, I stopped playing golf. I needed all my time for other important things, such as fishing, playing baseball, hunting, riding my motorcycle and working at a local grocery store. But I still admired the beauty of my hickory-shaft clubs, and I did not let them just waste away in that old, blue, beat-up bag during the remainder of my teenage years in Lebanon, Ill.
For example, I used the 7 iron or maybe the 9 iron in some of my outdoor activities. Going on a snake hunt? What better than my trusty 7 iron for pinning down a pilot black snake or a northern water snake? (Nope, I didn't kill the snakes.) I didn't need a carved limb for a hiking stick, because the 9 iron worked fine as a hiking stick. Any iron was great for turning over leaves and fallen bark in the woods in search of early springtime morel mushrooms. And if I couldn't find my Wiffle-ball bat, I could use a hickory-shaft club! Ah, the uses for my gorgeous clubs of hickory and metal were practically unlimited.
I did also use my clubs to occasionally practice hitting a few golf balls. I figured that someday I'd be an adult with plenty of money, and I would have to play golf with my well-to-do buddies. But a military career, followed by a journalism career, quashed my plenty-of-money plans. Just because my interesting and exciting professions were also low-paying lines of work did not mean, however, I couldn't afford to play golf. But fishing is really cheap. And I love fishing.
Speaking of fishing, I'm dying to tell you about how Bill Carpenter and I went carp fishing with our 7 irons in the Silver Creek bottomlands, but the animal-rights folks would scream. Let's just say that Bill and I teed off on some shallow-water carp that ended up in a delicious fish fry.
I let go of my lovely hickory-shaft golf clubs when, at 19, I joined the Marine Corps. I gave them to my cousin, James Bunge. Or, perhaps, I charged him $5. I can't remember now, after all the years. I do know that James, or Jim, has accomplished great success in his life and probably owns some very, very good golf clubs now.
If only I had kept my clubs. I'd have a wonderful hiking stick and a nice snake stick and a useful morel stick. I would refinish a few to use as wall decorations. I might use one to knock out some carp in the springtime high water along Silver Creek, and then I'd invite all my friends – anglers and hikers and even golfers – to my fish fry. Just don't tell PETA.
In the 1970s, golf-club manufacturers started making graphite shafts. Today, they still use graphite, and they're incorporating some other materials, as club-making continues to evolve.
The same has taken place in the making of fishing rods, evolving from bamboo to fiberglass to graphite. I enjoy fly fishing, especially for trout in clear mountain streams in California. I have three fly rods – one split bamboo, one fiberglass and one graphite. My favorite one is the split bamboo, made sometime in the 1930s. It's classic, traditional, beautiful – like those hickory clubs.
Yep, if only I'd kept my hickory clubs, darn it. I would have bamboo for trout, fiberglass for bass, graphite for bluegill and hickory for carp. Fore!