Golf is one of the most di cult sports on the planet, so why would any­one choose to tackle it with equip­ment made nearly 100 years ago? Alan Grieve and his hick­o­ries have produced a story that will leave golf­ing purists smil­ing ear-to-ear.


Armed with a set of hick­o­ries and dressed in plus fours, Alan Grieve won his club’s monthly medal against a full field of play­ers us­ing the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, writes Michael Jones.

No­body bats an eye when Alan Grieve walks to the 1st tee at The Bris­bane Golf Club dressed in plus fours and a cloth cap; it’s a sight they’ve all be­come ac­cus­tomed to. But mem­bers were left wide-eyed when he be­came the first man in more than 70 years to win the club’s monthly medal us­ing a full set of hick­ory-shafted golf clubs. “The other mem­bers know me by now,” the civil drafts­man says. “When they see me in my plus fours and with my clubs they go, ‘oh that’s just Al.’ I got a lot of con­grat­u­la­tions after­wards. I was sit­ting in the club­house with my play­ing group hav­ing a few drinks when the club cap­tain came over for a bit of a chat and said, ‘this could be the first monthly medal won with hick­o­ries since World War II.’”

Play­ing from the same tees as ev­ery­one else, the six-marker left other com­peti­tors and their mod­ern equip­ment in his wake to shoot a two-over 74 and win A-grade by one stroke. It was Grieve’s first win at Bris­bane since join­ing the club three years ago, and it came in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion.

“I birdied 9, which was my last, but I had no idea what po­si­tion I was in so I just thought I’d give it a chance and see what hap­pened,” Grieve says. “The putt was about 12 paces from just oˆ the back of the green and rolled down the hill, and from about three paces out I knew it was in. It was once of those rare ones that ac­tu­ally goes in af­ter you’ve called it.”

The put­ter be­hind that his­tory-mak­ing stroke has been in his bag since the early ‘90s, and was gifted to him by his par­ents.

“I’ve been play­ing a full set of hick­o­ries since 2009, but I’ve al­ways had a hick­ory-shafted put­ter,” Grieve says. “I got my Calamity Jane put­ter 20 years ago for my 21st birth­day, and I’ve al­ways seemed to putt well with it.”

A wear mark in the put­ter’s sweetspot is tes­ta­ment to its long his­tory in Grieve’s bag.

The Queens­lan­der, who has won hick­ory cham­pi­onships in both Aus­tralia and the United States, bought him­self an in­tro­duc­tory set of hick­ory-shafted clubs from Louisville Golf, in

Ken­tucky, and has hardly looked back since.

“I was just do­ing some re­search on hick­ory clubs a long time ago, ba­si­cally just try­ing to find out how much they cost and if they still made them,” the 45-year-old says. “Ini­tially it was just go­ing to be once a month on a Sun­day, but once I had a few hits I re­alised it was a lot more fun, although harder, than when I use the mod­ern gear. I haven’t touched my steel-shafted set since the mid­dle of last year.”

Apart from a driver and a put­ter, play­ers can choose from the fol­low­ing clubs to com­plete a set of hick­o­ries, which have sim­i­lar – though not iden­ti­cal – mod­ern com­par­isons brack­eted: Brassie (2-wood); Spoon ( high­erlofted woods); Ba†ng spoon (ap­proach wood); Cleek (driving iron); Mid-iron (2-iron); Mid­mashie (3-iron); Mashie iron (4-iron); Mashie (5-iron); Spade mashie (6-iron); Mashie nib­lick (7-iron); Pitch­ing nib­lick (8-iron); Nib­lick (9-iron); Jig­ger (wedge).

Count­less play­ers are reg­u­larly hit­ting tee shots well over 300 me­tres nowa­days, which is a dis­tance that takes Grieve a well-struck wood and some form of nib­lick to cover. But length and power is not what hick­ory golf is about. It is about recog­nis­ing and en­joy­ing the chal­lenges of yes­ter­year and, in a lot of cases, play­ing golf cour­ses the way they were orig­i­nally de­signed to be played.

“I cherry pick my cour­ses a lit­tle bit now,” Grieve says. “It’s not as fun when you’ve got to hit driver and then your spoon (3-wood) into those 400-plus me­tre par-4s … I al­ways say, ‘if you can’t play the part, look the part.’ Golf is a fun game at the end of the day, at least that’s how I see it.”

The Aus­tralian Golf Her­itage So­ci­ety cel­e­brates the ori­gins of golf by or­gan­is­ing an­nual hick­ory cham­pi­onships at both state and na­tional lev­els. Con­di­tions of play dic­tate that play­ers may only use clubs man­u­fac­tured prior to Jan­uary 1st, 1940. So, there­fore, cour­ses are of­ten short­ened to ac­com­mo­date the less-for­giv­ing and in­con­sis­tent qual­i­ties of the equip­ment.

“There’s not much room for er­ror,” Grieve says. “The sweetspot is a lot smaller and you get a lot more feed­back on your mis-hits, which hap­pens a lot more than with your mod­ern clubs.”

To max­imise that smaller sweet spot, he uses low-com­pres­sion golf balls that en­hance dis­tance and feel. “I use a soft ball,” Grieve says. “You’re just look­ing for a soft com­pres­sion, any­thing in the 70 com­pres­sion or less, but you’ve still got to put a half de­cent swing on it.”

Sydney’s Carnar­von Golf Club plays host to the Aus­tralian Hick­ory Shaft Cham­pi­onship and abides by a strict set of prin­ci­ples when pre­par­ing the course for com­pe­ti­tion. In ad­di­tion to al­ter­ing the length of the course, its pins are kept away from bunkers to suit the lower ball flights, and the sand in those bunkers is heav­ily com­pacted to al­low for the nar­row soles of hick­ory clubs.

Greens are left softer and are there­fore more re­cep­tive to the lack of spin produced by the older club heads. And, where pos­si­ble, there should al­ways be a route to the putting sur­face that can be ac­cessed along the ground.

That is why Grieve’s monthly medal vic­tory is so im­pres­sive and why tra­di­tion­al­ists will be left grin­ning. Dressed in plus fours, tie, long-sleeved shirt and armed with a full set of hick­o­ries, Grieve not only de­feated an en­tire field of play­ers who were us­ing the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, he did so on a course that was set up in a way that should have made that task nearly im­pos­si­ble.


Grieve’s MacGre­gor per­sim­mon driver is dwarfed by a 2017 Tay­lorMade M2 driver. Grieve’s monthly medal win­ning bag in­cludes all hick­ory-shafted clubs.

Look­ing re­splen­dent in plus­fours, long sleeves and tie, Grieve works on his chip­ping.

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