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 o 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); Bang 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.
... 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.
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.