Can three am­a­teurs of vary­ing abil­i­ties match their abil­ity with mod­ern equip­ment by us­ing clubs from yes­ter­year? It was a ques­tion we bounced around the o ce and here was what we dis­cov­ered.


Can three am­a­teur golfers match their abil­ity with mod­ern equip­ment by us­ing clubs from yes­ter­year? Here’s what we dis­cov­ered.

Are mod­ern golf clubs that much eas­ier to hit than the equip­ment of eras gone by? There is no doubt the highly ad­vanced driv­ers and irons on the mar­ket to­day are designed to o er max­i­mum for­give­ness on o -cen­tre strikes and, with pre­cise weight­ing, are far eas­ier to square up at im­pact.

These two tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances alone al­low play­ers to swing much harder at the ball know­ing that, even if their swing is a lit­tle o , they will hit a good shot.

So what hap­pens when a driver club­head is half the size? What hap­pens when the sweetspot on an iron is the size of a five cent piece and there is no perime­ter weight­ing to help you square the club­face at im­pact?

To an­swer these ques­tions, we de­cided to test some old gear to see how it com­pares with the mod­ern stu . We raided our own col­lec­tions of old clubs (and balls) from the past 30 years, while Aus­tralian Golf His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety Life Mem­ber and club­maker, Tommy Moore, kindly lent us a set of hick­ory-shafted clubs to use.

With four bags of clubs from three di er­ent eras at our dis­posal, we ven­tured out for 18 holes to see how they performed.


Playing golf with hick­ory-shafted clubs is an op­por­tu­nity to step back in time to the age of Harry Var­don and Bobby Jones, and Old Tom Mor­ris and Al­lan Robert­son be­fore them.

The clubs of the era are a long, long way from the tech­no­log­i­cal trim­mings of to­day’s com­pos­ite shafts, mas­sive ti­ta­nium driver heads, ad­justable lofts and milled grooves.

Gone are the strato­spheric ball flights of a mod­ern club, which is designed to min­imise left and right curves.

With a hick­ory in hand you have to ex­pect the ball to fade, draw, hook and slice … some­times dra­mat­i­cally. The mis-hits might even shud­der up into your hands. You wait for the good shot, and when it comes, with its low pierc­ing tra­jec­tory, it is joy­ous. The feel is soft and with so lit­tle spin on the ball it hits the ground and trun­dles on.

(In the ab­sence of any balls from the era, I used a mix of soft 1990s Balatas as well as the Callaway Su­per­soft ball, which was rec­om­mended as a


suit­able ball to use with hick­o­ries.)

Be­fore the 14-club rule went into e ect in 1939, play­ers could carry as many clubs as they wanted. Tommy Moore’s col­lec­tion of eight clubs in­cluded a Brassie (2-wood), Spoon (3-wood), Cleek (1iron), Mid-iron (2-iron), Mashie (5-iron), Deep-faced Mashie (6-iron), Mashie Niblick (7-iron) and a Niblick (9-iron). It is im­por­tant to note here that the lofts of these vin­tage clubs are much higher than their mod­ern equiv­a­lents.

I em­braced the en­tire hick­ory ex­pe­ri­ence. In­stead of us­ing a wooden tee, a clump of sand was used to tee the ball. The best of my drives fin­ished about 210 me­tres from the tee, and on an ad­join­ing fair­way. It was a loss of about 25-30 me­tres in dis­tance and was roughly 30 me­tres right of where I would hope to nor­mally find my ball.

That said, once I got used to the heav­ier feel of the leather-gripped, shorter-shafted hick­ory driver I was more ac­cu­rate but lost a few more me­tres as I slowed the swing down to en­sure the sweetspot was found.

There were two clubs in the col­lec­tion that I fell in love with and would se­ri­ously con­sider us­ing in any round of golf in the fu­ture. The Cleek, or 1-iron, was bril­liant. Couldn’t miss a shot with the “Auchtie”, which was made by D & W Auchter­lonie in St An­drews, Scot­land. The club­head was as wide, from heel to toe, as a mod­ern long iron but with a thin­ner topline. Us­ing my best Old Tom Mor­ris ten-fin­ger grip, the Cleek flew straight and long enough to make it a bet­ter op­tion from the tee than the Brassie or Spoon. And the feel­ing at im­pact was bril­liant, so much so I’ll be mak­ing Tommy Moore an o er for the club.

The most en­joy­able club in the col­lec­tion was the Niblick, with its shiny forged club­head,

no bounce and no grooves. Yes, that’s right no grooves, just a smooth shiny club­face. Boast­ing the loft of a mod­ern 9-iron, I thought I would strug­gle to get any chips close with­out grooves but was amazed at how easy it was to chip well with this club. When you don’t have the abil­ity to hit a pitch or chip with spin, you al­low for the run out af­ter the first bounce and you will never be sur­prised by a shot that bites in­stead of rolling. Know­ing you have this club to scram­ble with, you also tend to think a lit­tle more about your green ap­proach strat­egy. Leav­ing your­self short-sided presents a few prob­lems.

If you have never had a swing with a hick­ory-shafted club, I sug­gest you try it. It’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent to the mod­ern game, but so much fun. -Brendan James


Be­ing just old enough to have be­gun my golf­ing ex­ploits in the fi­nal days of wooden woods I ap­pre­ci­ate just how far club tech­nol­ogy in the long­est part of the bag has come.

But with 400cc plus driv­ers the norm for over 10 years it is easy to for­get just how small and heavy per­sim­mon woods are and the poor re­sults they pro­duce when mis-hit. Some­thing I was quickly re­minded of when hit­ting what could only be de­scribed as ‘low fizzer’ with my first at­tempt with the ‘Oil Hard­ened’ MacGre­gor Tour­ney Super Eye-O-Matic driver in our 1980’s set. My driv­ing did im­prove as I learnt not to wail away as I tend to do with my cur­rent driver and shorten my back­swing and fo­cus on tempo.

The rest of the set com­prised of a steel shafted Honma 3-wood, Ho­gan Apex Grind blade irons (1-SW) that looked more suited to but­ter­ing toast than hit­ting golf balls and an Acush­net Bullseye putter sim­i­lar to those favoured by the likes of Corey Pavin and Johnny Miller.

The look of ev­ery club at ad­dress was enough to make me shake a lit­tle in my spikes from fear of jar­ring mis-hits with sig­nif­i­cantly smaller iron heads with less off­set than even my mod­ern blades, and a driver with­out much loft that was barely big­ger than the ball. The wedge still looked ef­fec­tive al­beit smaller and with­out the ben­e­fits of new ag­gres­sive grooves, and the putter while classic in shape was with­out anywhere near the for­give­ness of new MOI (moment of in­er­tia) en­hanced ver­sions.

Once I re­cov­ered from the shock of the open­ing tee shot, and per­haps be­cause they al­lowed me to chan­nel the games of some of my favourite play­ers in their prime like Greg Nor­man and Seve Balles­teros, I sur­pris­ingly found some of my best golf of the day with the ‘80s mod­els.

The 1-iron was my club of choice from many of the tees with War­ringah Golf Club’s par-4s and par-5s re­quir­ing place­ment rather than power. And while ob­vi­ously not the eas­i­est club to strike cleanly, just ask Lee Trevino, I found my­self in bet­ter places than I some­times do with my 460cc multi-ma­te­rial 2017 driver. Thanks in part to the ex­tra fo­cus re­quired to make clean contact.

In com­par­i­son to the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of a low lofted hy­brid or hol­low-body driv­ing iron, how­ever, the 1- and 2-iron sit along­side the driver as the area in the bag that has ben­e­fited most in terms of im­proved playa­bil­ity and con­sis­tency. With the ver­sa­til­ity and for­give­ness of­fered by the mod­ern util­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly from less than ideal lies, un­ri­valled.


Ball flight con­trol was eas­ier to achieve and more con­sis­tent with the older long clubs than with their mod­ern name­sakes, par­tic­u­larly in con­cert with the wound golf ball I hap­pened to have new in the box for just this oc­ca­sion. But the wooden woods and blade long irons lacked the power and ease of up­dated ver­sions, most no­tice­ably on poor strikes. Where a poorly struck mod­ern 3-wood might still carry a green-guard­ing haz­ard the older ver­sion fell well short.

The irons and wedges again re­quired more con­trol, swing vari­a­tions and cre­ativ­ity with only two wedges in the bag com­pared to my usual four. Best il­lus­trated by hit­ting E-wedge (pitch­ing equiv­a­lent) on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions where I might nor­mally take a diff€er­ent club each time. The re­sults were close to on par al­beit with less spin and a less straight­for­ward ap­proach the most no­table di€ffer­ences.

Iron play while en­joy­able was far more di‚ffi­cult than with my cur­rent set with a shot type rhyming with bank even oc­cur­ring and the need for a pre­cise strike to avoid dras­tic dis­tance and accuracy loss. The Ho­gans were as much as a club and half short of my mod­ern set and an­other club again at least be­hind larger game im­prove­ment cav­ity mod­els.

As ex­pected the putter re­quired the least ad­just­ment. The Bullseye did carry a sub­stan­tial amount of loft which re­quired a more sig­nif­i­cant for­ward press and a ‘handsy’ stroke that proved suc­cess­ful. And I have em­ployed a sim­i­lar stroke since with my reg­u­lar flat­stick with dras­ti­cally im­proved re­sults, prov­ing that old isn’t nec­es­sar­ily out­dated.

The 80s gear fell slightly short of the Hick­o­ries for me in terms of pure en­joy­ment but I was much im­proved with the clubs from the era of Tom Wat­son and Seve, even managing an unlikely ea­gle and over­all good scoring that em­pha­sised the value of con­trol and tempo when swing­ing the club that is of­ten for­got­ten when wield­ing an al­most un­miss­able new-model driver.

When com­par­ing the set over­all to mod­ern equip­ment it is un­ques­tion­ably eas­ier with what is on o€ffer to­day and a longer and tougher golf course would have en­hanced that feel­ing even more. To a cer­tain ex­tent iron play and the short game re­main largely un­changed apart from dis­tance, but re­vis­it­ing the days of per­sim­mon woods and at­tempt­ing to get them air­borne and fly­ing straight gave me greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for just how good the great driv­ers of that era like Nor­man were and how good tech­nol­ogy has be­come.

And while to­day’s equip­ment makes the game eas­ier the joy a well struck 1-iron is right up there for me in re­gards to feel. As is the un­matched feel­ing o€ per­sim­mon meet­ing bal­ata and the re­sult­ing sight of a hard cut­ting or draw­ing shot fight­ing the wind and work­ing its way around a dog­leg. -Jimmy Emanuel


Grow­ing up in the ‘90s, I was too young to wit­ness the eff€ect Greg Nor­man was hav­ing on golf in Australia. The rip­ple eff€ect, how­ever, has led to a garage flooded full of golf equip­ment from that era – some­thing I’m sure many fam­i­lies can re­late to.

My father grew up playing golf, but he seemed to re­ally fall in love with the game dur­ing that time (per­haps it was an es­cape from scream­ing chil­dren). His set of irons – rem­i­nis­cent of those used by Nor­man – were my in­tro­duc­tion to the game, and they’re still lay­ing around some­where amongst the clutter in his garage.

When I ar­rived at War­ringah Golf Club to meet my fel­low writ­ers, my at­ten­tion was in­stantly drawn to the set of hick­ory sticks and gear from the ‘80s. I’d hardly hit per­sim­mon woods or blades be­fore – and I’d never even held hick­o­ries. The ‘90s gear, for me, was some­what of an af­ter­thought be­cause I’d been around it all my life but I was keen to see how it com­pared with my cur­rent clubs.

In the bag was an orig­i­nal Callaway Great Big Bertha ti­ta­nium driver and a Big Bertha War­bird fair­way wood – both launched in 1995. Be­low those were some Big Bertha irons from 1994 that fea­tured a thick topline, gen­er­ous Off€set and a deep cav­ity. While a Ping Anser com­pleted the set.

The rea­son the clubs caught my at­ten­tion was be­cause I cur­rently game Big Bertha woods from 2014 and Callaway Apex irons. This was cer­tainly go­ing to show me just how far, or how lit­tle, golf equip­ment has come in the last 20 years.

Com­pared with the lat­est iron re­leases, the heads of these Ho­gan Apex blades were minis­cule.

No wooden tees re­quired for hit­ting the Brassie.

Writer Jimmy Emanuel went the ex­tra yard to match his ap­parel to the equip­ment era.

The beau­ti­ful to hit Cleek, or 1-iron, from Auchter­lonie’s in St An­drews, Scot­land.

Lov­ing the ‘80s checks, body shirt and per­sim­mon.

The feel and sound of hit­ting a bal­ata ball with per­sim­mon brought back great mem­o­ries.

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