Driving the past to the fore
It’s been called the ultimate hipster sport. A romantic link to a gentler time when a round of golf centred more around skill and a good walk that cutting edge technology.
Hickory Golf takes players back to the days of plus fours, flat caps and wooden shafted clubs that relied more on the technical ability of the player to hit a good shot than how scientifically engineered his clubs are.
It is golf in its purest form and far from a relic of history it is growing in popularity. The World Hickory Open, which celebrates it’s 10th anniversary this year, will attract players from around the world when it takes place at Carnoustie this October.
Golfers, of all ages and abilities, are finding renewed pleasure in playing the game as it was almost 100 years ago, long before the likes of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods dominated the game with their record-breaking long distance shots.
Just 10 miles from St Andrews there is a nine-hole course, the only one of its kind in the UK and Europe, dedicated exclusively to hickory golf.
Initially built in the early 20th century the 2,022 yard Kingarrock Golf Course on the Hill of Tarvit in Cupar, Fife offers a chance to run the clock back and enjoy golf they way it was intended to be played.
Modern clubs are banned on the course which sits on a magnificent old estate which once belonged to wealthy jute magnet Frederick Sharp, an avid golfer and a member of the Royal & Ancient, who it built for his family.
Sharp bought the Edwardian mansion house in 1904 and had it remodelled by Sir Robert Lorimer to showcase his collection of French, Chippdendale-style furniture, paintings and antiques.
Unfortunately Sharp died in 1932 and his son, Hugh, was killed at the Castlecary rail disaster in 1937. Without an heir to take over the estate the course went unused and was eventually actually over to farmland to help the war effort.
It wasn’t until the 1990s when group of enthusiasts, working from an original 1924 map, began resurrecting the old nine-hole parkland layout. After a gap of 70 years the course was finally re-opened in 2008 to anyone who wants to experience golf as it was.
Ownership of the house and course was taken over last October by the National Trust who recruited PGA Professional Andrew Bentley to help run it.
The original design and layout has been tweaked slightly, bringing it in line with modern safety needs. The old course had several holes which crossed each other, which made many a player holler ‘fore!’ and dodge flying balls!
Today’s course has a number of features to test players’ skills, including three bunkers of varying depths and a water feature known as the cundy, or small stream, on hole seven.
Greens and collars are hand-cut, while fairways and tees are carefully mowed using authentic 1920s-style trailed gangs. No fertilisers or artificial irrigation are used anywhere on the course, which provides a more natural, less manicured feel than most other courses.
Visitors to the golf course don’t need to bring any clubs as players are all issued with a set of five original style hickory clubs, including a Spoon, Driving Iron, Mid Mashie, Mashie Niblick and Putter.
Hickory clubs were state-of-the-art in the Edwardian era. Wooden clubs had been used for years with hickory wood first coming from America during the 1860s. They remained popular until the late 1930s, when steel began to gradually replace them.
Now they’re back in vogue with a number of new manufacturers catering for a resurgence in a more traditional game of golf.