If you listen, hickory shafted golf clubs still have a tale to tell

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I took that dream golf vacation to St. Andrews, Scotland back in 2005, played nine of 14 days and visited everything with a stick and a golf ball out front.

To go to the land where golf was invented is like a football fan wandering through the revered halls of the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio or taking in the sights and smells of baseball's hallowed grounds in Cooperstown, N.Y.

For a golfer, St. Andrews is like … well, it's hard to explain if you're not one of us. Golf was first played on the Links at St Andrews in the early 15th century. As I wandered through the British Golf Museum across from the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, l had a chance to look at the old-time equipment. Balls looked like they quite literally had the stuffing hit out of them.

The old hickory shafted clubs still fascinate me. It seemed like every golf shop I went into had a set or two with the wood shafts and the metal heads that looked like they were carved from a piece of a rusty gate.

Yep, the spade mashie (6 iron), mashie niblick (7 iron), pitching niblick (8 iron), niblick (9 iron) and jigger (similar to the modern chipper) were the irons of the day.

My grandmother gave me a set, which I proudly display in the office at my house as part of our family golf heritage. My fascination was re-enforced with that trip to the most sacred place in all of golf. I bought a handcrafted putter from the Old Tom Morris Golf Shop, not 50 steps from the 18th green at the Old Course.

You see, I believe Jack Nicklaus could shoot par with a set of hickory shafted clubs. Equipment does not make the golfer, although if I could buy a stick that would give me Dustin Johnson's tee shot I'd gladly sell the car to get one.

All this rambling has a point to be sure. When I walked into the Sage Hills Golf Club down in Warden last week I came across a set of hickory shafted clubs. There, against the wall in a room with their golf handicap tracker and summer clearance sale items, was an old bag with clubs dating back to when golf was played in a pasture or open field.

I simply gazed at days gone by, listening to see if they had a story to tell. In this modern day world with graphite shafts, four, sometimes five different degrees of wedges; drivers that cost more than my first car (which was free), was a link to a game dating back centuries.

A past tie to a present life as it were. Hickory shafted clubs aren't particularly rare. Thousands were made around the turn of the century, although a Tom Stewart St. Andrews Golf Clubs set of five runs around $1,200.

But they still tell a tale and I sometimes wish I would have taken my grandmother's clubs to Scotland to hit around on the sacred grounds where golf was born.

Then again, I shot 95 at Sage Hills, ever reminding me that golf is still a four-letter word.

Rodney Harwood is a sports writer at the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at rharwood@columbiabasinherald.com

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