For them, this is the way golf was meant to be played — in knickers and argyle socks and with unforgiving wooden clubs. "Some people do Civil War re-enactments," whispered golfer Kody Kirchhoff. Standing on the green, he stopped to adjust his floppy white pageboy hat. "We do this."
With hopes of bringing more local attention to the throwback game, Kirchhoff organized a hickory golf tournament Tuesday at the River Hills Country Club. While the rain kept some players away, it stopped just in time for the small group to break out an assortment of vintage, hickory-shafted clubs and hit the heck out of special, soft-compression golf balls.
Hickory golfers say the result is a satisfyingly solid "thwack" and a deeper appreciation of the game's strategic roots.
"I enjoy the game much more," said Mike Stevens, a teaching pro at MacDill Air Force Base who played Tuesday. "I started playing 10 years ago, and now all I use are hickory clubs."
The dress just makes it that much more fun and historic, the 59-year-old said. And the camaraderie among players around the world is even better.
"It's great to see something like this here at home," he said.
Since moving to Lithia last year from Omaha, Neb., Kirchhoff found few golfers who love the game he does.
The 30-year-old student pastor took up hickory golf in Nebraska. He got bored with the regular game, and an old hickory set just happened to be lying around his church.
Most hickory clubs in use today were made between 1905 and 1931, he said. They're the easiest to find, and less expensive than those made before then.
After 1932, most golfers abandoned wooden clubs for more consistent metal ones.
Kirchhoff said he hasn't played with modern clubs in four years. Instead of a driver, he uses a brassie. His 7-iron is replaced with a mashie. His sand wedge became a niblick.
"What I love about hickory is, I don't have to run out every year and buy a new wedge, a new driver because it's the latest and greatest thing," he said.
For many, golf is a game of power and distance. Most focus on improving their game with the latest equipment.
But with wooden clubs, sometimes you can't always count on which way the ball will go. Bunkers and trees are harder to avoid, Kirchhoff explained.
The elements are also more of an obstacle — gauging the wind and whether you can get a good roll.
"I get to know what golf was like when it was still young and early," Kirchhoff said. "You get to play the course exactly as it was designed."
For golfer Troy Schnelle, playing with wooden clubs makes the game more exciting. Schnelle, 42, drove from Winter Haven for the tournament.
He came dressed in khaki knickers and bright blue and yellow argyle socks.
"You can be playing a really good round, hitting the ball like you have been the whole time," Schnelle said. "Then all of the sudden, the ball goes off in some random direction because of the way the wood bends. It's great."
Digging his ball out of a the sand Tuesday, he smiled.
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at email@example.com, or (813) 661-2454.