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Hickory championship in Temple Terrace a throwback to golf's simpler days

Mike Henderson of Huntington, W.Va., prepares to putt at the U.S. Professional Hickory Golf Championship at historic Temple Terrace CC. Throwback equipment allows a glimpse of “how golf used to be,” Henderson says.
Published Jan. 23, 2013

TEMPLE TERRACE

For those who dressed in their best knickers, ties and Gatsby caps, Monday's third annual U.S. Professional Hickory Golf Championship was the way the game was meant to be played. • Titanium, big head drivers with steel shafts? Belly putters with oversized blades? Please. Those clubs are for hacks. • Try hitting hickory shafted clubs with sweet spots the size of a pea. Tee up composite balls with soft, rubber-band centers. That's what the 27 players at historic Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club did at the only professional hickory golf tournament staged in the United States.

Hickory clubs and composite balls were popular from 1895-1927, giving the tournament the feel of a 1913 club championship rather than 2013.

"It appeals to a person with an historical sense of the game," said Mike Stevens, tournament director and head professional at MacDill Golf Course in Tampa. "It's how the game was originally played in this country, with wooden shafts and on older golf courses."

Paolo Quirici, a 45-year-old club professional and former PGA Europe player from Lugano, Switzerland, shot the low round of the day, 2-over-par 74. He beat out Richard Bullock and John McCann by one shot.

Quirici has been playing with the hickory clubs since September. He is in Florida for the PGA Merchandise show in Orlando and found out about the tournament through an Internet search.

The search paid off when he won the $1,500 first prize. The tournament had a $5,000 purse, the same amount offered at the 1925 Florida Open played at Temple Terrace.

"I really love it," Quirici said of the hickory clubs. "It's nice to be able to come over here and play. I enjoyed it a lot."

That's not to say hickory golf is for everybody. Those who like to bomb the ball 300 yards would probably hate trying to play with hickory. The older clubs are much less forgiving, with smaller club faces and flexible shafts.

"It's a whole other world," said Mike Henderson, who played Monday and also collects and provides hickory clubs for others. "It's how golf used to be. Golf used to be about technique and not the equipment. Technology has made it about the equipment. The people who do this want to go back to skill and technique. They don't want distance and power to determine who is the best golfer.

"All you need is one good shot with these clubs and you're hooked."

There is a niche of golfers who are hooked on hickory golf. The Hickory Golf Association holds tournaments throughout the United States and abroad. At Monday's event, players ranged in age from 22 to 70.

"I started two years ago in this tournament," said Bullock, 70, of Clearwater. "I shot a 92. Much better this time. I found out these clubs are much, much different than what you're used to hitting. It takes some getting used to."

Last year's winner, Eddie Peckels, is a 26-year-old club pro at Tuscawilla Country Club in Winter Springs. He spends most of his days trying to qualify for regular tournaments. But when he picked up a hickory club for the first time, no convincing was needed.

"Last year was my first year ever doing it and I had a blast," Peckels said. "I'm a competitive golfer, and I think this is something every competitive golfer should do.

"This game was a lot different back in the early 1900s."

For one day, Temple Terrace CC was transformed. The course was built in 1922, when hickory clubs were used exclusively. The layout is the same today as it was 91 years ago.

That made the course much more forgiving for those using the old equipment. And by all accounts, a swell time was had by all.

"I'd love to do this a lot more," Peckels said.

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