Modern hickory golf in the United States grew out of so-called “hickory hacker” events held in conjunction with annual meetings of the Golf Collectors Society. The GCS was founded in 1970 by Joe Murdoch and Bob Kuntz to share their passion for golf history and the game’s collectibles and memorabilia. Only a few dozen people were initially involved, but the idea caught on and more people joined the GCS.
As it grew, the GCS began to hold annual meetings at various venues throughout the U.S. Eventually, a few collectors at these meetings who were trading old wood-shafted clubs wanted to get out and try hitting them – at least those clubs not considered rare or highly collectible. In the early 1990s and later, the “hacker” events evolved into annual GCS golf championships. On their own, the more curious and passionate of these hickory players would occasionally meet at their own clubs for informal hickory golf outings. Tad Moore, one of the early U.S. hickory pioneers along with Randy Jensen, Ralph Livingston III, and Roger Hill, estimates that at this time there may have been perhaps 15 hickory golfers in the U.S.
In 1999, following a GCS annual meeting in Lexington, Ky., a group of players met to discuss a rules controversy that had arisen following the hickory golf event. They developed a set of rules and standards of play for hickory golf events.
In 2000, realizing the growth in hickory golf and understanding the need for standards for tournament play and guidelines for equipment and rules, the same group of players met again following the GCS annual meeting in Virginia Beach, Va. At this meeting were Tad Moore, John Sherwood, Ralph Livingston III, Chuck McMullin, Roger Hill, Randy Jensen, Winfield Padgett, and John Crow Miller. These are recognized as the founders of the SoHG.
As a result of their discussions, it was decided to create the Society of Hickory Golfers. Its role would be to help popularize the sport, provide guidelines and rules for hickory golf tournaments, establish equipment standards, and serve as a central source of information with regard to resources and maintenance tips for wood-shafted clubs. This was to be a group for hickory golf players, not strictly golf collectors.
In January 2007, the SoHG’s executive committee met at the GCS trade show in Dayton, Ohio, to discuss the growth in hickory golf and to re-examine the structure of the Society. In its original intent, the SoHG was to be a guiding force in hickory golf, not a supervisory body. At that meeting, executive committee members decided to incorporate as a non-profit organization, elect a board of directors, and recruit new members. In essence, the result of that meeting was an SoHG that would take a more active role in determining rules for tournaments and creating equipment standards.
Ralph Livingston III is recognized by founding members as the inspiration for the SoHG and modern hickory golf.
The SoHG now has hundreds of members throughout the U.S. and abroad. They are golfers who love the distinctive feel of golf with hickory-shafted clubs. Moreover, they all share an enthusiasm for the rich history and traditions of golf and bring those values to the golf course. Conservative estimates of the total number of hickory players in the world now total about 3,000. And the number is growing.
The SoHG sponsors several regional tournaments on historic courses, most of which date their origins to the 1920s or earlier. Its Championship Series offers high-level competition for hickory golfers in all skill and age categories.
Through its website, the Society connects its members to a wealth of resources on equipment, history, a handicapping service, regional groups, a tournament calendar, a buy/sell/trade page for clubs, as well as tournament and equipment guidelines and standards. Members receive a monthly e-newsletter and a bi-annual print newsletter called A Wee Nip.
Among its specific mission statements, the SoHG works to:
- Establish a worldwide society of like-minded hickory players;
- Assist members and others in discovering the playing characteristics of wood shaft golf clubs;
- Promote the experience of golf in a manner consistent with how the “royal and ancient game” was played in the hickory era;
- Establish guidelines for organizing hickory golf tournaments;
- Provide a centralized scheduling system for world-wide hickory competitions;
- Provide a hosting service for the establishment and maintenance of hickory handicaps;
- Develop and maintain equipment standards for authentic hickory play.
Notable Dates in Modern Hickory Golf
1970 – September, Golf Collectors Society founded
1970s-1990s – Growth of annual GCS hickory golf championships
1978 – Heart of America hickory tournament established by Warren Olson, then GCS president,
an 18-hole event for first 30 or so years of existence
1984 – American 1898-1930 Golf Club Trademarks, by Pat Kennedy, publishes
1990 – Ralph Livingston III and Randy Jensen meet at GCS meeting in Chicago
1995 – Collecting Antique Golf Clubs, by Pete Georgiady, publishes
1998 – June, National Hickory Championship, a pre-1900 event, established at Oakhurst Links in
White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., by Pete Georgiady, the first two-day hickory tournament
1998 – Louisville Golf makes replica long nose clubs for NHC use
1999 – GCS rules controversy leads to discussion of rules and standards for the annual golf tournaments
2000 – Group of hickory players create SoHG; foundes include Tad Moore, John Sherwood, Ralph Livingston III, Chuck McMullin, Roger Hill, Randy Jensen, Winfield Padgett, and John Crow Miller
2000 – First set of tournament guidelines created by Chuck McMullin
2000 – SoHG board votes to allow replica hickory clubs for tournament play
2001 – Hickory Grail, a biennial British Golf Collectors Society fixture, is established by
Ralph Livingston III and David Hamilton
2002 – Wood Shafted Golf Club Value Guide, by Pete Georgiady, publishes
2002 – Hickory Open established by Ralph Livingston III and Fred Muller at the Kingsley Club in Kingsley, Mich.,
the first SoHG-sanctioned tournament
2003 – Southern Hickory 4-Ball established by Tad Moore in LaGrange, Ga.
2003 – George Nicoll of Leven, by Roger Hill and Pete Georgiady, publishes
2004 – First Wee Nip newsletter published, September
2004 – Tad Moore creates line of replica hickory shafted clubs based on MacGregor and Gibson irons
2004 – Mid Pines Hickory Open established in Southern Pines, N.C. by Rob Pilewski and Tad Moore
2005 – World Hickory Open established by Lionel Freedman at Musselburgh Old Links
2005 – Carolina Hickory Golf Association established by Bill Engelson
2005 – Travel & Leisure Magazine calls Randy Jensen “The Hickory Tiger”
2005 – Hickory Golf Association established in Iowa by Bill Reed
2005 – Louisville Golf begins making replica woods; by 2007, has full sets of woods and irons
2005-06 – Frank Boumphrey creates first SoHG website, e-newsletter
2006 – Mountain Valley Hickory Open established in Arkansas by Breck Speed
2007 – SoHG constitution written
2008 – First U.S. Hickory Open, Mimosa Hills at Morganton, N.C., Dr. Jay Harris wins
2008 – Mountain Valley Spring Water first SoHG sponsor at the USHO
2008 – Hickory Open in Michigan moves to Charlevoix, becomes the Belvedere Hickory Open
2008 – Playing Hickory Golf, by Randy Jensen, publishes
2008-09 – Roger Hill serves year as GCS president
2009 – Mike Brown passes away, February
2010 – Mike Brown Award established, Frank Boumphrey and Tad Moore are inaugural honorees
2010 – Thomas Stewart Jr, Golf Cleek and Iron Maker, by Ralph Livingston III, publishes
2011 – Mountain Valley Spring Water becomes major sponsor of the SoHG
2011 – Mike Stevens establishes the U.S. Professional Hickory Championship in Temple Terrace, Fla.
2011 – Updated SoHG website created
2011 – Championship Series created, first event was the Southern 4-Ball, others include the Mountain Valley
Hickory Open, the U.S. Hickory Open, the Belvedere Hickory Open, and the Mid Pines Hickory Open
2011 – Lionel Freedman becomes first international executive committee member of the SoHG
2012 – Frank Boumphrey passes away, March
2012 – Ralph Livingston III passes away, August
2013 – International Competition planned, first event scheduled for 2014
2014 – SoHG co-founder John Sherwood passes away, March
2014 – Brian Schuman creates World Hickory Match Play, played in June at Philadelphia Cricket Club; Jeremy Moe, winner
2014 – First International Hickory Cup played in Carnoustie, Scotland; U.S. win by 22 1/2 to 21 1/2
2014 – Sandy Lyle, 1988 Masters Champion and noted tour professional, wins World Hickory Open in Carnoustie, Scotland; Lyle also plays casual round at Augusta National using replica hickory golf clubs made by Tad Moore
2015 – AP National Golf Club hosts hickory tournament on Chambers Bay Golf Club, just weeks before 115th U.S. Open