The following is an interview with Gary W Eley, owner of Hickory Golf Workshop. (http://hickorygolfworkshop.com)
How did you get introduced to hickory golf? What year did you start playing hickories? I became interested in Hickory Golf about 7 years ago, when I met Patrick Kennedy of South Burlington, Vermont. Patrick was a club fitter who worked mostly on modern clubs for a local country club and I went to him to measure the stiffness of my Taylor Made Driver. When I got to Patrick’s workshop I was amazed at the beautiful hickory golf clubs he had on his walls and in his chests. He had close to 1000 clubs which he had collected over a 40 to 50 year period. He had some clubs that were very valuable and some that were commons and in need of major repair. Patrick loved to visit antique shops and often went to auctions. He became very well versed in all things hickory. He was also very inventive and made many tools for working on hickory clubs. One of his most useful is the Patrick Kennedy Club Straightening Tool, and the Club Extension tool. Needless to say, I was hooked from day one and have taken on many of Patrick’s inventions and now sell them on my website: www.hickorygolfworkshop.com.
What is your fascination with Hickory Golf? Why do you think golfers should try playing hickories? I find that hitting a golf shot with a well restored hickory club is one of the most amazing and satisfying experiences I have ever had playing golf. I had become bored with modern golf and all of the emphasis upon “technical advancements”? I have found with hickory, I usually only play with about 7 clubs and I find myself learning how to “make” shots of different shapes to meet the situation at hand. There is nothing more enjoyable and challenging than hitting a shot on the sweet spot of a hickory Club. Since I have always been a hobbyist and have restored cars and houses, I am handy with my hands. Hickory club restoration has allowed me to continue that enjoyment of restoring physical objects like hickory clubs. I also really enjoy teaching others how to repair and maintain their clubs and have created several video’s on you tube so that anyone who has a basic understanding of tools can also repair and maintain their clubs. These video’s can be found on my website as well.
What advice would you give to a new hickory golfer? Or a new hickory golfer looking to put together a playing set?
There are several things to pay attention when putting a play set together. Number one, buy clubs that have a wider sole so that when you hit them, you can get some bounce off the turf. Many hickory clubs have very thin soles and this makes it very difficult to hit a precise shot and not dig into the turf. Second, make sure your iron head is solid and well glued/epoxied to the shaft. If there is any play, you are heading for a broken shaft the next time you take more turf than you planned to. Also, re-grip your clubs with buffalo or cowhide so that your grip will be solid and will not require a lot of pressure in your grip. Crooked clubs can be straightened with our club straightening tool and a head gun. Also, clubs that were cut down for children to use can be extended up to 3 inches so that adults and play with them again. Also, new shafts can be put onto the valuable heads to make a longer club.
What clubs make up your current playing hickory set?
I have a Stewart 3 iron, a set of Buchart and Nicolls irons (1-9), (these clubs have bamboo shafts, an early alternative to hickory), a Kroydon 50 degree Niblick, a Stewart Putter, a Louisville Spoon and a Louisville Driver. The last two clubs are reproductions and I use them because I find them stronger and safer to hit than the traditional woods. I am not a collector, but rather a player so my focus is upon using clubs that perform well and allow me to keep my handicap intact. I also have a 6 iron that was made in Canada by www.playhickorygolf.com. There clubs are reproductions of the Stewart irons and are very well made with excellent shafts.
What is your favorite club in the bag and why?
My Canadian 6 iron may be my most favorite club because I can hit it a solid 150 years and get good height with it. Also around the greens I use it for chipping and find that I can really gauge just how hard to get it to stop close to the hole.
What golf ball do you traditionally play with hickory clubs?
I like the softer balls, the Callaway Super Soft, and the Wilson, 50/50, and the Srixon Soft. I have also used the Noodle Soft and Long as well. I do not feel that a soft ball leads to any loss of distance on my drives and it is really nice for chipping and putting because of the more sensitive feel of the ball.
What is your most prized hickory club, hickory era memorabilia or most interesting find?
Probably my set of Burchart and Nicolls Irons which have bamboo shafts. They are supposedly worth $1000 and they are really nice to hit.
What is your most proudest accomplishment on/off the golf course?
I would say creating my website: www.hickorygolfworkshop.com. My wife does the photography, I make all of the tools and cut the leather for grips and do the repairs with my friend Allen Johnson. We really enjoy helping hickory golfers to enjoy the game and to keep their clubs in top condition for each golfing season. I have shipped supplies and tools all over the world, from Australia and China, to Scotland, Germany, Austria, Sweden and Denmark not to mention to all of the 50 states of the US.
What is your favorite hickory golf course?
We have several here in Vermont that are excellent for hickory golf. I really don’t have a favorite but enjoy the variety of playing both 18 hole and 9 hole courses that have existed since the early 1920’s here in Vermont.
What is your most recent addition to your hickory golf bag? Why?
The Golf Bags I sell are really great in allowing me to walk and play hickory. Each bag weighs less than 2 pounds. With Bob Titterton’s Bag stand, and the seven clubs I carry, I only carry about a 7 pound load when I play. I really enjoy the freedom and pace that walking gives me when I am playing with my hickories.
Dream foursome? (living)
I play with three or four friends every Thursday and they are really good friends. We have gone through many illnesses, family situations, and gallons of beer over the years and I would not have missed any of it.
If you could go back and play a round of golf in the hickory era, who would round out your dream foursome?
I would love to have played with Francis Ouillet when he was playing.
Do you have a golf course, trip or adventure on your hickory bucket list?
Every year, my golf buddies and I go to either South Carolina, in the Hilton Head Area or to Orlando and play their courses during the winter.
What golf associations do you belong to?
SOHG, GCS, and the Vermont Hickory Golf Association (VHGA)
What is your must have 19th hole drink/dish?
One of the really nice craft beers that are made here in Vermont
18 Rapid Fire Questions
Caddie or no caddie?
Your last round played, did you play modern or hickory clubs?
I am all in and only play Hickory now and have done so for the last 4 years.
The last course played with hickory clubs?
A course in South Carolina called “Belfair” Great course with wicked fast greens.
What percentage of your rounds are played with hickory golf clubs?
Long Par 3 or Long Par 5?
Long Par 3
Are you more of a Hickory golf collector or Hickory golf player?
More of a Player
Shorts, Knickers or Trousers?
I wear all three, Knickers for Tournaments, and Shorts in the Summer, Trousers in the shoulder seasons.
St. Andrews or Pebble Beach? (or somewhere else?)
St. Andrews and Pebble Beach, both are great. In the winter I play them on the local Simulator with my hickories.
Just off the green. Jigger, Niblick or Putter?
My six iron is my favorite, it plays like a Jigger but has a wider sole.
With hickories, round of life or hole in one?
Hole in One
Play for fun or play for something?
Play for Fun
Early morning or twilight?
Early morning or at noon
Favorite hickory-era golfer? (Jones, Sarazen, Hagen, ???)
No real favorite
Drive for show or putt for dough?
putt for dough although I always enjoy a long straight drive with a slight draw.
Canvas bag or leather bag?
The bags I sell and play with are a combination of both in order to be lighter.
Leather grip color/style preference?
Buffalo with the suede side out.
Patina or polished clubs?
Broken shaft. Fix it myself or call an expert?
Definitely fix it myself. I even make new shafts on the lathe that Patrick Kennedy set up for me to use to make new shafts.