The following is an interview with Rob Ahlschwede, Society of Hickory Golfer, Equipment Chairperson and Co-Founder Northwest Hickory Players.
How did you get introduced to hickory golf? What year did you start playing hickories?
Wow! That takes me back a bit. I joined the Golf Collectors Society in 1984, but had played with wood shafted clubs in my youth, and still have two of those early clubs–the rest were broken/lost/gone forever! During those early years in the GCS I mostly played hickory for about 2 months in the spring. The Region 7(Heart of America) held their annual meeting around Memorial Day so I practiced and played with the hickory clubs most of April and all of May. After that event I would put them away until the next year.
After the SoHG was formed, it wasn’t too long before I put the modern clubs away for good, and now have been playing only hickory shafted clubs for about 16 years.
What is your fascination with Hickory Golf? Why do you think golfers should try playing hickories?
Fascination…. I don’t look at it that way. It is the way I play golf!! When I moved to playing only hickory all the time, my goal was to play well enough with them to match my scores I had been shooting with my modern clubs. After about 2 years, I did get there!! Had to replace almost all of the clubs in my play set–got better ones!!–but was able to play that well. Aging has taken me away from shooting those low scores….
Why should someone try hickory? If someone is a golfer and truly loves the game, they should be at least a little interested in the history of the game. That being the case, it only makes sense to play with clubs that players would have played back then. To get a feel for the old game–feel being something modern clubs just do not give!! To know what the players back in the day experienced. And maybe, to realize that today’s modern equipment is not much better than what was available then. Hickory players that work at building a good play set find that they don’t score much worse with their hickory clubs. I have played/still play with people who play off scratch with hickory–originals or replicas or a mix–and who hit original drivers consistently over 300 yards……
What advice would you give to a new hickory golfer? Or a new hickory golfer looking to put together a playing set?
Make it fun!! Know that it will be a bit of an adjustment until they find the right equipment. Tell them to not worry too much about how they look–remember that the plus 4s were worn in golf for only a short period of time, although plus 2s were common–but that enjoyment of the game is where it is at. And find someone to share the experience with, preferably another nearby hickory player who’s been at it for a while. Those connections are important.
Putting together a play set………It takes a while. From the beginning of the SoHG, replica clubs were an important part of what the Society believed in on equipment. The goal, in my mind, and the real joy, is to put together a set of original/antique wood shafted clubs as a play set. But, doing that, finding really good equipment that matches one’s game takes time or lots of money to go get an quality original set. The Society believes, and did from the start, that having authentic replica clubs was an important avenue for new hickory players to easily find clubs they could play and then begin/continue the search for originals. I was lucky in that I had the time and by the time replica clubs by Tad Moore and Louisville Golf came along I already had a play set that I enjoyed and could play well enough to be happy. Today many hickory players have multiple sets with a mix of original and replica.
What clubs make up your current playing hickory set?
Right now? As most of us know, clubs come and go in and out of a play set, but right now I have Hagen Championship driver–just found it this year, after retiring my Frandenstein driver–finally–and a Hagen Getaway brassie. My spoon is marked Bowser–probably a pro somewhere that I can’t find. A Forgan driving iron, J MacGregor mid-iron, Stewart mashie iron, MacGregor backspin mashie, Stewart “Special” mashie, a Spalding backspin mashie niblick(from Stanley Davies, pro at Omaha’s Field Club where I used to live), a Forgan “Peter Pan” model niblick(spectacular club), an H&B Par-XL flanged niblick(my sand iron) and my black wooden headed Willie Dunn model putter.
Not too many changes now that I have found a good replacement driver! Took me 3 years, but I really like the way this one plays.
What is your favorite club in the bag and why?
The Dunn putter is #1, and I have been putting with it for about 20 years–early 1900s, face balanced, center shafted mallet. The Dunn model has been replicated by so many clubmakers in the past and now both Louisville and Tad Moore golf have brought out a replica of the Dunn. Tad in both wood and in aluminum.
But I have to add my #2 which is the Spalding backspin mashie/niblick. It was a personal club of Stanley–S.B.-Davies when he served as the head professional at Omaha’s Field Club. Sandy, as he was called, was expert at dressing shafts. During his time in Omaha there were at least 5 Scottish pros in Omaha, and most of them would go to Sandy to have clubs fitted, shafts dressed for their personal games. I feel lucky to have his club in my bag as it is my go to club for most approach shots.
What golf ball do you traditionally play with hickory clubs?
Traditionally… Wouldn’t look at it that way, but I do like the Srixon Soft Feel, the Callaway Chrome Soft as well as Callaway’s Super Soft. I have enjoyed playing the bramble ball that comes from Doc Brown in Omaha as well. Love the way it reacts off the club face and the way it easily runs across the turf. I enjoy having a few square mesh balls from Doc Brown with our Northwest Hickory Players’ logo on them to gift to other players I meet.
What is your most prized hickory club, hickory era memorabilia or most interesting find?
How much time do you have? One of my earliest finds is a Tom Morris transitional play club. A friend in hickory offered it to me along with a few other early clubs and I am pleased to have it in my collection. An Alex Patrick Driving Putter is kind of nice, too. But probably my most prized club is my Dunn model putter. I have only seen one other original like it in wood–the guy wouldn’t sell!! and it is such a sweet putter when in use.
What is your most proudest accomplishment on/off the golf course?
There are many. But my work in Omaha helping grow the game there, hosting several tournaments/events thru the years. And now, living here in the Pacific Northwest, finding a few like minded players and founding the Northwest Hickory Players. We are a great bunch, now bringing over 100 players to hickory in the northwest, hosting three major events each year–the Gearhart Hickory Classic, Pacific Northwest Hickory Championship and the Gamble Sands Hickory Championship. This past season two of the three qualified to allow players to earn points toward the Championship series.
Also, being asked to be the chair of the Equipment Committee for the Society has been highly rewarding and has enabled me to communicate with many in the hickory world, both newbies and old timers!!
What is your favorite hickory golf course?
The one I am currently playing……..
But for special, the Country Club of Seattle(1895 9 hole sand greens), original layout, unchanged and raw. A really cool place to play gutty!! A gem that not many get to play.
And Gearhart on the Oregon Coast. 1893-5, in the dunes and is always in great shape. Little changed from the original and such fun to play.
So many from that era that are so much fun to play!
What is your most recent addition to your hickory golf bag? Why?
Besides my “new to me” Hagen Championship driver, I would have to say the little green suction cup!! Saves the back when picking the ball from the cup!!
Dream foursome? (living)
This is not a fair question.
I would love to play a round with Ben Crenshaw, talking equipment and architecture! As for other pros, not so much.
I have made so many great friends in hickory golf, it would be difficult to choose but the foursome would definitely be playing hickory!!! Randy, Tad, Roger, Jim D., Tim, Jimmy, Jack, David, Bobby, Stewart, Willie T., Jorgen I. I think that is too many………
Dream foursome (living/not living)
Mike Just, John Sherwood, and Mike Brown.
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 play with Stanley Davies. And Willie Dunn, to talk about putters. And Robert Condie would be an interesting addition to the group, as he was a really good clubmaker and knew so many in that era. I would imagine great stories!!!
Do you have a golf course, trip or adventure on your hickory bucket list?
I would want to get to Scotland again to play the World Hickory Open. Next year will be at Kilspindie where I have played before and I so enjoyed that course. Back to the north of Scotland to play Nairn again. It ate my lunch last time and I want a rematch. Would end the trip at Brora and Golspie. Well, Dornoch, too……
What golf associations do you belong to?
SoHG, Golf Collectors Society, Northwest Hickory Players, Puget Sound Golf Association, British Golf Collectors Society, USGA,
What is your must have 19th hole drink/dish?
Most days a good draft beer–no canoe beers please–just good local brews. Hot days, a good gin and tonic. As for food, what’s on the menu!!!
18 Rapid Fire Questions
Caddie or no caddie?
Good caddies are the best!!!
Your last round played, did you play modern or hickory clubs?
The last round with modern clubs was in 1999 or 2000………
The last course played with hickory clubs?
Mid Pines, Southern Pines, North Carolina. Next one will be at Fort Steilicoom.
What percentage of your rounds are played with hickory golf clubs?
Long Par 3 or Long Par 5?
Long par 5
Are you more of a Hickory golf collector or Hickory golf player?
I am both. Love the pieces of the game and love to play them too.
Shorts, Knickers or Trousers?
St. Andrews or Pebble Beach? (or somewhere else?)
St. Andrews…so many other wonderful places to play nearby.
Just off the green. Jigger, Niblick or Putter?
With hickories, round of life or hole in one?
Hole in one at Grove Park Inn’s Donald Ross course, Asheville, North Carolina.
Round of life…so many…….
Play for fun or play for something?
For fun for sure, but don’t mind taking someone’s money…….
Early morning or twilight?
Favorite hickory-era golfer? (Jones, Sarazen, Hagen, ???)
Drive for show or putt for dough?
Can’t do one without the other.
Canvas bag or leather bag?
Canvas with leather trim!!
Leather grip color/style preference?
Either Red or Green, rough side out always.
Patina or polished clubs?
If you are going to play ’em, f#!@ patina. By the time the round is over they shine anyway……
Broken shaft. Fix it myself or call an expert?
I love working on clubs, so myself.