Hickories Have Day in Sun at PGA Show

The very busy hickory golf demo booth at the PGA Merchandise Show.

“Where can I get some of these clubs?”

It’s a typical question at the yearly PGA Merchandise Show. From Jan. 26-29, this year, golf is center stage at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. This is the big show for golf, one that professionals, merchandisers, and the public attend to learn about the latest in golf equipment, apparel, and accessories for 2016. 

That question, however, wasn’t about the latest in whiz-bang golf club technology, it was asked about an old hickory golf club.

Thanks to booth sponsor Integrity Golf, SoHG members Mike Stevens, Tad Moore, Bill Geisler, Scott Bowles, and Jay Harris were on hand to supply clubs, offer pointers and promote hickory golf. An estimated 250 people stopped by from junior golfers who were fascinated by the old clubs and their history, to pros such as Chris DeMarco and Mark Carnevale.

The hickory golf booth, with banners promoting the Florida Hickory Golfers and the Temple Terrace Hickory Heritage outing, had both replica clubs – Tad Moore and Louisville Golf – and authentic originals supplied by Harris and others. It was popular enough to intrigue passing golfers so much the number of those wishing to swing a hickory club occasionally spilled over into the space assigned to adjacent booths.

“They didn’t mind and, in fact, those guys came over to hit some balls, too,” Geisler said. “By the time they were through, many of them wanted to know how to get some of the clubs.”

Geisler, a part-time golf coach for Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park, Fla., said it was interesting to watch good players come to realize, through first-hand experience, that these clubs were actually fun, harder than moderns, but darned fun to hit.

“They were amazed they could hit the ball at all, but after about five shots, they were starting to get the rhythm of it,” Geisler said. “Plus, you had Jay Harris there reminding them not to whale on the ball, just to swing smoothly and easily at it.”

“And they wanted to continue,” Stevens added. Stevens is a teaching pro in Tampa, and the founder of the Professional Hickory Golfers Assoc. as well as the U.S. Professional Hickory Championship. 

“The more balls they hit, the more they were intrigued,” he said. “Chris DeMarco stayed there for some time. You could tell that he, and the others, were suprised at how well the clubs responded.” 

A run of junior golfers came through, too, Geisler said, brought to the demo booth by one of their fellows who had stopped by earlier. “They had great fun and went back to tell their buddies. Then they all showed up.”

Their coaches came by, too.

“We also had a lot of guys stop by who run junior golf academies as well as a few college coaches from around the area,” Geisler said. “They were all interested in having a hickory golf demo at their golf academies. They all ‘get it’, that hickory golf will teach you a better golf swing, rather than just hitting at the ball.”

By the end of the day, a 55-gallon drum of golf balls was just about exhausted.

Sirius XM Radio golf show host Carl Paulson also was on the hickory golf range, equally surprised and pleased at the pleasure of swinging a hickory club. Then he remembered that he was there to do a bit on hickory golf. His intereview with Stevens, Moore, and Harris was aired on the pay-channel’s network. (If anybody knows how to link to the interview, please let me know and we’ll add it here.) Stevens talked about the professional hickory tour and tournament, Geisler spoke about the SoHG and its work, and Harris chatted about his background in golf, his love of hickory golf club restoration, and club supply for golf club centennials and the like.

“One golf professional was suprised to learn that my index was 7.2 – with hickories only,” Geisler said. “On top of that, he and others got a bigger eye opener in talking with Jay and learning about his top amateur status early on and his record in hickory golf championships. He is the only person to hold both a National Hickory Championship title and a U.S. Hickory Open title. When these guys hear these things, you can see the intrigue in their eyes and they begin to take this stuff more seriously. They look at the clubs and the hickory game in a different way.”

Bottom line, it’s all about having fun and the enjoying the game, coming back to basic skills that modern technologies tend to overshadow.

“It’s all about you, the grass, and your skill,” Geisler says. “Its great to see more people awaken to this fact.”

Let’s hope more folks at the PGA and golfers in general come to realize that, too. That the modern hickory game can restore not only fundamentals of a smooth and sound swing, but of a basic level of fun with the game. Something that’s often lacking in the modern buzz of technology.

Many thanks are due the Integrity Golf Company for its sponsorship of the hickory golf demo booth. Stevens had earlier struck up an aquaintance with company president, Gene Garotte, through the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club. It turned out that Garotte not only knew of hickory golf but supported its efforts in maintaining the history and traditions of the game. As his company owned the facilty where the PGA golf demos were to be held, he was happy to offer Stevens the booth. It was a most generous offer as these booths are not inexpensive. 

Mike Stevens at the hickory golf demo booth. (The UCF tent was a loaner.)

Jay Harris gives Sirius XM Radio host Carl Paulson some advice at the hickory golf demo booth. “Don’t try to kill it.”

Golf pros Mark Carnevale, left, and Chris DeMarco try some hickory clubs.

Scott Bowles, left, and Bill Geisler were on hand for hickory golf demos.