From left: Event host and founder Brian Schuman (left) with Jeremy Moe; Schuman with Paolo Quirici; and Schuman with Ernie Ernst, center, and Lionel Freedman.
2013 U.S. Hickory Open Champion, Jeremy Moe of Fort Smith, Ark., edged 2013 World Hickory Open Champion, Paolo Quirici of Switzerland, 1 up on the 20th hole to win the inaugural World Hickory Match Play Championship held at the St. Martins Course at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, host to the 1907 and 1910 U.S. Opens.
Moe and Quirici qualified to meet in the finals by being the top two point getters after competing in five nine-hole matches in the Champion Division, comprised solely of golfers who had captured a hickory championship title or runner up title at a qualified tournament in the past two years.
The final match was a seesaw battle with Quirici taking an early 2-up lead only to see Moe pull even after eight holes. Quirici went 1 up at the turn, but Moe bounced back to take a 1-up lead into 16. Quirici won 16 and 17 to take a 1-up lead into the final hole. Moe’s par was good enough to send the match into extra holes. He was victorious on the 20th hole when Quirici’s approach found the left greenside bunker, leaving him a treacherous angle to the front hole location.
The 18-hole third place match was a spirited contest won 1 up by Claus Muehlfeit of Switzerland, over Craig Stroup of Thomasville, N.C.
In the Players Division, Jay Harris, past multiple National Hickory Champion, defeated Bill Geisler by a score of 2 and 1 for third and fourth places respectively. Bill “Ernie” Ernst (Neenah, Wisc.), recent Belvedere Hickory Open Champion, captured the Players title by a score of 3 and 2 over Chris Ream.
Players from Switzerland, Canada, and all corners of the United States were invited to compete in this match play format. Two groups of 16 players formed the Champion and Players Divisions. The Champion Division was made up of players who had captured the title in another major competitions from C.B. MacDonald Championship to the U.S. Hickory Open to the Canadian, Swiss and World Hickory Opens. The Players Division represented a gathering of players who, by their past achievements and accomplishments in domestic and international golf have earned an invitation to compete.
The first day of play was reserved for practice rounds and informal four-ball matches in the afternoon. A father and son four-ball match was held at the same time between Chris and Mike Ream of Canada and Joe (Southlake, Texas) and Ben Hollerbach ( Chamblee, Ga.) of the United States. The spirited competition was decided on the first extra hole with the Hollerbach duo winning 1-up.
The players and guests were all honored by the participation of Lionel Freedman, founder of the World Hickory Open, who introduced the players on the first tee, and later regaled everyone with recollections of his past matches with the likes of Sir Henry Cotton and Bobby Locke. Freedman served as scorer and judge in the championship match.
Soaring temperatures and humidity were matched by the enthusiasm of the competitors as the first shot of the tournament was struck squarely down the middle of the first fairway by Freedman to the delight and cheer of the participants, professional staff, and spectators. In groups of four, each two-ball match followed in procession. Three nine-hole matches worth one point a hole were completed on the first day.
A formal dinner for the players was held in the Members Dining Room of the storied Philadelphia Cricket Club following cocktails on the second floor balcony, which overlooks the cricket pitch and grass tennis courts. Two former club presidents as well as the current club president were on hand as John Capers III, president of the Golf Collectors Society and archivist of Merion Golf Club, spoke briefly about the history of the Golf Collectors Society and its link to the Society of Hickory Golfers.
Freedman, a former top amateur in the U.K., held his audience spellbound with accounts of his spirited competitions with some of the greatest players in the game, his founding of the World Hickory Open and his joy in the progress of hickory golf over the past two decades. He challenged the audience to sustain the cause that he has championed. He was awarded the Tom Morris Sr. Trophy in recognition of his contributions to the sport, the game of golf, and the hickory movement worldwide to a standing ovation.
Day two of competition saw no let up in either the enthusiasm nor the heat and humidity. Two nine-hole matches completed the competition and resulted in four top point totals in both player categories. All told, 80 matches were played to determine the playoff positions in each division.
An awards ceremony was held following the final putt and congratulations to all of the competitors as well as the champions were given. The World Hickory Match Play Championship was a delight to watch, a pleasure for participants, and a competition that will be on the calendar and minds of the game’s finest hickory players in the months ahead, and years that follow.
A special note of thanks to Jim Smith Jr., PGA Director of Golf for the Philadelphia Cricket Club, to St. Martins Course Head Professional Tony Dorobo, to Assistant Golf Professional Brandon Klakowicz, and to the PCC staff of hospitality professionals and the maintenance professionals for their gracious hospitality, tireless attention to our every need, and for preparing a golf course that was a joy as well as a challenge to the world’s finest hickory golfers.
Next year’s World Hickory Match Play Championship is scheduled for May 2015. More information will be available at www.USHickoryPlayers.com.