Hickories Heating Up in Dallas

July 3, 2017
By Jim Davis

I am not from “these here parts,” as they say in some of these here parts, but I do enjoy hearing about passion for life and Texans are nothing if not passionate about many things. The state’s motto, the Lone Star State, though, I believe to be in error. A brief examination of its sporting stars alone reveals a galaxy of bright lights.

Let’s name a few, shall we, and get it done: Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Ben Hogan, Rogers Hornsby, Nolan Ryan, Jack Johnson, Ernie Banks, Lamar Hunt, George Foreman, Joe Greene, Tom Landry, Tris Speaker, Roger Clemens, A.J. Foyt, Mike Singletary, Y.A. Tittle, Lee Trevino, Raymond Berry, Clyde Drexler, Mia Hamm, Shaquille O’Neal, Darrell Royal, Johnny Rutherford, Ben Crenshaw, Rives McBee, and, oh yes, Byron Nelson.

This is a very short list, I should add, by way of excuse and to spare the reader the entire universe of Texan heroes and heroines. There is nothing small about this state.

An acquaintance from them parts, Scott Pilgrim, who lives in Sachese and is a counselor at the Armstrong Middle School in East Plano, called me t’other day to bend my ear about some hickory golf activities in his neck of the woods. Said ear was well and truly bent. Missing a few points and wanting full instruction, I checked in with him again and thought you might enjoy getting a tan in the full Texan sun of his conversation. It’s presented here, abridged, believe it or not.

“Hi Scott, this is Jim. I hope you’re well this fine morning.”

“Well, Jim, good to hear from you. Doing great, and you?

“Thank you, Scott. Doing fine. Say, I wanted to ask you about that golf outing you had there in October and…”

“Let me tell you about how it all got going. You know Joe Hollerbach lives in Southlake and we both go to the Onion Creek tournament in Austin. That’s the event that Pete League runs. Well, he was talking with Pete and told him, you know we have guys around Dallas who might like to play and, it’s big area there, about two hours to drive from one side of Dallas to the other including all the suburbs, why, there must be about 16 to 18 million people in the big metro area, and probably up to 20, counting all those suburbs. Well, we thought if we could expose even some of them to hickory golf we ought to be able to pick up a couple dozen players for some casual rounds, get a little group together and all that. We talked about it before with Jim Conine and his fellows. They have a little 9-hole play on certain days in the evening at their club, the Dallas Athletic Club. Well, we started to collect some emails and I said I’d pick a time and email the guys when we could get together. So, over the summer last year I’d play with Jim and couple others, and then a couple more would join in and we’d have a foursome, then two threesomes. Then I asked Pete for emails from as many guys as he knew in Texas and pretty soon Jeremy Wright, John Berrgren, Mike Sloan and others came along. My son, Jonathan, is a good player and he joined us. Well, we figured to try to set up a little outing for last October…”

“Yes, that’s the one I wanted to ask you…”

“We set it up for Waco, you know, between Dallas and Austin and not too far from Houston. Twenty-two guys turned out and Rives came up, too. We had a great time and the guys all went back and talked about it and we got a few more players here and there, especially when people see you out there in your knickers, and using those clubs, those clubs get a lot of interest. I started to add more names to the email list – we’ve got over a 100 now on that list – and some never come out, but I see them now and then and they sure want to keep receiving that email. I throw in some YouTube videos on hickory play and such to keep it interesting and tell ‘em to check out the SoHG website and told Jeremy he should push Louisville Golf more, and with Tad Moore’s help, well, the group keeps growing.”

The October outing at Waco that got things going.

“That’s great, Scott. So when did you…”

“I tell you, it’s like a brotherhood. It’s a special way to enjoy the game as gentlemen, the camaraderie, the history, and the artistry of the clubs. It has snowballed from there. You know, and we all see it, you will see fellows who are interested in the clothing or the clubs and you offer to let them swing and hit a ball, but they won’t. Oh, they say, I’ll break it, or it’s not for me, or some other excuse. I just hold the grip end out toward them until they take it. There was one fellow named Tom Haddersbeck like this who finally hit a drive with my Jack White driver. He nails it. Well, I’ll be, he says, right down the middle and damn near as long as my own club. The look on his face was something. On the next hole he wanted to try again, and then another, and now he is hooked. We were playing with a PGA pro at El Paso named Mark Pelletier who likes hickories and he is going to work with Jeremy Wright to set up a purchase of clubs for himself and for the members of his club. You know El Paso was built in the hickory era, around 1924 or 1926.”

“Where did you get all those guys who said that…?

“While all this was going on, one of our guys, Johnny Beach, is from Garland and he works with the Youth Sports Hall of Fame there and they have a fundraising event and John played his hickories in the event. Garland is a big suburb of Dallas and parts are affluent and some of it struggles, but it’s all close-knit community. He wore his knickers and everything and generated a lot of interest from the golfers and the kids. He spoke at a dinner after the event, there were about 140 people there, and he told everyone about the hickory game and about a little hickory event we wanted to host in Garland. He asked for a show of hands of those who might be interested in coming and about 75 or 80 hands shot up. So this June we had the first Dallas Athletic Club Spring Hickory Invitational Tournament, on a Sunday afternoon. We had 32 players for that. You know the Dallas Athletic Club hosted the 1963 PGA Championship that Nicklaus won. Now Jim Conine and Mike Gibson are members at DAC and they organized the whole thing. The outing was designed with a two-person team format to smooth the experience for first-time hickory players. The front nine was a scramble and the back nine a better ball, all played with a converted hickory handicap.”

“How did…”

“Extra club sets were provided by those of us who are already ‘addicted’ to the hickory game. We had drinks and nachos following play, awards went to the top three places, and there were several drawings for prizes such as knickers, classic books, and other collectibles. I tell you, it was a something. First-time hickory tournament players, Joe Moses and Gary Krupkin, finished one shot ahead of Curt Sampson and Ben Jeffery to capture the team title. Comments and feedback from players was fabulous. Many of them ordered knickers and purchased hickory clubs in the days following the tournament. Krupkin? He bought clubs the next week. Moses has a Vardon putter that he loves so much he put it in his modern bag and he is starting to pick my brains about clubs to buy. Now we have something set up for October and… Say, did you have a question?”

The spring outing at the Dallas Athletic Club.

“Oh, no. You’re fine. You were saying?

“We have now set up a special event for Garland at the Firewheel GC in September. We are calling it the North Texas Hickory Championship and it will be part fundraiser for the Garland Youth Sports Hall of Fame. Rives has agreed to be the keynote speaker at the awards dinner. You know he was a teacher and basketball coach at Garland before he went on tour and local communities in Texas don’t forget their local sports heroes. He’s gonna be 78 and starting to slow down on his play. Hell, he had one of the top 25 all time rounds of golf according to Golf Digest, the 64 he shot at Olympic for the 1966 U.S. Open. We have a couple of sponsors, about $5,000 in sponsorship money, and awards to hand out. We’ll have the three usual divisions, Open, Senior, and Statesman or Super-Senior. I bought some nice prints, signed and numbered, one of Bobby Jones at Interlachen, and another of Walter Hagen at Oakland Hills. On top of all this we have organized a Facebook page called Texas Hickory Golf and invite anyone to come by for a look. We have a fun-loving, GREAT group of guys who will embrace all players.”

It was here that Scott paused for breath. For some reason, in that strange millisecond of silence, I thought to ask him how he got into hickory golf.

Mike Myrick, left, and Scott Pilgrim, the men of Texas hickory golf.

“Four or five years ago, Mike Myrick is a close friend, have known him since late 80s, I was assistant pro and I met him, I was a health teacher and high school golf coach, and so was he, you know he took is high team to the state championship in 1992 and nobody game them a chance and they kicked butt up there. We share a love of quail hunting, too. I moved to Dallas in 1992 and went up to the country club there one day for a quick nine with him and he played his hickories and I tried them and thought they were cool. Mike is a historian, he was Googling around one day and found something called the U.S. Hickory Open at French Lick, Indiana and he thought that was neat. He entered, went up there on his own and met Tad Moore and played with him. On the way back home he stopped to visit my parents in Ruidoso, N.M., and I was there, too, and he told us all about his experiences at the Hickory Open. He told me about the SoHG, learned about the Onion Creek hickory tournament in March and invited me to join him. I was dealing with some fibromyalgia at that time and thinking about that tournament coming up in March, well, that motivated me to get through all that and get healthy. I bought a few hickories, and you know, I have always done club work, I began to fix up some hickories and thought that was cool, took them to the range, and that disease was subsiding, so I called Pete League and asked him to put me in the field at Onion Creek and he did. I went down there not knowing anything about hickory golf or these tournaments and here, first thing is a big barbecue and I met Ron Lyon, a Canadian guy, and he doesn’t know me from Adam but he gives me a big ole bear hug and it was like welcome to the family, and that was more appealing to me than just simply playing golf with hickory clubs. Everybody I met that night was so nice and welcoming and friendly and that was fantastic. The next morning I sent some slacks to Mike because he was converting pants to knickers and my mother is a talented seamstress and she said I can do that and I learned from her how to do it. And this whole course at Onion Creek is covered with hickory players and then there was a trade show and I met (Russ) Fisher and (Bill) Reed and I had a ball and nothing was this special, so I was hooked, like hickory cocaine as Mike says. Well, what a wonderful way to enjoy the game of golf and the people you share it with, no one is making bets or cussing one another or being egotistical, and everyone wants to see everyone play well and enjoy good shots and I tell you what, all golf should be this way and now I very rarely grab my modern clubs anymore and l love to walk when I golf and this is just great. It brings back more to the game and the artistry of the whole thing and is just fabulous. I carry a flask and have re-initiated the Scottish tradition of a wee nip on the first tee, so we have a toast in thanks and appreciation for the opportunity to get together and play the game together and all these little things that enhance the experience. And when your local pro wants to take it up with you, why, that’s all fertilizer to the seed. It’s all good.”

Seeing that Scott was a bit winded, his good friend Mike Myrick, who was in the room (and spurring him on in the background), quickly tagged in….

“Jim, this is Mike. I got into this game a few years playing with a few hickories I had, none of ‘em were really cleaned up for play, as we think of it today, but they seemed all right to me and I shot a 77 with them from our blue tees. I play with them now and then and we have the pro at our club at El Paso hooked on it, too, and his son is starting to join us. I was working with the First Tee in El Paso  when all this got going and I asked Tad Moore if he’d help out on the purchase price of some clubs so I could show them to the kids and others and we set something up. Players do take to it. The hardest thing to do is to get someone to try it, but after they do, you rarely hear of anyone saying they never want to do it again. Now me, I’m into medieval archery and I make my own arrows and bows and very much into the history of it. The first club makers in Scotland were bow makers, in the Leith area. I love it. I’m into bird hunting and skeet shooting and I love the English long bows and the Native American bows made by the Cheyenne and Sioux indians. I’m just a wood and leather guy in an electronics world.”

At this point Scott, benefitting from a second wind, came back on, but it was mainly to wrap things up, say goodbyes and urge me on to Texas for some barbecue and golf in September.

I tell you what, I’m thinkin’ about it.

(Click here for info on the North Texas Hickory Open.)