Editor’s note: Although Rick wrote this piece in late October, it has been saved to coincide with the article about the same event in the recent Wee Nip. Thanks for your contribution, Rick!
In February of this year, what started out as simply a trip to play the World Hickory Open and experience Scotland for six SOHG members, turned into something much more interesting.
After some conversations with Mike Stevens and Brian Schuman, I contacted Lionel Freedman, the organizer of the World Hickory Open. We asked about putting together a friendly match between however many players from the U.S. could make the trip and an equal number of European players. The next thing we knew, Lionel embraced the concept so well, that it was added to the tournament schedule and made an official part of the World Hickory Open. It would be called the “Hickory Cup.” Now, all we needed was a team of players willing to represent America “over there.”
After a little coaxing and good salesmanship, 15 hearty souls made the trip across the Atlantic to the home of golf, ready to battle the links courses, the elements, and the world. Leading the charge were organizers Mike Stevens, Rick Woeckener, and Brian Schuman. Our band of merry men was aptly named by Brian as the “U.S. Hickory Players Club.”
Deal Hudson, Terry Pemberton and Tom Mehigan were the first to sign up. As for Chris Deinlein, Breck Speed, Dave Brown, and Andy Moye, their already-scheduled trip to play in the Hickory Grail – held this year at Walton Heath, Surrey, England – was a great reason to stop in Scotland for the WHO. Hamp Munsey and Dave Ellis also enlisted for the experience. Mike “Hillbilly” Henderson, and Mike Just signed on to round out Team USA. At the last, Barry Markowitz, making his third trip to Scotland, joined the roster.
Travel plans were made, an itinerary was put together, uniforms were assembled, and all that was left was to get on our planes and invade Scotland. And invade we did.
Our first stop was the Craigielaw Golf Club, as Lionel’s guests, for an informal round at this relatively new golf course. The weather was beautiful with a bright sun and mild temperature. It was a great way to start our journey. Next would be the drive to the Carnoustie Hotel, our base camp for the week. The World Hickory Open awaited.
The tournament began with a warm-up round at Monifieth Ashludie, a wonderful links course just outside Carnoustie. Teams of three players teed it up in a Stableford format for some early prizes before the main tournament. Though not a long course, the Ashludie links proved a tricky test for hickory golf. Up to the challenge were Barry Markowitz and Mike Henderson, taking third and second places respectively. The U.S. assault had begun in earnest.
After a wonderful night at Panmure, enjoying a talk on golf history by Lionel, and a steak dinner, the next day it was time to don our Team USA hickory outfits and head to Montrose Links, north of Carnoustie. This wonderful seaside course is the 5th oldest links in the world, golf having been played here for 451 years. Overcast skies and a brisk wind greeted the players who did their best, as untold legions of Yanks before them, to adjust their games to the old Scottish links game. Towering iron shots to targeted yardages were replaced with low, running shots that would stay under the increasingly strong wind and find their way to the firm greens and, hopefully, below the tricky hole locations. This was a three-man best ball competition, with each player keeping his score for the overall individual stroke play competition.
Once again, our lads were up to the challenge. The SoHG team of Chris Deinlein, Breck Speed, and Andy Moye took third place honors, and the Virginia Hickory Golf Association team of Deal Hudson, Terry Pemberton, and Tom Mehigan captured the second place prize. The rest of the hickory world was quickly discovering that we were a force to be wary of. The various media outlets took notice of our fine play and our red-white-and-blue hickory outfits and soon requested our boys to pose for pictures with Old Glory as a centerpiece.
That evening brought the gala dinner and a chance to dress up and mingle with hickory players from around the globe. Lionel was kind enough to grant us a few minutes on the stage to officially present the Hickory Cup trophy and acknowledge the U.S. and International teams that would participate in this historic match following the World Hickory Open.
Following dinner, Brian Schuman formally announced the first World Hickory Match Play Championship, to be played June 2014 at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. The historic St. Martins course, host of the 1907 and 1910 U.S. Opens, will host 32 of the best hickory players in the world in a match play event. Designed as an invitational tournament, it will feature players who have proved their skill during championship play during. Winners from the SoHG’s Championship Series events and various national championships from around the world will be invited. The tournament will be sponsored by the World Hickory Open and conducted by the Metropolitan Hickory Society in conjunction with the U.S. Hickory Players Club. Lionel Freedman enthusiastically accepted an invitation to be the official starter and tournament referee for the inaugural event. The announcement was very well received by all in attendance at the gala dinner.
As for the final round of the World Hickory Open, golfers once again assembled at Montrose for the individual stroke play competition. The winds were stronger and rain began to fall. No players in the field managed to break 80 and survival soon became the order of the day. Nothing quite like hickory golf on a true Scottish links course, particularly with a gusting 40 mph wind having its way with your ball.
Despite the conditions, the Hickory Yanks proved up to the challenge. Barry Markowitz continued collecting the hardware, taking the Super Senior division. Breck Speed captured the senior division. And Deal Hudson won the low net division with his superb play, despite losing his familiar pipe during the tournament action. Paolo Quirici from Switzerland took the gross honors shooting an unbelievable 72 the first day, followed by a very respectable 82 to capture his first World Hickory Open Championship. Paolo also won the U.S. Pro Hickory Championship earlier in the year at Temple Terrace Country Club in Florida. Well done, sir!
Now that the main tournament action was complete, it was time for the Hickory Cup match at Arbroath Links. The day was cloudy and windy, but not quite the challenging conditions experienced the day before. The tournament banners were set in place, as well as flags for the various nations that were represented for the week. Both teams assembled for a group photo to document the historic gathering. This condensed Ryder Cup-style match would be played with six holes four ball, six holes foursomes, and six holes singles.
An honorary first shot was executed by one of the members of the club. Mike Stevens and Rick Woeckener started things off for Team USA and the match had officially begun. The Arbroath course, though not as famous as its neighbors to the south and the north, proved to be a wonderful links course and fun test for the match. All of the matches were closely contested. Warm soup and sandwiches greeting each player as he came in from the elements, the groups eagerly waiting upon the outcomes of the closing and final groups. When all was said and done, and after verification by the club secretary and head pro, the final tally was 16-12 in favor of the U.S. Squad. The Hickory Cup was ours.
Now it was time to award the medals, take the victory photos, and extend much appreciation to all who made this inaugural competition a huge success. Mr. Freedman was extremely thrilled at how well everything turned out and is already beginning plans for next year’s competition, to be held at Monifieth Medal and Ashludie courses.
With our Scottish adventure deemed “mission accomplished,” it was time to spend a few extra days enjoying some other great links courses in Scotland and experiencing some better weather. Lionel again proved to be a most gracious host and a gentleman of utmost class. His World Hickory Open should be considered a must-play on the hickory calendar, at the very least on every hickory golfer’s “bucket list.” Those who haven’t experienced hickory golf on the links of Scotland, have not experienced true hickory golf. Many thanks to all the lads who participated in the trip and made the week a truly special experience. It was indeed a pleasure sharing Scotland with such good hickory friends. It also appeared from the media coverage we received, that Scotland enjoyed hosting us as well.
(Please note that, in the photo gallery that accompanies this article, the caption formats allow for a limited number of characters. Even less than Twitter! So, we wish to note that the gracious lady who is presenting awards in the photos is Helen Oswald, the Provost of Angus, which is the home district of Carnoustie, Monifieth, and Dundee.)