A Trip Back in Time
I am, by nature, a nostalgic guy. I love history and most things old. My home is a German cottage built in 1930. I have a number of antiques from my grandmother’s house around the living room, as they make me feel grounded somewhat. I like old guns, old cars and old movies.
And I often reflect on the changes to golf that have resulted from the advancements in the equipment we play. So, finally, I decided to do something to just find out how dramatic those changes really are. I went to eBay and began shopping. And by early next week, I’ll have a bag with a set of 1960s vintage Ben Hogan speed slot persimmon woods – 1,3,4 and 5. And I’ll have a set of 1960s Hogan Bounce Sole irons – 2 – Equalizer. This bag is going to be very close to mine when I was in my late teens.
Then I’m going to go out, even with the modern golf ball, and play a few rounds at my club to see just what that golf course offered up to the average golfer back when I was a kid. And I’m going to challenge my golf professionals to take my new/old bag and do the same, especially the younger ones who’ve never even hit a persimmon wood or classic forged blade. And I’m going to extend that challenge to some of the younger low-handicap players at our club to see what they can do. This is going to be one very interesting experiment, I’m sure.
Is Golf In Trouble?
I’m concerned about golf. And it’s future. We see a decline in participation and many efforts to try to stem that tide. Industry stalwart Barney Adams is pushing a move to have all golfers move up to sets of tees that make the courses shorter. Probably not a bad move for most, but I really don’t think it’s the length that beats up on most golfers. What about the more and more diabolical protection of that tiny 4-1/4” hole the architects come up with – water, deep bunkers, thick rough, speedy greens, etc.
But the number one threat to golf’s participation by recreational golfers is, in my opinion, the almost maniacal focus on distance. When I was a kid growing up playing golf, my dad and my golf pro pounded on me to learn how to hit real golf shots, make the ball do what I wanted, hit it where I was looking. “Distance will come with growth”, they both promised me. And it did. I was always a smaller guy than my peers, but learned to hit it with them by focusing on fundamentals and rhythm/timing. I have always been respectably long for a 5’7”, 160 lb guy who’s now pushing 60. And I’ve never been afraid of longer courses, because I have no fear of an approach from 190-215 with a 4-iron to 4-wood in my hands. That’s because I was taught to make solid contact with a repeatable, controlled swing.
I see the local high school kids all out trying to hit it as far as they can with every club in their bag, and they shoot atrocious scores because of it. None of them are trying to learn how to hit it better, more solid, and to score. All they apparently want to do is bomb it.
I kind of got off track from my trip down nostalgia lane, but I really believe that if you want to get better at this crazy game, almost every golfer should learn how to hit it better, not longer. And that your best distance with every club in your bag is about a full club shorter than you think you hit it.
Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know how the experiment with the old Hogans progresses.
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note on the High School kids... The golf team still has its core group of good players which would compare to the core group of golfers that come through in every generation... In many cases, there are just alot more kids in the program especially with programs dipping into Junior High kids which did not happen back in the 60s 70s & 80s...
wish i got into golf in high-school after repeatedly failed to make the cut in basketball and football. no regrets! i'm enjoying the love/hate relationship now since i'm... wiser? lol!
Great article Terry. And well timed. I'm 40 in my fifth year playing and I this message is actually starting to sink in. Patience. Lots of Patience, and of course practice, and I'm starting to see the ROI. My Eidolon wedge is sure helping too. Great club! Thanks again.
I dont care how long i hit it as long as i know how long i can hit it. accuracy and consistency over distance and power any day. Now if i can find a couple $$ to get out and play! only 2 rounds in so far this year WTF!
Great read. When I was growing up, I played with a set of clubs I thought were junior clubs, but later learned they were my Great-Aunt's (father's aunt) old set. And when I was about 14 my father went and got a new set of clubs (cavity back and metal-woods) and I inherited his Wilson Foremaster blade irons and Wilson persimmon woods. Playing those clubs you quickly learn solid contact, because if you hit it thin your hands would sting for a minute and you'd lose about 1/3 the distance. Nowadays with my TM R7s the same bad shot is barely noticable and I might even hit the same distance with roll.
I can't imagine learning the game with cavity backs/ hybrids and the like because the feedback is just not there.
Very interested in hearing how that experiment turns out.
In my opinion, the reason participation is suffering is due more to money than the obsession with distance.
It is distance and EGO!! There are guys who play the back tee's and have no business being there. I've seen the Barney Adams/PGA/USGA initiative called "Tee it Forward" and there is a chart that recommends which length course to play based on your driver distance, not Handicap; and it makes sense. They want you to hit your approach shots with clubs similar to what others would hit; basically say a 7 or 8 iron vs a 4 or hybrid. The other thing most guys are not honest with themselves about how far they hit their clubs; especially the driver. I see people post all the time on this forum and others that claim they get it out there 300+ yards; BS! The average pro distance on tour is what 285/290? Give me a break!
And another thing - just look at a scorecard and see what the Rating difference is between the back tee and say the tee at 6200 - 6400 yds;probably only 3 to 4 stroke difference. So if a scratch golfer would expect to shoot 4 strokes better on the shorter tee; what do you think a 10+ handicap would shoot on the shorter tee; maybe 2 strokes better; so instead of scoring a 82, they shoot an 80! It's all about ego!
I think I remember Nicklaus complaining that with the current pro distance,nobody hits less than a 5 iron approach on a par 4.Most approach shots are 8iron or less.Par 4s are not supposed to be Driver/PW.I think this is why people play the back tees,it lets you hit the difficult clubs 4i-3wood.
Thanks for this article Terry. For many of the reasons you mention above, I still play my old forged hogans and occasionally pull out the persimmons. I do usually bag my Eye 2 laminates though. :)
More importantly though, when my son turned eight years-old last year, his birthday gift was the same set of irons that I used for my first full set - Hogan Radials. I had them reshafted with lighter, shorter, junior graphite shafts in a stiffness appropriate to his swing speed. And guess what. He's already learning to hit properly down on the ball and even has a love of hitting his three iron, which he does surprisingly well. He's too young to fear a shot and would never think to blame anything on his equipment. IMHO, he's learning the game the right way first. He particularly likes it when I bag my own set of matching Hogans (different shafts, of course).
Good luck with the old set and I hope you report back that your scores really aren't all that different.
I just read a old 2003 Golf Digest article about how much longer the pros are improving their ditance, but the 10+ handicapp person is not. Mostly due to improved ball construction, fitness, and to some degree equipment. Jim McLean was quoted that if you gave a 10+ handicap a full set of 1955 McGreagor clubs (woods with persimmon heads) and an older ball that their distances wouldn't be much longer than using their modern equipment; the pros on the other hand would see at least a 50 yard differenc (driver).
One principle of modern golf is this: It is better to be in-trouble-long than in-trouble-short. This means that, all things being equal (not counting over shooting a green), if you have a lateral hazard say, you're better off going into way down the fairway than right off the tee. Often you can clear obstacles and play a reasonable recovery from an adjacent fairway. If there were almost no hazard of playing short, we might play short. Instead, in most cases, bombing away with the driver is your best bet. Besides, driver/ball technology lets you do that with near impunity anyway. Getting rid of the wooden tee would help, playing barefoot, or somehow allowing for more advances in irons would deempasize the driver.
I've read comparisons of new vs old clubs before and the old clubs always come out the loser. But these comparisons are always in golf magazines with a vested interest in advertizing new clubs. From personal trials I don't think the woods from back in the day can beat modern equipment. But perhaps the old irons, especially the early cavity backs like Ping Eye 2+, can hold their own. I'm really looking forward to your unbiased results.
Here's the rub: It's not the clubs, it's the person! If you or I play with better eqip, of course we'll do better. But a great racer would beat me, even if on a crappy bike. A better analogy is using musicians. The music is in the person, not the instrument. With singing, the person is the instrument, but even a crappy instrument will sing in the hand of a great musician. And to be fair, and to honor Terry's challenge, I would aver that many a great musician had to suffer through, and then succeed through inferior equipment or difficult circumstances - and let the game, or the art speak!
An old friend keeps telling me it's the Indian, not the arrow (sorry for not being PC). I refuse to believe him!
I started my own little experiment about a month ago with a 18* 4 wood. I have a modern metal 18* and a persimmon head 18* with a moden day graphite shaft - both the same length; the only difference is the head; both weigh about the same; maybe 1 or 2 grams different, the difference is the size (cc)the metal wood is a little bigger thn the persimmon head. Now, I've gone to the range several times just hitting both clubs - I hit the persimmon head club about 10 yards longer and higher than the metal head. I believe the reason; as Terry points out in his "Blades" article, is that more mass is concentrated behind the ball with the smaller head. Keep in mind, metal woods are hollow shells with weight distributed around the edges for "forgiveness". I can feel the wood head thru the swing much more so than the hollow metal head.
Where is your report Terry?
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