There are now annual hickory Opens in some twenty countries. Back in 2005, you could have counted those countries on the fingers of your hand. I’d like to think that, in some small part, the World Hickory Open has acted as a catalyst to that growth and, if that’s true, then it may explain why this year, on the wonderful fairways of the Carnoustie Championship course, we will be playing host to golfers from no less than fourteen different countries. And how very welcome they will be.
A short while ago, in the context of the first Musselburgh Challenge, I said that I would brood on why the hickory game proved quite so popular. Let me take that thought further and reflect on why I think it is now beginning to take the centre stage as a sport to be defined and celebrated in its own right.
To be honest, I think that the modern game has lost its way. Technology rules. The older, classic courses are humiliated by massive and powerful clubs that demand a habitat of at least seven and a half thousand yards. The driving of Godzilla. High, vaulting approaches, complete with the obligatory back-spin. Even a yardage count, courtesy of GPS. In such a world, the Mungo Park six thousand yard challenge is a joke.
And yet it isn’t.
That challenge remains as fascinating as it was when first introduced. Play it with the clubs it spawned. The cleek, the mashie, the niblick. Play the contours of the land, follow the mindset of Willie Park, Old Tom and Jamie Anderson as they thought their way through the heathers and the whins. Bring intelligence, tactical skills and thought, hole by hole, to your game. It’s played, not in the air, but on the ground, where touch and feel are the watchwords, rather than the hammer. And, as such, it’s a game for all. Which, of course, is where it all began.
Can I put all that in a single word? I’m not sure. But I’ll try. If pushed, I’d say that that the word is fun. The hickory game is fun. Go out there and enjoy it.
Lionel passed away on January 10th, 2017. Lionel – the heart of hickory.