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Written by Ron Archer for the Golf Historical Society of Canada

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Dear Lovers of Historic Golf,

As most of you will know from reading my two earlier articles entitled LIFE IN FIFE, the Covid 19 virus has played havoc with my recent plans. Fiftieth wedding anniversary and travel plans to Scotland/Europe were all postponed and my writing engagements with various Scottish Golf clubs were likewise shuffled to the back burner. In the midst of these various setbacks, I was forced to reconsider all of my golfing strategies and writing plans. Being stuck in Canada did not rest lightly with me at first but when I began to calm my exasperation and plan my future, a new venture began to emerge.

In my personal storage areas for golf clubs and memorabilia, I found a small enclave of neglected, or at least overlooked, historical clubs. None of these sets was hickory shafted. They were all early steel shafted clubs and many were “colour coated” to resemble hickory. Such clubs were often looked down upon as being too young to be antiques and too old to be current. This discrimination of being “neither fish nor foul”, left them relegated to solitary confinement with little possibility of seeing the light of day on any local golf course.

However, upon further examination, I found these clubs to be interesting, stimulating, and even beautiful. So, I began to wonder – if I cannot go to Scotland and play with my hickories, maybe I could enjoy being in Canada and playing with historic, steel shafted clubs. With that in mind, I selected four complete sets, from three different countries, and all with different personalities. In an ensuing plan, I proposed a unique competition using classic clubs from the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s.

To be more specific, I suggested an Exhibition Match with a pair of , two-man teams –   one of Internationals and one of Americans. Each person would play the role and use the clubs of one famous golfer. The competition, over 18 holes, would comprise six holes of “scramble”, six holes of best ball, and six holes of foursomes. The winning team would receive one hundred thousand pounds and a pint.


The clubs and the Players

The American Team:

Bobby Jones – The only golfer to win all four majors in one calendar year. This classic set of clubs includes a “Calamity Jane” putter.

Gene Sarazan – The famous player nick named “The Squire”, who hit the “shot heard round the world” – a double eagle at Augusta National. Beautiful knurling on the hosel, distinctive shafts, and attractive clubheads.

The International Team:

Macdonald Smith – The talented Scottish player, first known by a later moniker – “best player in the world not to win a major tournament”. An historic Colin Montgomerie. This set of clubs is the oldest of the four and the most weather beaten but the grips are still soft and tapered sheeps skin.

Pat Fletcher – The last Canadian to win our National Championship in the year 1954. These signature clubs are well used and rather understated in comparison to the pristine Sarazen clubs. They conjure up shades of Mike Weir losing the playoff to V.J. Singh and breaking the hearts of most current Canadian golfers. Thank goodness for Brooke Henderson!

 

The Exhibition at the Dundas Valley Golf and Curling Club was marked by brilliant Ontario summer weather and occasionally brilliant golf,played by the four world famous players. The International Team scored a resounding victory (4 & 3). The American team graciously acknowledged its defeat. All four players happily headed to the 19th hole to review the days proceedings.

Here are some of the insights that arose after our exhibition match:

“Fletch” (Barry Hutchinson) said “It left me with a renewed appreciation of our modern club technology… and of the skill of those guys who played so well with this equipment  “Bobby” (Ken Goll) thought my comment sounded a touch “canned’ though it was actually quite spontaneous and after at least half a pint, I marvel that those guys could hit a little driver like my ‘Pat’  What? 250 yards? Amazing!

Bobby (Ken Goll) was even more succinct, saying simply “CalamityJane has seen better days!” Though difficult to construe or exegete Bobby’s tongue in cheek comment, I think it safe to say that playing golf within a different technological era is much tougher than one thinks. Modern muscle memory does not seem to translate easily into proficient play when you change the “feel” of clubs so radically. In short, it makes a hard game much harder. This is true of all classic golf clubs of course. but it may be of particular importance when it comes to the use of classic, thin, “blade” putters. They are beasts of a different breed. Or, as one turn-of-the-century golfer woefully wrote –“the object of playing golf is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with implements singularly unsuited for the task”.

Gene (Ron Archer) shared some of the feelings exposed by Bobby’s comment but my primary concern, as organizer of the day’s event, was that all four players might enjoy the ‘change of pace” coming from a change in equipment. Golf should be fun and the use of period clubs or costumes should enhance the feeling of “hey, lets play the game rather than work at the game. Perhaps even more, I saw this exhibition match as a signal that classic, post hickory golf clubs are not only very special but quite possibly the next truly “collectable” commodity following the end of the hickory era in the late 1920’s.

Macdonald (Steve Brintnell) deserves the final comment regarding this historic experiment simply because he grabbed his set of 1940’s clubs and played like they were a set of 2020 Titleist’s. If the exhibition had been scored as medal play, he would probably have recorded a 79 or 80. It was a marvellous and surprising demonstration a golf acumen that would have made the real Macdonald Smith, very proud indeed. How, you might ask, did this happen? According to Mac’s post drink interview, he said “all I tried to do was slow down my swing and try to find some kind of “rhythm” where I wasn’t trying too hard. The more relaxed I got, the easier the old clubs seemed to play”.

Now to me, the obvious conclusion to the day was one not readily observable to most modern golfers. Macdonald Smith, that wonderful Scottish golfer who never won a major tournament , came very close. At Royal Liverpool, he lost The Open Championship on the final day to a player who would become the only golfer to win all four majors in one calendar year – Bobby Jones. On the other occasion, due to spectator irregularities at the Prestwick Golf Club, he lost the Open to a young American who later played “the shot heard round the world” – Gene Sarazan. How fitting then, that at Dundas Valley in Canada, Macdonald Smith should defeat those same two players who had been his nemesis so many years ago. Perhaps, even in golf, there is such a thing as poetic justice.

 

Respectfully yours,

Dr. Ronald C. Archer

 

P.S. Now about the prizes for the day. The International Team winners did in fact get their pint (or two) but the collecting of the 100,000 pounds of British Stirling, is still under discussion due to the Covid crisisinternational banking regulations, and my personal finances. RCA