When seven PGA Tour players participated in a throwback event at this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, one of the equipment questions had to be whether the gear of a century ago with its small wooden heads and whippy hickory shafts would stand up to the swings of today.
The fear seemed reasonable, until you talk to Chris McIntyre, the man behind the clubs they were using.
"I've seen good players in some of our events drive the green from 290 yards away," says McIntyre, whose company Play Hickory
has provided vintage era clubs for more than 100 events since the company was founded in 2004. "I've seen an analysis of Bobby Jones swing where they took his old video and calculated his swing to be about 115 miles per hour. That's pretty comparable to a lot of the pros today."
In Tuesday's event, held to commemorate Zurich's 100-year anniversary in the U.S., Ben Crane and Camilo Villegas finished at 1-under in the 3-hole exhibition, while Luke Donald holed out from the fairway on the second hole for an eagle. Players admitted the equipment required a swing adjustment. "The hickory shafts are obviously quite soft," Graeme McDowell told WWNO radio. "You've just got to wait on them a little bit and you can't really put the same amount of pressure as you would on the shafts that we're normally used to playing."
Villegas said the event gave him an appreciation for what the game used to be like. "It is fun," he said. "It is fun to mix it a little bit, go back in the day and see how those legends used to do it."
Fun is a word McIntyre hears a lot from his clients, which are often country clubs hosting anniversary events. His company has 80 sets that it rents out for these events, all are authentic antique clubs that he has refurbished. He also provides special low- compression, soft-cover balls that are made to mimic the performance and look of the hickory-era clubs.
"I think you get an appreciation for the game of the past," McIntyre says. "Not to take anything away from today's game, it's just different.
"Playing this way, for me, brought the fun back into golf. It was good for the soul."
He thinks the event with PGA Tour players this week will get a lot of passionate golfers thinking about the way things used to be.
"I'm sure there are people who just look at these clubs as toys and wonder why anyone would want to do this," he says. "But we think it draws people out who have an eagerness about remembering the game. That's the game it was.
"There's more time in the history of the game played with clubs like this than with the clubs being used in today's game."
Follow me on Twitter @MikeStachura