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Playing Golf with Classic Clubs

I have three main areas of interest when it comes to golf: single length irons, minimalist golf and equipment, especially irons. What I enjoy more than anything in terms of irons is finding and playing a classic set, especially blades. This is obviously a very personal thing, but finding a complete set of something like Hogan blades sitting in a charity shop somewhere, taking them home and restoring them to their former glory and then actually taking them out on the course is one the greatest pleasures I get from the game. So what is so good about playing golf with classic clubs?

What are Classic Clubs?

I don’t want to get too caught up on definitions here. People get extremely worked up about what ‘classic’ actually means in terms of golf equipment. Honestly, I think it doesn’t really matter. The fact that a set has a cult following or not, came from a particular year or manufacturer or not or was played by a particular player or not doesn’t make a huge difference to me. I have a set of blades from over 60 years ago that I still play and I have also enjoyed some of the more recent blades from ten years or so ago from Wilson and Mizuno.

In the future, I will be writing about the various aspects of these classic clubs, from finding them, which sets are good to look out for and also restoring them. For the moment, I just want to talk about why I enjoy playing them and why you might enjoy it too.

This isn’t a rant against modern equipment by any means. I love some of the modern offerings. In fact, after a recent fitting, I ordered a set of Wilson launchpad 2 irons with lightweight graphite shafts (thanks Arthritis!). This might be about as far away from the classic blade as it is possible to be! I will enjoy playing these modern hybrid irons too because, quite simply, I love playing golf. However, I will still be looking out for classic sets to put into play.

The Satisfaction of Old School Golf Equipment

So what is it about having old school clubs that is so satisfying? It is actually quite difficult to put into words. I think most golfers who are bitten by the classic-club bug might find it difficult to explain exactly why too. There is just something deeply satisfying about pulling out something that might be as old as me, especially if I have spent some time cleaning/restoring/painting/regripping and then hitting a shot with it.

It is partly aesthetic, but that isn’t it entirely. I love Ping Eye 2 irons, but they perhaps don’t have the obvious beauty of the latest Mizuno blade. It certainly isn’t ease of use although this is also a misunderstood part of the process in my opinion.

Ease of use, or forgiveness which is essentially the same thing, is certainly a key factor in considering what you play with. As an example, I recently took a few of my Peter Alliss irons out for a few holes. I only had the shorter irons with my to complete a set of hybrids I was testing. Whilst I hit some very nice shots with them, it is absolutely certain that when I got it wrong, they were far more punishing than even the smallest modern blade. The leading edge is extremely sharp and there is no bounce at all. In fact, there might even be negative bounce.

Old School Blades=Danger!

I am not an elite ball striker by any means but really I can hit most clubs fine. When I didn’t get it quite right with these, the results were horrible. I hit one nine iron fat. It wasn’t beginner, six inches behind the ball fat, but it definitely wasn’t that tour-level ball/divot combination. With my launchpad hybrid irons the result probably wouldn’t have been very different to a good strike. I would have felt it, despite what people say about SGI clubs and lack of feedback. I might have lost a few yards of distance and seen a less than piercing ball flight.

As it was, the ball went perhaps 40 yards maximum. The sharp leading edge simply dug into the ground and that was all she wrote.

Playing with a full set of these might seem like golfing suicide then. It would certainly cost me in terms of score. This isn’t the point really though. It isn’t about hitting no bad shots or getting away with bad strikes (which is absolutely fine by the way.) It is simply hitting enough satisfying shots to outweigh the rest. This I certainly did. I hit a couple of glorious 9 irons into the first green (I was playing several balls while testing.) The feel was the proverbial butter and there was simply deeply satisfying on an internal level.

The Joy of that Perfect Shot

My average shot was undoubtedly worse than a modern club, but overall not night and day worse. The highs were certainly high enough to keep my coming back for more.

It doesn’t have to be about clubs that are as hard to hit either. Until I sold them (why?) a couple of years ago, I had a set of Ping eye 2 becu irons. Ping Eye 2s are perhaps THE cult golf club of all time and without going into their fascinating story, they were essentially a golfing revolution because they were the first real perimeter weighted irons from a time before CAD aided design.

The set I had was actually a becu set. Becu, or beryllium copper, gives the irons an amazing copper colour and legend has it, creates a particular soft feel off the face, although from personal experience, I would say this is actually debatable. I hit some lovely shots with these clubs, but I certainly wasn’t as accurate with them as with other clubs. The copious offset used to turn my draw into a hook when I got it wrong and the weak lofts meant they were well over a club shorter than many other sets I used.

And yet, I played them all the time, including competitive rounds. Why? Once again, there was something uniquely satisfying about them. On a superficial level, they looked amazing in the bag. I loved getting them from their tarnished condition when I got them to a lovely shiny copper. It just felt like I was playing something that was part of golfing history every time I stepped up to the ball.

Putting With a Golden Goose

Still not convinced that you should give classic golf a try? Here’s one more example. I am a bad putter. Occasionally, I am a terrible putter. In all honesty, I should be using something with a head the size of a table-top, a huge amount of perimeter weighting and the biggest grip on the market to keep my yippy hands still! Yes, really. The putter I enjoyed using most over the last few seasons was undoubtedly a golden goose from John Letters with a slim pistol grip.

This is probably a terrible choice for me but I loved it. In fact, I think I probably made as many putts with it as with anything else. Even when I missed, I got a great deal of pleasure out of feeling like a golfer from the golden era. In my mind’s eye, I could see Jack or Arnold crouched over a putt fifty years ago or more. I actually lost some of that putting anxiety and found a bit of pleasure on the greens through this sort of visualisation.

This isn’t supposed to be the complete guide to classic clubs. I haven'( even mentioned hickory or the fun to be had with steel-shafted drivers. Golf currently is a huge marketing machine pushing us towards 1500 dollar iron sets and 600 dollar drivers. These are great and I enjoy them too but there are other ways to play the game and certainly other pleasures to be had in terms of equipment.

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