John Crow Miller


DRIVER: BelleAir 1 3/8" deep face, 43.5", 13 degree loft, 19.5 oz., D-2. Bill Farmer lent this club to me 3 years ago. He now ties a very short string on all clubs he chooses to lend. A slight hook to the face helps my flattish swing. Consistent. An expert insert by Ralph Livingston III protects the club face. Optimum distance flat: 210 yards.

​ BRASSIE: E.E. Beverly, Royston, Herts. 1 1/4" deep face, 42.5", 16 degree loft, 19.75 oz., D-4. John Sherwood supplied this and other fine clubs in my collection. He is as fair as they come and is a superior source for both rare and playable clubs. The head on this club has tremendous peppering, and retains its original face. Optimum distance flat: 185 yards.

​ 1 IRON. Tom Stewart, TS Dot Punch, 39", 21 degree loft, line scored, D-0. More lofted than my other 1-Irons, this club produces a low trajectory shot which is perfect on links style courses. Going any lower on iron loft hurts my consistency. Doubles as a straight razor. 175 yards.

2 IRON. Tom Stewart, Harry J. Collis, Flossmoor, 38.5", 27 degree loft, line scored, D-1. A few degrees of extra loft makes this a high flying distance club, which is relatively easy to hit. This is the right club for me on many par 3's, whether hit full or knocked down. 160 yards.

APPROACHING CLEEK. Tom Stewart, 37", 32 degree loft, dot punched, D-5. This jigger style head with a central backweight imparts tremendous loft. Great club out of the rough. Also known as the "Dreaded" Approaching Cleek, but like the little girl with the little curl, the DAC can also be very very good. The player has to fight the tendency to shut down the clubface. Though I much prefer "approaching" with my Mashie, Philip Truett is a master with the Approaching Cleek, which dispatches his ball below knee height over great distances. 150 yards.

MONGREL MASHIE. Tom Stewart, J. A. Donaldson, Glenview, Ill., 37.5", 34 degree loft, dot punched, D-0. Essentially, a blending of Mashie and Cleek, this club goes a bit lower than the Approaching Cleek and is not as subject to being badly mis-hit. The name alone makes it a worthy club for my bag. 140 yards.

MASHIE. Tom Stewart, J.B. Kinnear, 36.5", 38 degree loft, line scored, C-7. My iron set is built around this essential club. The club is completely reliable for running or carried approaches, and may be shaped with consistency. Have not yet decided which of my children will receive this weapon under the terms of my Will. 125 yards, and all points in between.

SPADE MASHIE. Tom Stewart, J.B Kinnear, 36.5", 44 degree loft, line scored, D-5. This club most closely resembles the style of my 1981 Hogan Apex set. Its results are curious to me, as it only produces one shot, which is all carry. Half-shots with the Spade Mashie are never tried, yet the club is essential for scoring when one's birdie tries come from beyond 100 yards. This particular club is ugly as sin - a true player. 110 yards.

MASHIE NIBLICK. Tom Stewart, D. Millar, Blairgowrie, 36.5", 48 degree loft, line scored, D-2. This club makes me think of Bobby Jones every time I have the pleasure of hitting it. The Mashie Niblick can be lofted, knocked down, spun, bounced or rolled, which makes it an essential weapon around the green. The unpredictable nature of the Niblick makes the Mashie Niblick THE chipping club of choice. Mashie Niblick's take many forms, but I strongly prefer the egg-shaped head. 90 yards.

NIBLICK. Tom Stewart, Ken Smith, Kansas City, 37", 56 degree loft, line scored, E-4. Called "8 Iron", this is the most lofted club in my bag. It is designed to carry hazards, and play shots that stop and spin. Playing this club out of heavy rough leads to unpredictable landings. This Niblick's hooked face allows me to impart tremendous spin. The leading edge has no bounce, so confidence out of the bunker can only be gained with practice. 65 yards.

PUTTER. Gibson Brown-Vardon, Thornton of Edinburgh. 34", 5 degree loft, triangle dot face, 25 3/4 ounces, E-6. I bought this putter from Allan Wallach as a pure collectible, and to support Allan for the great job he does in appearing with a massive arsenal of hickory clubs at most of our hickory gatherings. Little did I now this would supplant my HB Spalding as my best playable putter. The club has great weight and is the softest feeling putter I have ever experienced, from any era. The oval shaft also gives this club superior optics.

​ Ball: Titleist Pro V1
Glove: No way
Bag: Belding stovepipe - canvas and latigo

​ GENERAL COMMENTS

1. I am a firm believer in clubs manufactured by Tom Stewart of St. Andrews, Scotland. Stewart clubs take the right divots, and there are enough of them around to make a solid playset, while assembling several playable clubs in reserve. This allows for experimentation so that the player can decide which of many Stewart choices will ultimately find a way into the bag. The fact most of the best hickory players in the world prefer to play irons by Tom Stewart, says it all. As far as woods go, selecting playable clubs of this genre is an intensely personal decision, and should be purchased by feel only. If you cannot lay your hands upon a wood you are about to purchase, or you cannot rely on the seller to give you a player's perspective on the club's quality, you take a tremendous risk the club will never find its way into your bag.

2. Switching to hickory clubs has flattened my swing. This combined with a whopping 82mph of swing speed keeps me from being a long player. The yardages given here are probably shorter than the average player will achieve. I do believe what I lack in distance, is salvaged by consistency. The Pro V1 helps me get more distance, while maintaining feel. However, years of balata play took a few months of practice before my best short game returned with the Pro V1. I think the Titleist Balata 90 is still preferred in cold weather conditions.

3. I believe a player should err on the side of carrying fewer clubs. Not only does it make club decisions easier, it helps to increase the pace of play. Woe be it unto the slow player who hopes to make many friends in Scotland and England. Fewer clubs also calls for more creativity and hence, more fun. The small bag I carry is more than enough to house my set and hold an umbrella.

4. Though loft is important, I judge my clubs by how far they actually go. I often get a caddie to shag balls, so that I can verify the distance each club is able to achieve via the miracle of a rangefinder. This added confidence in distance is critical, when one is a short player who rarely reaches greens in regulation.

5. I would pay a premium price for any club which was restored by Ralph Livingston III. He put my initial playset together, and graciously taught me how to restore, identify and purchase playable clubs. I frequently rotate clubs into my playset, not only to replace clubs that have gone "cold" on me, but also to be sure as many clubs in my collection as possible are able to do the work for which they were made. I have yet to break a modern hickory that has been properly restored, which is a credit to how well Tom Stewart clubs were made, as well as to Ralph Livingston III's time tested techniques in repair.

John Crow Miller, Dallas, Texas (jmiller@hrepc.com)
US Hickory Grail Team
Society of Hickory Golfers
Golf Collectors Society of America
British Golf Collectors Society
Keepers of the Green, St. Andrews
USGA Museum & Library Committee
​ Brook Hollow Golf Club, Dallas, Texas



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Hickory golf in the early 21st Century boils down to three essential pursuits: "Modern Hickory Golf," which covers the Hickory era from the establishment of the Haskell ball through the start of the steel shaft era, "Guttie Golf," which covers the period from the late 1850's through 1902 when the gutta percha ball was the primary ball played, and "Feathery Golf," which involves the most ancient of Hickory golf implements, and unless one is incredibly well-healed or certifiably insane, only reproduction feathery golf balls are played.

Although Modern Hickory Golf is enjoying a veritable renaissance around the globe, Feathery Golf is almost never played. My only dalliances into feathery golf have taken place over the 36 hole Bruntsfield Short Course in Edinburgh, Scotland, and along those most ancient links of Musselburgh, also in Scotland. I love Feathery Golf, but other than my pal Win Padgett, not many Hickory players share that affection.

My Guttie Golf is played primarily in the United States at Oakhurst Links, in West Virginia, which happens to be America's oldest golf course (est. 1884, and perhaps earlier). Each year, a select field of hickory players (present company excepted) gathers to enjoy Lewis Keller's hospitality and participates in the playing of golf in a way which dominated the golfing landscape for the better part of a half century. The Oakhurst tee boxes are made of sand, and sheep roam freely across the course as its primary gardening and fertilizer service. Some 65 players participate in the National Hickory Championship, which was first orchestrated by Peter Georgiady in the summer of 1998. 2004 represents the 7th playing for the National Hickory Championship, and I am fortunate to have participated in the last six of these great tournaments. I usually finish in the top ten at the NHC, with my best finish being a 5th in a rain shortened, asterisk laden, event.

Pete's primary concern at the National Hickory Championship is to ensure the players utilize clubs which reflect conditions in 1895 and earlier. The Tournament Committee is responsible for checking each player's golf clubs for period authenticity. Reproduction equipment is allowed, as reproduction guttie equipment is more cost effective, and Oakhurst maintains a large supply guttie clubs for hire by National Hickory Championship players.

From my own experience, authentic golf clubs are always preferred. My guttie clubs are like old friends, as we have been to war each year and we know each other's eccentricities (trust me - there are more than a few of these with regard to the player). Though it requires a larger investment and more energy in restoration, playing golf "the authentic way" is a great experience, and I am sure the historical aspects of the championship are best served. Nevertheless, all players are utilizing the same reproduction gutta percha golf ball, which represents a blend of materials designed to recreate the Guttie Golf experience. Having played golf with real gutta percha golf balls, I can tell you with sincerity that reproduction golf balls are preferred, both in terms of expense and playability.

My set of Guttie Golf clubs has been established through various acquisitions I have made over the years, and as always, I try to maintain my equipment to the highest standards of playability. Because the Oakhurst rough can be fierce, the weather can be dicey, and some of the clubs have value independent of their playability, I will offer my primary club selections, and include a short list of backups. Also, the tournament originally featured a five club rule, which allowed for a play club, a putter, and three iron headed clubs. Though the rules of the tournament have changed to allow more golf clubs, I still just carry five, if for no other reason that doing so makes the walk over Oakhurst's wonderful links at least a few clubs lighter, and club selection is a snap.

Putter - Although iron headed putters of the period are now permitted, I am a firm believer in utilizing the long-nose style. If the weather is nice, I have a fantastic long-nose putter made by Tom Morris, which dates to around 1885. This old veteran features stymie markings on the shaft, and is slightly bowed to reflect the "St. Andrews Bend." It was wonderfully restored by my friend Philip Knowles, of Edinburgh, Scotland, who helped me take a very rough club and reestablish it as a real beauty. If the weather is an issue, my authentic long-nose putter does not benefit from the rain. Thus, I also pack a reproduction putter made by Barry Kerr, of Heritage Golf in St. Andrews, which replicates a long-nose putter made by Hugh Philp. Though it is a neat little putter, the fact that it is only a few years old takes away greatly from the Guttie Golf experience.

Morris Long Nose: Loft 13°, smooth-face
Philp Long Nose: Loft 12°, smooth-face

Play Club - Not many players are able to bring out authentic equipment for their play club. If you have a real version of this essential weapon, and it is in sufficient condition for play, you must be equally adept at lighting money on fire. Socket head clubs are not allowed, which means that every play club must have a splice. I have had some success with an authentic Willie Park Compressed Head brassie, which is used on the nicest of days. Chuck McMullin graciously sold that club to me for the right price, which is about the only excuse I have for risking its use. However, the best consistency I have gained is through a long-nose play club, which was made for me by Barry Kerr, after a play club which was originally made by McEwan. I like the look of a long-nose, especially when used on the teeing ground. Both of my play clubs feature a leather insert in the face, which would have been used to protect the club face from direct collision with the hard gutta percha ball. It is very rare that I am presented with a fairway lie which allows for the use of my play club.

Park Compressed Head Bulger: Loft 17°, leather-face
McEwan Long Nose Play Club: Loft 19°, leather-face

Rut Niblick - I was fortunate to be given a great rut niblick by Ralph Livingston III, upon my first appearance in the National Hickory Championship. This little club was made by Tom Stewart in the middle 1890's, and though most of the Stewart markings have worn away, the pipe still shows, and I come to like the small shape of the head. One of the fun things about the tournament is experiencing how even the smallest headed club can still hit a golf ball the right way. Even though the head on my rut niblick is about the size of a large lime, I can recall very few instances wherein I have shanked the ball. The fact that I am losing my memory and I am otherwise scared out of my wits with each swing may more to do with that perception than truth.

Stewart: Loft 57°, smooth-face

Lofter - My lofter is a basic little club, which has plenty of loft. I don't know why the club works for me, but it does. I have several playable lofters, but they don't all work consistently for me. The method of selecting clubs by feel is typical of Guttie Golf. Back in the day, most guttie clubs were held, waggled and played with before purchase, as no formal specifications were available. The Anderson lofter has been nicely restored for play, and is the primary means by which I navigate Oakhurst Links. It has an uncanny knack for hitting the ball straight, and extracting me from difficult lies, and one encounters more than a few of those at Oakhurst. If I were required to carry no more than four clubs, they would be those listed as putter, play club, rut niblick and lofter, depending on the weather.

D & W Anderson: Loft 45°, smooth-face
​ T. Morris (Stewart) Loft 39°, smooth-face
Unknown maker Loft 38°, smooth-face

Iron - This club has plenty of loft from a Modern Hickory standpoint, but is too steep for many Oakhurst lies. While other players may rely heavily on their iron, it is not my strength to dig golf balls out of difficult lies, especially with a low lofted club. Therefore, I like to have this club available if I need something off the tee that is less than my play club, or if I am graced with a superior lie. This club can provide an exceptional means of hitting chip shots around the green with lots of top spin. My primary iron is very long in shape, and is a true guttie club. Players who have irons with short heads are not enjoying the true guttie experience, regardless of whether the club is permitted for play. My Carrick has a reproduction shaft, and is mule strong. I like it less, simply because its shaft is not authentic.

Unknown maker: Loft 33°, smooth-face, D-2
F & A Carrick Loft 31°, smooth-face

​ Bag: None, I carry a Truett-style stick stand
Glove: Next question, please
Tee: Metal sand tee mold, expertly made by Arlie Morris


​ Clothier: www.premierclothing.com Check it out. Please don't wear plus-four's at Oakhurst. That's like bringing a Volkswagen to a Porsche rally. We should all do our part to reflect the Guttie Golf era properly. If you look like Bob Jones when you play off a sand tee, you are not doing it right.