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Breakin’ Out the Sticks: Devotees of Hickory Shaft Bring Old-Time Golf to Montague

  • Ronnie Marquoit follows her shot off the ninth tee during the Hickory Classic at the Montague Golf Club in Randolph, Vt., Saturday, September 7, 2013.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Ronnie Marquoit follows her shot off the ninth tee during the Hickory Classic at the Montague Golf Club in Randolph, Vt., Saturday, September 7, 2013.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ronnie Marquoit, of Catskill, N.Y., a seven iron from her bag of wooden shaft clubs on the eighth hole at the Montague Golf Club in Randolph, Vt., during the Hickory Classic Saturday, September 7, 2013.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Ronnie Marquoit, of Catskill, N.Y., a seven iron from her bag of wooden shaft clubs on the eighth hole at the Montague Golf Club in Randolph, Vt., during the Hickory Classic Saturday, September 7, 2013.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jack Crosby, of Concord, Mass., middle, lines up a putt while Dennis O'Grady, of Catskill, N.Y., left, and Allen Johnson, of Randolph, Vt., right, wait during the Hickory Classic, in which golfers use wooden shafted clubs and dress in historic style at the Montague Golf Club in Randolph, Vt., Saturday, September 7, 2013. 34 golfers played in the tournament.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Jack Crosby, of Concord, Mass., middle, lines up a putt while Dennis O'Grady, of Catskill, N.Y., left, and Allen Johnson, of Randolph, Vt., right, wait during the Hickory Classic, in which golfers use wooden shafted clubs and dress in historic style at the Montague Golf Club in Randolph, Vt., Saturday, September 7, 2013. 34 golfers played in the tournament.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ronnie Marquoit follows her shot off the ninth tee during the Hickory Classic at the Montague Golf Club in Randolph, Vt., Saturday, September 7, 2013.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Ronnie Marquoit, of Catskill, N.Y., a seven iron from her bag of wooden shaft clubs on the eighth hole at the Montague Golf Club in Randolph, Vt., during the Hickory Classic Saturday, September 7, 2013.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Jack Crosby, of Concord, Mass., middle, lines up a putt while Dennis O'Grady, of Catskill, N.Y., left, and Allen Johnson, of Randolph, Vt., right, wait during the Hickory Classic, in which golfers use wooden shafted clubs and dress in historic style at the Montague Golf Club in Randolph, Vt., Saturday, September 7, 2013. 34 golfers played in the tournament.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Randolph — At Montague Golf Club on Saturday, golfers from around the Northeast gathered to party like it was 1913.

The annual Vermont Hickory Classic drew 33 players — many dressed in period-style socks, knicker pants and flat caps — for a tournament celebrating old-time golf. Toting clubs built before 1935, the tourney attracted the highest turnout in its four-year history.

While many on hand were self-described golf history buffs, others simply enjoy the challenge of playing with clubs that have a much smaller sweet spot.

Without the hollow-backed, weighted-rim heads of modern clubs that increase loft and generate backspin, hickory clubs force emphasis on precision and contact.

It’s a dynamic many of the golfers at Montague on Saturday appreciate.

“It makes you tip your cap to the old-timers. It’s amazing how they did it,” said St. Johnsbury, Vt., resident Dick Walden, who played in a foursome with Montague golf pro Paul Politano, Wilder’s Bill Wilkinson and Bob Titterton, of Elmore, Vt. “It makes you respect how they used to play, because it’s a faster game.

“Plus, there’s a lot of camaraderie involved because everyone here, for the most part, is interested in golf history. It’s a lot of fun, and you get to wear these costumes.”

Montague member and Randolph resident Tim Poljacik got his first set of wood clubs last year and was using them on 18 holes for the first time Saturday. He had a rough first hole — triple-bogeying on the par-4 second to earn zero points in the Stableford-scored tournament — but was glad to be engaging in something unique.

“My daughter went out and bought the clothes for me,” said Poljacik, clad in pink suspenders and matching bow tie. “It’s not something I do a lot, just a couple of nine-hole rounds before this. But it’s pretty awesome.”

Tournament director Allen Johnson, of Randolph, was thrilled with the turnout. It was more than double last year’s, a testament to hickory golf’s rising popularity.

“I thought we’d be lucky to get 20 out here, so we’re pretty happy,” said Johnson, 66, whose been using hickory clubs for six years and who also participated. “It’s really neat to have a reproduction of what golf used to be like. It’s fun, and it’s a lot more challenging. The sweet spot is about the size of an eraser on a pencil. You have to be really good to score high.”

That doesn’t faze Politano, Montague’s second-year pro, who had never played with hickory clubs before last year’s tournament. For the Brandon, Vt., resident, the format offers a respite from some of the frustrations of the modern game.

“You’re hitting for impact and contact, much more of a bump-and-run game,” he noted. “I feel like it helps people enjoy the game more, because you’re less worried about the flight of the ball and where it’s landing. You’re just hoping it rolls close to the green. As pros, we’re always trying to get people to enjoy the game more.”

Deb Traficante, for one, doesn’t mind the challenge.

“It’s definitely harder. It requires more focus,” she said. “To me, that’s more fun. Plus, if you love wearing costumes, which I do, it’s the style for you.”

Poljacik feels the style helps level the field of competition. “If Tiger Woods were using these clubs, he’d be much more like the rest of us,” he said. “A lot of the players today wouldn’t be as good without all of the technology in the new clubs.”

Jack Crosby, of Concord, Mass., has grown so accustomed to the hickory clubs that he favors them over his set of irons.

“It started out just trying it out (in order to) respect the history of the game, but I’ve gotten to the point where I actually prefer them, because of the smaller heads,” he said. “Sometimes my scores are better now with them than they are with my steel clubs.”

The historical format was fitting at Montague, which is celebrating its 100th season this year.

“It’s great to see all these clubs and these costumes and know that this is what it looked like out here when the club first opened,” said Politano. “A lot of people enjoy the history of the game, which is why there are so many people from all over who came out here today.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

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