Hickory golf has been played by passionate fans of the traditional game for at least 20 years. It started as an offshoot of Golf Collector Society events. Collectors at these events would grab their 100 year-old clubs and hit the nearby links, thrilled to discover the old clubs still had quite a bit of game left in them.
Eventually, people more interested in playing then collecting began to assemble with the intention of regularly playing hickory golf. Many, many golfers found themselves falling in love with the game as it was played in the 1920s (and earlier). Ignoring modern technology, they restored simple hickory shafted clubs for play and began to leave those fancy sets of Pings and Titilests in the corner. As many of these players have said, they found hickory golf to be more fun than the modern version.
By the way – this was happening all over the world. Players in countries like Scotland, Sweden, Germany, England, South Africa and even Australia took to hickory golf just like their American counterparts in cities as diverse as Pinehurst, North Carolina and Omaha, Nebraska
In late 2009, Pastor Kody Kirchhoff moved to Tampa from Omaha, Nebraska. Back in 2006, Kirchhoff started playing hickory golf – defined as golf played with original pre-1935 wood shaft clubs or replicas based off pre-1935 designs – under the guidance of hickory golf legend Randy Jensen and the Classic Golf Family of Omaha. He abandoned his modern clubs permanently soon after. Omaha was and remains the Midwest’s hickory golf Mecca, with regular hickory outings and well-attended tournaments where players could gather, share information and explore their passion for the royal and ancient game. Lifelong friendships were generated at these events and personal connections helped grow the scene. It was this environment that deepened Kody’s love of hickory golf and it was the model he brought to Florida.
Kody realized that the Tampa Bay area, where golf is played year round and local courses are rich with golf history, was an ideal location for a hickory regional group. He made contact with Mike Stevens, the teaching Pro at MacDill Air Force Base and as well as an accomplished hickory player (three-time winner of the National Hickory Championship – 2005, 2010, 2012). Stevens was the only hickory contact Kirchhoff had in the Tampa area, and after he arrived in Tampa, they began playing on a regular basis.
After many conversations, Kirchhoff and Stevens in March 2010 teamed up to host the first ever Florida Hickory Golfers event. The venue was Riverhills Country Club in Valrico, Florida. This initial event attracted six players , including two who flew in from Omaha to support their friend. From these modest beginnings began The Florida Hickory Golfers, which grew steadily as they gathered hickory players from across the state and convinced curious newcomers to try the game.
In 2014, Kody turned over the reins of the Florida Hickory Golfers to Mike Stevens, who now serves as the Captain of a robust regional group which numbers over 50. Several FHG players regularly participate in national events hosted by the Society of Hickory Golfers and even international events, such as the World Hickory Open, held annually in Scotland.
The Florida Hickory Golfers now hold regular monthly events all over central and west Florida. The goal is to play courses built before the early 1930’s, the era generally considered the golden age of golf architecture, with the names of course architects like Ross, Raynor, Tillinghast, Bendlow, McDonald and others looming large. The games are friendly, the camaraderie is fast and if you don’t have your own clubs yet, somebody can help you put together a set for the day to help get you started playing hickory golf.