GEARHART — The U.S. Hickory Open is the premier golf tournament in the U.S., at least in the opinion of members of the Society of Hickory Golfers (SoHG).
This year marked the 14th year of the open. It rotates each year among four regions of the country and this year it was to be held in one of the Western states. With urging from members of the Northwest Hickory Players and an offer to host by General Manager Jason Bangild, Gearhart Golf Links was selected by SoHG as the tournament site.
“Gearhart Golf Links is an exceptional location for this tournament,” said Northwest Hickory Players (NWHP) co-founder and tournament organizer Rob Ahlschwede. “The course has hosted our annual NWHP’s Gearhart Hickory Classic each year for the last eight or nine years.”
Sunday, Sept. 12, the tournament’s 111 golfers had a chance to play practice rounds in preparation for the 36-hole competition on the following Monday and Tuesday.
Only pre-1935 authentic wood shafted clubs or approved replicas may be used. Modern-day balls are allowed. Generally, softer balls are selected since they match up better with wood-shafted clubs. Some play modern golf balls that have been heated and then remolded, so the surface reflects the earlier days of golf. Most, if not all, players are decked out in knickers, argyle socks and other period clothing. Instead of drivers, fairway woods and numbered irons, players use clubs known by such names as grass club, brassies, spoons, mashies and niblicks.
A historical golf course dating back to its first three holes in 1892, Gearhart would seem to be a perfect match for golf played with historical clubs. With small, undulating and fast greens, numerous bunkers, tall fescue roughs and often windy fairways, Gearhart Golf Links harkens back to the courses played by the old Scots.
There are four divisions within the tournament: Open Division (open to all), Senior Division (ages 60-69), Super Senior Division (age 70+) and Ladies Division. While in each division there will be a Gross and Net (handicapped) subset, only those players in the Open Division are eligible to win the U.S. Hickory Open. Each division will hit from a separate set of tees with Open playing the black tees (6,000 yards), Senior from the white (5,400 yards), Super Senior from the green (5,150 yards) and Ladies from red tees (4,200 yards).
In addition to playing in the tournament, John Henry Williams, the owner of Brookside Golf Club Restoration has a golf repair and restoration kiosk set up on site.
Some SoHG tournaments are played with Gutta Percha balls made from the hardened sap of the Malaysian sopadilla tree. According to Ahlschwede, when hit with a driver these balls travel 150 to 160 yards.
“I play with some guys from Canada who can consistently hit modern golf balls over three hundred yards with their grass club (old name for driver),” said Ahlschwede. “There are two players here with +3 handicaps, one with a +1 handicap, two or three playing a 0 handicap and eight or nine with single digit handicaps.”
“We are proud to have been chosen as the venue for the 2021 U.S. Hickory Open,” said Bangild. “It’s been a tough year with the continuing pandemic, but it’s been great to get everyone out here safely and enjoy a fun couple of days. Normally, this would be a global event with players from Europe, Canada and South America. COVID travel restrictions limited this Open to U.S. players. I owe a debt of thanks to Rob Ahlschwede and Rob Birman and their crew from the Northwest Hickory Players for their help in making this happen and successfully getting everyone here. Superintendent Forrest Goodling and his crew have done an amazing job in getting the course in superb condition for the tournament. My crew has been working outside their normal duties serving as caddie master, organizing volunteers and dealing with a greater quantity of merchandise and customers. Everybody is working hard to make sure that Gearhart shows off what we have here.”