Return to a Golfing Age of Hickory-shafted Clubs and Croft Jackets

Agency Chief Matthew Dodds Travels Back in Time as He Tees Up

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Talk about retro. Every golfer the Off Hours staff knows yearns for those pricey first-on-the-block high-tech clubs to show off to his or her foursome.
Matthew Dodds, president of Brandthropology, pursues a more genteel game of golf with pre-1900 equipment and togs.
Matthew Dodds, president of Brandthropology, pursues a more genteel game of golf with pre-1900 equipment and togs.

Hickory shafts
But Matthew Dodds, president of Brandthropology, Burlington, Vt., often puts away his shiny, modern clubs for a slower, more genteel game using hickory-shafted clubs from golf's early days.

"My cousins run a tournament down in the D.C. area, and after a round, we all got drinking scotches," he said.

Of course.

"We talked about how the new technologies were taking the old courses out of play [and wondered] what it would be like to turn back the clock," Mr. Dodds said. A little research on his part revealed "there were a bunch of guys-mostly associated with the Golf Collectors Society -- that were already doing it. ... It all seemed so wonderfully perverse that I decided I had to give it a try."

Pre-1900 clubs
The former exec at FCB, D'Arcy, BBDO and McCann Erickson first had to rummage for equipment. "I'm a real trash picker. I go to thrift shops, Salvation Army stores. Then, when I need to supplement or get specific clubs, I go to eBay. For pre-1900 clubs, Golf Collectors Society meetings are great. There's a set of people looking to trade, and it's fun to swap out with folks. I love that you can pay $50 or $500. Lots of room for arbitrage."

And, golf being a highly competitive game, hickory tournaments have gained favor. "I've run a tournament called the Adirondack Hickory Open for a few years," Mr. Dodds said. He said he's folding the tournament into what the Equinox in Manchester, N.H., is doing. "Orvis and Johnny Walker signed on as sponsors, so I think there's a future."

Mr. Dodds, 42, is fresh from a low net score win at the National Hickory Championship held in West Virginia.

The equipment can only be described as quaint next to the latest Callaway Big Bertha Fusion Ft-3.

Gutta-percha balls
"My set includes a long-nosed play club, mashie, niblick, lofter and putter. A sand tee maker and three gutta-percha replica balls complete the equipment." The executive notes that replica gutta-percha balls go for $9 each, so "you're in the heather for a while before you give up a search" for a lost ball.

The big difference, of course, is distance. Mere waifs these days can crush a modern-day driver well past the 300-yard mark. "I can hit my modern driver 225-245," Mr. Dodds said. "My hickory driver runs 185-220" yards.

"Playing with hickories is very humbling," said the father of two. "I tend to get into trouble with my moderns because I can make decent shots with poor swings.

"I liken it to driving an American car with a mushy suspension vs. driving a rather more unforgiving European sports sedan. You receive a lot more feedback." And even more challenging is a shot from a sand trap. "The sand wedge as we know it came in just as hickories were dying out. The ones that are out there-especially the Walter Hagen models-get a pretty penny. So you're in a trap with a niblick with no bounce, and your knees are knocking. You have an error margin measured in millimeters."
Englishman Harry Vardon rose to international fame in the 1890s and became the sport's first true superstar. He was an icon of the natty dressing style of that era's golfers.
Englishman Harry Vardon rose to international fame in the 1890s and became the sport's first true superstar. He was an icon of the natty dressing style of that era's golfers.

Knickers and croft jackets
Part of the fun is dressing for a hickories event. "You can get knickers nowadays pretty easily, but I like to buy older woolen trousers and wear them with suspenders. Yes, they're hot in summer. I've won a couple of 'best dressed' awards so I guess it's gone to my head. I was laughing the other day because the only time I wear a tie nowadays is on the golf course. I've been trying to find the old style croft jackets worn by [golf's first superstar Harry] Vardon."

And while there are differences in game played circa 1906 and in 2006, some things haven't changed. Mr. Dobbs' favorite libation on the 19th hole?

MacCallum Scotch whisky.

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What are the office fashionistas buying for fall? How is your personal tech gizmo helping you manage you workload and home life? Seeing a social trend come to life in your office? Describe it in an e-mail to Mike Ryan at mryan@crain.com.

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