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Hickory Golf Balls - Why?

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"Ouimet" reproduction golf ball - Mesh Pattern circa 1920 @ McIntyre Golf Company

Let's start with the obvious and some basic physics. If you alter a modern computer engineered ball cover to that of a design used 100 years ago, the result is going to be a ball with diminished ball flight performance.  No rocket science is needed here.  You can't improve on something that is already the best at what it does.  A McIntyre mesh ball that costs $40+ a dozen plus an additional $7 or so in shipping is going to under perform the very same $12 a dozen ball that it is re-molded from. It simply won't be as “good” as the ball you can conveniently pick up while shopping for a 6-pack and ammo at your local Walmart.

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The science of dimples

So why use it?  Is the ball just a novelty?  Is it a toy?  Is the principal of playing with a period appropriate looking ball worth the added costs, hassles, and performance sacrifice?

While launch monitors never existed back in the day and there's very little documentation on how old balls played, we do have cover patterns to analyze and replicate.  Maybe a sophisticated and expensive campaign could recreate the antique ball with the exact winding, materials, and compositions that were used in the day, but that's unrealistic.  And remember, it was a dentist's x-ray, that proved just how irregular and off center balls were, to spark the evolution and modern controlled process of manufacturing balls.

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X-ray showing off center and irregular core.

The next best thing is to use modern manufactured, low compression, soft core balls to resemble, on the outside, that of the period.  The aerodynamics and data derived from testing these replica golf balls, demonstrates that the ball most certainly flew differently than today's highly evolved modern dimple design.

Robotic testing along with hands-on experience from accomplished players confirm that while there is a performance drop, again, no rocket science needed to understand why, the deviation is of marginal difference mostly seen at higher velocities and the resulting lower trajectories.  In other words, the reproduction ball is a darn good golf ball!

Chris McIntyre - The Ball Completes Me @ Auldgolfsociety.com
... we have the option to play with a modern material old look ball that is tested to be 97% as good as the best ball on the market at swing speeds in the common realm of hickory golfers
.


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Robotic testing summary @ Auldgolfsociety.com - hickory golf balls vs modern spreadsheet.

There is an annual Spring tradition that returns to a certain Mackenzie & Jones masterpiece.  A golden era design that was a result of a direct influence of the play characteristics of that time period known as hickory golf.  A concept that was based on generous width, strategy, and a homage to the ancient St. Andrews, who both Jones and Mackenzie so fondly admired.

Fast forward to the modern game and the beginning of “tiger-proofing” the course by lengthening, adding trees, rough and re-plotting bunkers to accommodate today's professional golfer.  For 2017, ANGC is set to purchase a strip mall so they can add length to the 5th. More land is being acquired from the neighboring golf course for an even further back 13th tee.

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Early Aerial photo - Augusta National Golf Club

The last 2 Opens at the home of golf have seen such madness as well with the renting of a parking lot for an extended 17th tee and in 2015, the bulldozing of a green and bunkers.

There are far too many wonderful golf courses around the world with rich, fascinating history, played by legends of the game, that are now obsolete thanks to modern technology.  Or worse yet, undergoing extensive face lifts to keep them "relevant".

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Alterations to accommodate for the modern "pro" game that visits for 4 days once every 5 years.

We play hickory golf for many different reasons, but one common element, is that we are looking to recreate that era when golf wasn't ruled by the latest and greatest technology.

Many experts will agree that the modern game lost its chance to curb technology and preserve the game and its courses, but it's too late to go back.  The ball genie is out of the bottle.  Hickory golf is at the same crossroads.  While it is still a relatively new and niche sport, it's moving forward.  There are millions of potential players who may take an interest in hickory golf at some point in the near future.  Many aren't even born yet.

Fantastic, inspiring, and gratifying golf can be played with a period appropriate ball.  Wouldn't it be much more rewarding to show your peers and those just discovering the joy of the game, a ball that represents the sport and matches the rest of your equipment rather than an ordinary ho-hum modern dimpled ball?

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Alister Mackenzie and Marion Hollins - #16 Cypress Point GC circa 1929. What once required a full Brassie, might be as little as a 7 iron for today's longer players.

When players defend ideas such as “my playing of a reproduction ball has the potential to devalue my advantage.”  That every single yard and inch that might be potentially lost by playing a lesser ball, is carrying over the same modern technology driven and competitive attitudes into the sport that the modern game has produced and led us to.

Chris McIntyre:
It would be a better hickory world if it (reproduction ball) were accepted and acknowledged as having different characteristics than modern aerodynamic balls as a positive thing in re-enacting the game.


The future of hickory golf should include a universally adopted ball that represents our sport and offers the unique experience that matches the rest of the equipment we are associated with.  The more people that play this ball and get behind the genuine motives, the faster it will improve in production quality (not to be confused with performance & distance), have more options, and eventually cost less.

If everyone is playing the same type of ball, then it is an equal field and there is no “performance drop” issue.  The game will be better for it.  Hats off to the organizers of events like the World Hickory Match Play, the Belvedere and local groups such as APNational for requiring the use of the ball.  We at NorCal Hickory are in transition and following suit as well when we tee up at our annual Monterey Hickory Classic at Old Del Monte GC.

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Visit the McIntyre Golf Company to order replica golf balls representing each of the various eras of hickory golf.  Personalized and custom logos available as well.