MANATEE -- When Gary Cole decided he wanted to play again after a hiatus, he searched a second-hand store for some old clubs.
That's where he saw hickory shafted sticks, decided to try them and fell in love with the style.
Eventually, Cole met Jay Harris, who rents and sells hickory shafted clubs out of Pinehurst, N.C.
So when Cole drifted toward a summer membership last year at Sara Bay Country Club, a course loaded with rich history, the idea for a hickory-shafted tournament to commemorate the club's 90th anniversary was a no-brainer.
"We embraced that idea immediately," Sara Bay entertainment committee chairman Michael Fradkin said. "It's such a natural and such a complement to the yesteryear feel that we were going with as a theme for this particular anniversary."
On Friday, Sara Bay transformed into the original Whitfield Estates Country Club for a nine-hole scramble featuring yardage reminiscent of when the course opened Jan. 22, 1926. It was the first time there was a hickory shafted tournament as a nod to history at the club.
The team of Mark Papa, Bill Goshorn, Pete Killingsworth and Dick Hershman won the gross division with a 1-under par 35 after a matching of cards with Dan Mills, Margaret Mills, John Clappison and Lynn Clappison.
Ken Liszewski, Stacy Liszewski, Phyllis Turner and Julie Tanner captured the net division, which used 10 percent of everyone's handicaps, with a 25.9. Ken Liszewski, Turner and Tanner earned closest to the pin awards, with Turner completing a birdie on her own on the par-3 16th.
Before the event got underway, Cole and Harris, who brought 25 hickory shafted sets down from Pinehurst, performed a clinic to get players familiar
with the clubs.
"The sweet spot is about the size of a dime," Cole said. "... The feedback is great, because you know right away what you did before you even see the ball flight just by the feel."
Cole said there are plenty of websites devoted to hickory golf, so accessing the equipment isn't too difficult.
There are mainly two variations of hickory golf, Cole said, and that's the common form of the 1910s and 20s and the pre-1900 version. The latter uses gutta percha golf balls and clubs that are all smooth-faced without grooves or markings, Cole said.
The biggest concern for first-timers is snapping the club, Cole said, and the style of play is more akin to links style with run-up shots from 40 yards short of the green, because the ball flight isn't as high as using today's clubs.
On Friday, the course's back nine measured 2,861 yards for the men and 2,477 yards for the women.
During the club's original design by famed architect Donald Ross, the back nine sat at 3,351 yards for the men. It's an astonishing figure when considering it played longer than the men's tees of today by nearly 100 yards.
"Bobby Jones could hit it 250, 270 (with a hickory shaft)," Cole said.
To help usher in the event to Sara Bay, Cole called on Harris for help. Harris, who is a retired dentist, goes by a simple moniker since becoming entwined with the Society of Hickory Golfers.
"I went from fixing molars to fixing mashies," Harris said.
The sets had a driving brassie, a mid-iron (similar to a 4-iron), a mashie (around 32 or 36 degrees of loft), a spade mashie (similar to an 8-iron), a mashie niblick (similar to a 9-iron), a niblick (similar to a pitching wedge) and a putter, Harris said.
"Golfers don't know their history ... now a baseball fan, 'Oh I know who Babe Ruth was, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, Ted Williams,'" Harris said. "Golfers don't. So playing the hickories might pique their curiosity of how the game progressed. ... So at least half of my efforts is for people to look up the history of the game and see the evolution of it.
For one day at Sara Bay, that history came into full view for the members that celebrated the 90th anniversary.
Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jason__Dill and like his Facebook page at Jason Dill Bradenton Herald.