Golfing in the days of the hickory shaft

A Composite Memory of Golf Professional Harold Cahoon of the Concord Country Club and Area Teaching Pro John Thoren of the Myopia Hunt Club

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.

Harold Cahoon -- President Woodrow Wilson referred to the game of golf as the "art of knocking a wee ball into a distant hole with implements but ill designed for the purpose." The 20th century has seen golf broaden from strictly an upper class game played at private clubs to a popular pastime and a big business.

Golf clubs have changed tremendously and one must use caution in comparing scores and playing records then and now.

John Thoren -- In the first two decades of the 20th century, golf clubs were wooden shafted, usually made out of hickory. It was quite a job to file, plane down and fit the shaft into the club head. Lamp black, shellac and oil were used to bring out the grain on the wooden shaft. When some of the fellows wanted a whippy shaft, you had to file it down even further.

The grips were leather and the club heads were chrome. If the nights were damp the clubs might be rusted by morning if not stored properly. There were no inlays in the face of the wooden clubs. They were made of straight persimmon wood and the face had to be spliced together.

The hickory shafts would often dry out in the winter and would then crack when used in the spring. If they weren't stored properly they would warp and have a real bow to them.

Golf shops in those days were club-making shops. The flex in the shaft had to be right for the individual. An older person would want a whippy one, the younger, harder hitter would want the stiff shaft. Golf clubs were expensive then, according to what the dollar was worth. Now clubs are made in mass production.

All clubs had names. The woods included the driver, brassy (2), spoon (3), cleek (4), and the baffy - a big wooden head club with the loft of a seven wood. The irons included the driving iron, mid iron (2), mashie iron (3), mid-mashie (4), mashie (5), spade mashie-(6), mashie niblick (T), pitching niblick (8) and niblick (9).

There wasn't any pitching wedge or sand wedge. There was, however, the jigger which had the loft of a four iron but had a shallow blade. It was used for chipping from just off the green, and when there wasn't room to make a full swing.

Harold Cahoon -- The need for a specialty club, such as the track iron, reflected the manner in which courses were then cared for. Fairways were cut with horse-drawn vehicles. The very narrow wheels would leave indentations in the earth. A track iron was made to fit into the groove enabling the golfer to hit his ball from that hazard.

In the early days when you hit your golf ball into a hazardous area, it was up to you and your ability to remove it there. There was no lush, curried down fairway where the golf ball would sit up.

In Concord's original golf course in the Musterfield area the average obstacles were not sand traps but stone walls which designated property ownership.

John Thoren -- Before power equipment, men would have to mow the greens by hand which was so time consuming they could only be mowed once or twice a week. Because of the time consuming care involved, greens were smaller then.

In the era before the wooden tee, every tee would have a sand bucket with water. The golfer would handmake a mound of wet sand according to the height from which he desired to hit the ball.

Harold Cahoon -- The Concord Country Club, one of the oldest in the nation, has shared in the history of golf. The Concord Country Club occupies 200 acres bounded by a substantial amount of Herbert Hosmer land which is now in Conservation Trust.

The first club in Concord was opened in 1895 in the Musterfield area in back of Nashawtuc Hill. In 1914 the club purchased the John Brown farm and with one of the leading course architects of the day, Donald Ross, laid out the first nine holes.

An an example of Yankee ingenuity, the original farm house is now part of the- Emerson Hospital Nurse's home. This was all accomplished with horses and manpower by the Concord builder and mover, E. A. Comeau.

One of the original club members was Miss Grace Keyes, a state champion in the early days of the 20th century. One of the leading lights in town as far as golf was concerned was Moses Bradford, the club's first president.

The second nine holes was started in 1929 and opened in 1930. A good deal of work was supervised by Bebe Hosmer. When the second nine holes opened, Bebe' s father, Herbert, was picked to strike the first ball. Early club presidents include Charles Edgarton, Henry Kidder, Charles Johnson, and Arthur Brooks.

John Thoren -- Bobby Jones, who dominated golf during the 1920's, played at area clubs when a student at Harvard, including the Concord Country Club. I remember caddying for Jones a number of times during his student days.

Harold Cahoon --The loss of the caddy has taken a great deal out of the game. -The main thing was the association with the youngster who was beginning, getting into the area of golf. The electric cart has nearly replaced the institution of the caddy.

John Thoren --During the 1920's the public was introduced to golf through the building of driving ranges where for 15 cents you could hit a bucket of balls. Along Lexington Road in Concord, at the present site of the Perry Farm, was such a driving range.

I played many an exhibition match at the Stow course when it was just nine holes and played mainly by blacks. There was a black pro by the name of Porter Washington who wore white gloves and was quite a dandy sight.

Harold Cahoon -- I remember when Bebe Hosmer had Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford to dinner at the Concord Country Club. Mr. Ford was involved at that time in the restoration of the Wayside Inn. They were all dressed formally except for the moccasins that Bebe had on which were as old as he was. I was on the

putting green and he called me over to say, 'Harold, I got the stuffed shirt on and if I can't have comfort one way, I'll have it on my feet."

John Thoren -- The popularity of golf increased tremendously after World War II due to the influences of President Eisenhower, Arnold Palmer and television.

Harold Cahoon -- Municipal golf courses, brought about by public demand, had to expedite the time of play and accommodate more people. The fairways are wide open with fewer hazards than the average private clubs.

The numbers of qualified competitors have swelled. In its beginning the open championship might draw 20 golfers, now qualifying rounds seek to eliminate the numerous contenders.

John Thoren -- Today golf is big business as well. In 1937 promoter Freedy Corcoran decided to put on the biggest money tournament in New England. He called it the International Open and held it at the Belmont Country Club. All the top pros were there for a total purse of $12,500. The Bing Crosby tournament in 1938 paid $3,000, today the purse is over $200,000.

Text mounted 17th August 2013-- rcwh.