A Grand Match As It Used To Be

grandI wish there were more team match play events on the golf calendar. It is intriguing to watch and exciting to play in. The recent Ryder Cup is an example. The crowds were huge and the ebb and flow of each match was riveting.

I had the chance to participate in a similar type of competition, only the equipment was more like what they used in the original Ryder Cup matches of 1927. The event was the inaugural Society of Hickory Golfers International Hickory Cup  between the USA and a World Select Team. The format was like the Ryder Cup – foursomes, four-ball, and singles. The clubs, however, had to be equivalent to the turn-of-the-century models with wood shafts and persimmon heads. In some cases, they were original clubs, although replicas of those long-ago relics were allowed. The matches were part of a weekly festival of golf, which included the World Hickory Open and gala dinner celebrating the roots of our game. And what better place to celebrate than in Carnoustie Country’s famed Panmure Golf Club and Monifi eth Medal and Ashludie clubs, where Ben Hogan practiced for the 1953 Open Championship.

Only time will tell if the International Hickory Cup will become an important event, but as they say, all great journeys start with the fi rst step. I doubt that Samuel Ryder envisioned the spectacle his simple trophy would become when he first
proposed the competition. His initial goal was to get British golf clubs to pay more attention to their young professional golfers who could not afford to play in big events like the Open Championship. He noted that American golfers came over smartly dressed with sponsors, and he felt compelled to help the pros on his side of the Atlantic.

Prior to his involvement, a couple of transatlantic team matches occurred. The first took place at Gleneagles in 1921. Professionals from America were heading to Scotland for the Open, and a challenge match with British pros was considered a good way to increase the number of U.S. pros that would head to the British Isles. The home team thumped the Americans in singles and foursomes 9-3. In 1926, another such match was arranged at the Wentworth club. Once again the Brits scorched the Yanks by 12 points. As the story goes, Samuel Ryder was in the gallery that day and he became fascinated with the concept, and later in the clubhouse, several of the players promoted the idea of having the competition again. He  agreed to donate a trophy for the next rendition, and as they say, the rest is history.

Amazing how events can parallel each other. Before the SOHG International Cup was initiated, an informal match between a group of U.S. hickory players and a group from other locales around the globe took place in October of 2013 at the Arbroath Golf Club in Scotland. The goal of the competition was to get more colonists to participate in the World Hickory Open. That it did, and this time the Americans came out on top 16-12. The tournament director, Mr. Lionel Freedman, encouraged by the success of the event, embraced the idea of doing it again, and began preparations for a return match of the USA vs. World Select, incorporating a similar format as Mr. Ryder’s, but with hickory clubs. He even donated the  prize, heretofore known as the Lionel Freedman Trophy.

grand2This time, 22 Americans arrived at the home of golf to take on the world team consisting of Scots, Germans, Swedes, Australians, and a fellow affectionately known as the Polish Leprechaun. The match, played over two days on the Monifieth
Medal and Ashludie courses where qualifying for the Open Championship is contested, included 18 holes each of foursomes, four-ball, and singles. After the first day, the World team led 12-10. I was fortunate to win two points.

The tide turned in the singles competition. I had a tough match against Sweden’s Jorgen Isberg, and he started off hot with birdies on three of the first six holes. I was three down after seven, and then a ray of hope. We both hit perfect drives on number eight, and Jorgen hit a shot stone dead to about six inches. But then I knocked mine to three inches for a crucial halve. By the 16th hole I had fought back to one down when some more excitement took place. Both of us were just off the green and Jorgen, putting first, holed a beautiful 20-footer. Faced with elimination, I rolled my putt in on top of him for another important halve. Buoyed by that, I was able to win the 17th and tie the 18th for a half point.

As the players rolled in, we were up, then down, then up, neck-and-neck as the last twosome came down the fairway. Relief came when our last member, Joe Hollerbeck, signaled victory. After two days of wonderful golf, the USA took the trophy 22 ½ to 21 ½. Best of all was the spirit of the competition. Everyone had a great time with smiles galore. Can’t wait to do it again when the next match will be here in the United States in 2016. I hope it is the start of something big.

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