Hickory craftsman

Added on September 25th, 2018 by Lorne Smith
Posted in General, Hickories

Roger Morton, craftsman extraordinaire

 

People ask me “Why do you these days play as much golf with hickories as metals?” I suppose the reason is because it is a more challenging skill and rather than being about power and length it is about discovery, imagination and timing which enhance one’s enjoyment – when you get it right!

It is interesting to note that both winners of the Scottish Open and the Scottish Seniors Open this year, Brandon Stone and Gary Orr, practiced with hickory clubs on the evening before their winning final rounds. The necessary tempo of the hickory swing helps calm the metals swing.

A downside to hickories is that sometimes the shafts break as did my lovely Ben Sayers c.1925 brassie when playing on the Struie at Dornoch this summer.

After asking around, I came to the conclusion that getting a new shaft fitted was going to be more difficult than expected as the operation of softening the old glue by boiling the persimmon head could cause swelling or cracking, rendering it beyond further use.

Philip Truett, the doyen of modern hickory golf and now a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel, recommended I visit Roger Morton at his clubmaking workshop in Shifnal, Shropshire.

roger morton,

Roger Morton holding a very old long-nosed driver

Roger performed the broken shaft extraction with ease and without damage, and then prepared the head ready for fitting a new shaft. There is nothing quite so fine as expert knowledge and experience! So I became intrigued to find out more from and about this master clubmaker and his full history is below.

To this day Roger still passionately enjoys the restoring and valuing of old golf clubs and prepares many for both private and commercial clients. In addition he repairs all types of modern clubs for the many visitors who come to his workshop in Shifnal when seeking his advice, as well as providing instruction classes on hickory golf club restoration.

tony hunt, roger morton

Tony Hunt in Roger Morton’s workshop

Tony Hunt spent a few days with Roger, learning about the repairing, before establishing his hickory club hire business in the South East that is used by many golf clubs that hold centenary hickory golf days.

Roger is perhaps now unique; there is nobody else with the same level of craftsman skill and experience (though FineGolf would love to hear of other craftsmen)

If you are not lucky enough to have found some old hickory shafted clubs in the attic, hickory players typically build up a set of clubs, comprising five irons, two woods and a putter, from antique shops, auctions or from specialist on line golfing memorabilia companies. The cost to buy varies dependant on quality and condition but are generally significantly less than modern clubs.

When you have collected a few clubs Roger will willingly measure lofts, lie and swing weight balance, fit new period grips and help create a restored and more matched and consistent set. Even the lofts on woods can be altered to make them easier to use as most early drivers have between 7⁰ to 10⁰ of loft making them almost unplayable!

To play with hickory shafted clubs is a discovery that continues with every stroke! For example, the sweet spot is so much smaller than that in modern clubs. There is more rhythm and less power involved in shot making, the ball flight more penetrating with a wooden-headed driver than with the high launch of Titanium. Nevertheless there is a great deal of extra fun making up shots with these early clubs than with the technology driven modern versions. As the saying goes:

“Skill and craft in winning championships should be that of the golfer – NOT the manufacturer”

What should also be noted is that fast running fine-grassed courses see hickories at their best by having to be creative in plotting your way around. ‘Target-golf’ in GB&I was never heard of before the advent of automatic watering of greens started in the 1960s and such lush conditions promoting backspin are not ideal for hickory play.

How did Roger get into repairing golf clubs?

At 16 he joined professional Dennis Fitton as an assistant at Walsall GC, West Midlands where he started his PGA training, before moving to Hamburger Land GC near Hamburg, West Germany. The welcoming committee here introduced him to ‘schnapps’ and after his fourth at 11 o’clock in the morning he pretended to need some golf practice and crept out to be sick and retire to bed!

Nevertheless a successful teaching career catering to eager new golfers was started and soon he moved to Marienburg GC in Cologne, where he had the opportunity to coach golfers from many nationalities, particularly those from the embassies in Bonn.

Returning to the UK he became professional at Pontypridd, South Wales and started repairing clubs. 1969 saw him move to Shifnal GC, growing his repair business and modifying clubs for a certain young professional by the name of Sandy Lyle.

By 1982 the life of a club pro was changing as golf shops and discount stores opened so he made the decision to sell-up and acquire a premises in the centre of the village of Shifnal, comprising workshops and teaching rooms from where he has continued to operate his making and repairing of golf clubs.

He became the European repairer to both the Ben Hogan Company and to North Western, one of the first companies to develop metal-headed woods, with clubs arriving for repair from all over Europe.

It was also in the 1980s that hickory golf started a renaissance and customers were asking him to refurbish old hickory shafted clubs for prizes and personal collection as they were handed down through family members.

Alec Watt, descended from a long line of professional golfers, a golf historian and author, became a good friend and frequent visitor to Rogers’s workshop and suggested he visit Eddie Davies in Northam, near West Ward Ho! Eddie was still making scare-neck golf clubs in the pre-1900 style, in the hope that he would pass on some of his old club-making methods. After a four-hour wait outside his loft-style workshop whilst he thought it over, Eddie finally agreed and Roger spent a very enjoyable three days learning the skills of old club-makers who had produced long nose clubs.

On return, Roger started to make replica hickory shaft Beechwood putters and was approached to hand-make twenty, c.1870 style long nose baffy clubs (similar in loft to today’s No 5 wood) for a Pebble Beach Hickory Golf Society in the USA. He also fitted hickory shafts and period grips to 50 gold plated putter heads for a Birmingham Golf Company which was displaying at the Open Championship.

In the early 1990s he became heavily involved in the developing antique golf club market in not only restoring but also attending auctions all over the country, buying and selling these historic pieces. He was invited to join Mullock’s, a sporting memorabilia Auction House, as their golf consultant in the preparation and valuing of early golf clubs and balls for auction catalogues. He still provides this service to them and has become one of the leading experts in this field.

Roger can be contacted through  http://www.golfonly.co.uk/

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