A Life-Long Love of Hickory
“I first picked up a hickory club when I was seventeen. I purchased it at Goodwill for fifty cents! And it hit quite well!”
Thus began Randy Jensen’s life-long love affair with hickory. That fortuitous Goodwill find led to Randy’s first tournament in 1989: the venerable Heart of America Hickory Championship originally organized by the legendary Warren Olson.
“Rob Ahlschwede recommended I play in it,” Randy says. “I finished third…I had selected a bunch of hickory clubs that hit good, but I didn’t know how far any of the irons went for distance! After this first tournament, I got serious and played enough with my hickories so I knew how far all the clubs went!”
The greatest influences for Randy showed up early on his hickory path. “When I first started playing hickory, I was always trying to beat Paul Biocini from California,” he says. “He was a great player. The late Ralph Livingston III and I would travel all over to play tournaments when hickory golf was just beginning. Ralph was amazing at getting people excited to play hickory golf.”
“I had so much fun finding, restoring, and playing my hickory clubs that I enjoyed it as much as modern golf. And I really loved to outplay people who were using modern equipment with my hickories. You could just watch their brain cells melt down as they tried to make sense of what was happening!”
The elegance of vintage clubs had such a hold on Randy, he built a twenty-five year career around the restoration and sale of hickories. Though Randy is now retired, Classic Golf remains a vibrant business run by Tony Tubrick.
Randy’s brother and nephew have given hickories a go from time to time, as well, but they’re not regulars. As for Randy, however, vintage play overtook him entirely. For the past seventeen years, he has played exclusively with hickories. Nowadays, he works tirelessly at the Grand Ole Game, getting in 125 to 150 rounds a year.
His home course, the Benson Park Golf Course in Omaha, Nebraska, must miss him terribly when he’s away at hickory events.
Much as Randy enjoys his home course, however, he sites North Berwick in Scotland as his favorite to play. “But honorable mention to the Old Course, the Myopia Hunt Club, Cypress Point, and Oakhurst Links for gutty golf,” Randy says.
Randy also puts that hickory stamina to admirable charity use. “I [once played] 409 holes of hickory golf in one day!” he says. “They have golf marathons for charity and, at one time, I set the world record with 409 holes of golf played in one day. I was going to play the first hundred holes with hickory clubs, but I got in a nice groove and I just played hickory clubs all the way through, 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m… [During these events] the course is closed for just golf marathoners, so I never waited on anybody all day. Nowadays, they light up the course and play for twenty-four hours. My record is long gone!”
All those years of discipline and dedication have paid off in an impressive list of tournament wins. To date, Randy has racked up seventy victories, including eight National Hickory Championships and seven Golf Collectors Society Championships. Randy is a nineteen-time Heart of America Hickory Champion, a two-time Scottish Hickory Champion, a 2004 Canadian Hickory Champion and a four-time Tad Moore Southern Hickory Four Ball Champion. At one point, Randy was the champion in all four hickory golf majors.
Which of those championships is his favorite? A hard choice, perhaps, but Randy says he has to go with the National Hickory Championship run by Pete Georgiady. “Ron Lyons runs a great tournament in Edmonton as well,” says Randy, “the Canadian Hickory Championship.
Part of Randy’s success involves his willingness to experiment and push past his comfort zone. For example, Randy says he has “been testing a number of prototype balls that Dave Brown has made.” Dave Brown is the new owner of the McIntyre Golf Ball Company, which he purchased late in 2012. Randy adds, “He’s got some great prototype balls that should appear in 2013.”
And what composes the play set in Randy’s hickory bag? “[A] Jack White driver,” he says, “[a] Robert Forgan brassie, Ben Sayers spoon, Stewart driving iron, Stewart driving mashie, Stewart iron, Stewart mashie iron, Stewart mashie, Condie jigger, Stewart spade mashie; Stewart mashie niblick, Gibson/James Braid niblick, Stewart/Tom Morris niblick, Stewart niblick, Nicoll niblick, and [an] A.G. Spalding & Brothers HB putter.”
His favorite club in this notable set? “The Jack White driver. It’s stamped ‘Gullane’, where I won two Scottish Hickory championships.”
To say hickory golf is a big part of Randy’s life is an understatement. He is one of the great ambassadors of antique play, so much so that he was inspired to write a book, “Playing Hickory Golf”, published in 2008, with nearly 300 pages of information about the Grand Ole Game.
Published in 2008, Jensen’s “Playing Hickory Golf” is an A to Z compilation of all things hickory.
For Randy, the greatest thing about hickory golf is that it “connects you to the history of the game through the clubs that you play and, if you are fortunate, the course that you are playing on. It just makes the game more fun for me.”