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Many thanks to James “Jim” Davis, writer for the Society of Hickory Golfers and great friend of the Hickory Golf Hub, for permission to reprint his great SoHG report on the National Hickory Championship for our Local Newsies section. It’s a fantastic piece that captures all the fun and drama of the 2013 tourney. Enjoy!

NOTE: Full scores posted at end of article, courtesy of the Society of Hickory Golfers

 

2013 National Hickory Championship Results

NHC Title Decided in One-Hole Playoff

by James Davis

June 10, 2013

 

In the end, only one of them could win.

 

In the end, Andy Just of Jefferson, Ind., USA, would emerge as 2013 National Hickory Championship victor, beaming the while and deserving of the rich applause and resounding hurrahs that greeted him as he walked off the 19th green following a one-hole playoff victory over Bobby Sly (Kingston, Ont., Canada), the 2009 and 2011 NHC winner.

 

The contest for the National Hickory Championship title, June 6-8, ranged over two days on the old and historic St. Martins course of the Philadelphia Cricket Club. Contestants would endure, not just the disappointment of lipped puts, but the trial of a biblical deluge that created rivers on the greens and made one competitor wryly note that “We had to judge the wind, the distances… and the current.”

 

Some 50 players converged on the PCC from as far as Olympia, Wash., Scotland, and Canada. Only one brave woman, Mrs. Tammy Lomison (Pfafftown, N.C., USA) entered the contest, and that at the urging of husband and son. She took the ladies cup. But, to the Open division.

 

The Final Nine 

At the turn on the final day, three men stood within striking distance of the title. Mr. Just, Mr. Sly, and Hugh Cameron (Corunna, Ont. Canada). Mr. Just was three down to Mr. Sly at the turn. Mr. Cameron, a few strokes back, still had hopes he might charge to victory.

 

With his traditional flat cap fit snugly to his thick brown mop, Mr. Cameron sent swift notice that the back and final nine would be hotly contested. A short, compact man, Mr. Cameron fills his golf stroke with a powerful vigor. All three men played irons from the tee, each finding the safety of the rising hill well beyond the surprisingly busy road that dissects the first and ninth fairways, some 80 yards or so from the first tee. These two fairways are directly parallel and are two of the four original holes that remain of the St. Martins Course (the other two being the second and eighth).

 

Mr. Sly took an untidy six on the hole when a seeming loss of focus caused a foozled chip and a pushed putt that brushed the cup, resulting in a double bogey. Mr. Cameron parred and Mr. Just bogeyed. Mr. Sly also bogeyed the second and just as it seemed he might fade, rallied to par a number of holes on the back, keeping pace with Mr. Just who was then only one down.

 

Mr. Just, who is otherwise loquacious in the extreme, played a focused game, offering a smile to friends in the gallery, but otherwise intent upon his swing and sparing few words. Mr. Cameron, a gentleman competitor who is quick to recognize an opponent’s good strokes, has an engaging smile and a friendly nod ready for the onlooker. The slender Mr. Sly owns a fluid stroke that results in crisp shots, but those three lost strokes from mistakes on the 10th and 11th holes would have grave consequences.

 

The three competitors gave no quarter as their game progressed over the final holes, perhaps losing a stroke here but regaining it there. No one found the green on the par three “Hollow” hole. Mr. Just, in fact, fell far short of the green but rallied for a heroic par. All three struck precise approaches to a back flagstick placement on the raised green of the 316-yard “Elbow” whose false and very steep front, perhaps 12 or 15 feet above the fairway, encourages a speedy get-away to any ball that fails to reach the lofty plateau.

 

By the time the players reached the ninth, Mr. Just was still one down. The aforementioned road dominates the eye on the tee from the ninth (18th) “Home” hole. In the distance, some 250 yards away, is the famous squared-green that was driven by Alex Smith to help him claim a U.S. Open title in 1910. Behind the green is the handsome, columned front of the PCC. Most NHC competitors found no difficulty in reaching the safety of the far fairway, as a decent drive of about 160-170 yards will do nicely. There is scant room for error when it comes to length, however. The fairway from the tee descends sharply to the near bank of the road, perhaps only 110 feet distant. Because the road is some 5 or 6 feet below the surface of the fairway, one only sees the uppermost portion of passing vehicles. (It was common throughout the day for playing partners to alert one preparing to drive that a vehicle had motored into the line of play.) Such a daunting aspect encourages an inappropriate urge to overswing with the inevitable result of a topped shot that, if fortune prevail, will only dribble down the slope to stop well before the bank. (Yes, some shots did find the road on the descent and would bound happily up and onto the fairway beyond.)

 

On his drive, Mr. Cameron’s customarily strong and controlled swing caught the top of the ball, which found the base of the far bank, across the road. Mr. Sly and Mr. Just reached well up the fairway beyond the road, leaving them pitches of about 80 or 90 yards.

 

The “Home” hole green also features a inclined front, though not so steep or dreadful as its cousin on the 6th hole. The NHC’s Czar had cruelly conspired with the greenkeeper to place the flagstick on this final, deciding hole a mere three paces from this front edge. Only the well-judged shot played with confidence and solid nerve would settle close; all others would fall to the slope or, being overplayed, bound away to the far reaches of the green.

 

Mr. Cameron eyed his ball on the bank, just a foot or two from the road surface. He was about 135 yards from the safety of the green. Reaching for a trusted lofting club he then struck, to my mind, the shot of the tournament. With a violent blow, he sent the ball soaring to land within three feet of the hole. As this was in full view of the assembled NHC field who were watching the approach of the final group, it was a masterly shot indeed. And, as was meet, the steely Canadian sank the birdie putt, smiling and raising his cap to the cheers that followed.

 

Mr. Cameron’s moment, though memorable, would not place him in the lead (he would finish two strokes back of the two leaders), though many thought it might, such was the impression of that heroic approach. No scorecard bearers march before groupings at the NHC to announce where the players stand. We were left to wonder. Both Mr. Sly and Mr. Just played equally admirable pitches within several feet of the cup. Though no one knew it at the time, a birdie by Mr. Sly would clinch the trophy. His putt, however, edged the rim to settle but inches away. It came down to Mr. Just’s four-footer. A birdie would place him in a tie for the lead. Not one to prolong the moment, Mr. Just studied his line, took his stance and sent the ball firmly to the bottom of the cup.

 

Later, Mr. Sly told this writer that he felt Mr. Just’s putt on the 18th was the one that won the tournament. “He had the momentum on his side from that moment,” he said.

 

Both men came in at 155 over their two days of play.

 

The playoff for the title moved to the first hole with nearly the entire NHC field, guests, and other assorted onlookers following their progress. Both men found the fairway of the first, the “Hill” hole, which ascends steeply upward to a green some 355 yards distant. Private homes are to the right, old and stately trees grace the left. Mr. Just, with 135 yards to go, chose a 37-degree lofter and, perhaps buoyed by the birdie of a few minutes earlier, struck it straight and true to within no more than six feet of the hole. Mr. Sly also found the green, but his three putts for bogey were no match for Just’s two-putt par and the championship was thus decided. The two competitors shook hands to the sound of cheers and the peals of the St. Martin church bells (actually, they had been ringing all day, this being prime wedding season). Mr. Sly and Mr. Just would later agree that this was one of the most engaging competitions they had played.

 

“What a match! It was great fun to be part of this, and one I’m glad I had a hand in,” Mr. Sly said, between quaffs of a celebratory beverage.

 

“I wasn’t quite sure about how I stood when I sunk that birdie on the 18th,” Mr. Just said. “But I knew I was close. Learning that we tied for the trophy was the perfect way to end such a great round. Bobbie (Mr. Sly) has a beautiful game. I’m just happy to have had a few breaks that helped me win. I’m also grateful to the staff at the Philadelphia Cricket Club who did such a great job in preparing the course and hosting us here this week.”Here, here!

 

The Next Generation 

We are happy to report that three handsomely attired young gentlemen joined the 2013 NHC field, and we were glad to see their eager faces. Mason Jenkins, 14 (Oakridge, N.C., USA); Drew White, 14 (Alexandria, Va., USA); and Marsalis Davis, 11 (Liberty, N.C., USA), represented their various First Tee programs. Mr. White and Mr. Jenkins in knickers and flat caps might have served as perfectly dressed extras in “The Greatest Game.” Mr. Davis, similarly dressed, sported upon his vest two fine medals that he had earlier won for exceptional play. This writer had the privilege of playing with Mr. Davis and can report the young man is blessed with a blossoming skill combined with the courage of perseverance. He shall go far. Messrs. White and Jenkins all show similar promise and we look forward to the maturation of their golfing careers.

 

A fourth young golfer, Seth Lomison, 16 (Pfaffstown, N.C., USA), is regarded by Czar Georgiady as a “senior intern.” Mr. Lomison, wearing a kilt and old-style Scottish shirt, competed in the Reserve Division and finished in third place.

 

The Awards 

As for other tournament notes, special appreciation by Czar Pete Georgiady was given to Richie Harris of Ambler, Pa., for his lifelong achievements in golf and his support for the NHC. Mr. Harris is well known to long-time NHC participants and his recognition was greeted with universal acclaim.

 

A Ralph Livingston III traveling trophy was created for the winner of the Reserve Division, won this year by Mr. Rob McKnight of Kingston, Ont., Canada. The late Mr. Livingston was a staunch supporter of the NHC and valued member of the hickory golfing community.

 

In the Sporting Division, Mr. Asher Fried (Croton, N.Y., USA) took the first place gross honors; Mr. Robert White (Malvern, Pa., USA) the first place net honors.

 

The 2013 Dundee Prize, for the person who “exhibits stalwart principles of sportsmanship and exceptional golfing spirit” was awarded to Mr. Jim Sherrill.

 

The Dundee Prize is the championship director’s recognition of someone who is active in hickory golf and has been of special service to the NHC. “Dundee was the city/university where I went in the early ’70s and was introduced to golf history,” said tournament director Pete Georgiady. “ ‘Dundee’ was also my prize Scottie dog who passed away in 2007.”

 

The 2013 Lynah Sherrill Award, for the person “who displays exemplary efforts in the area of advancing hickory golf”, was awarded to Dr. Bob West (Kingston, Ont., Canada).

 

The late Mr. Lynah Sherrill, Mr. Jim Sherrill’s father, was very active in the Tennessee Golf Association. “Everyone loved him,” said Mr. Georgiady. “He was huge (tall and maybe 400 pounds!). He had a heart attack on the kitchen door steps at Oakhurst in 2003, recuperated over the winter and came back to win the Senior Division in 2004. He brought his stimpmeter and measured the Oakhurst greens at between a 3 and 4.”

 

The 2013 Society of Hickory Golfers Bogey Award was won by Rick Woeckener.

 

Voted best dressed gentleman by a handpicked committee, was Mr. John Crow Miller of Dallas, Texas. I should try to describe his natty attire, but I would fail miserably in the attempt. Still, his matching coat and knickers – adorned with red flashes, were topped by a sporting helmet. The overall effect was such that the casual observer might have presumed to come upon a British colonel of national reputation fresh from the Boer Wars.

 

The best dressed lady was the lone distaff contestant, the delightful Mrs. Tammy Lomison, who golfed in a handsome skirt and blouse with straw cap and ribbon.

 

The Philadelphia Cricket Club 

The Philadelphia Cricket Club, our country’s oldest sporting club, formed in 1854, was a thoroughly gracious and accommodating host. The field felt very welcome and the Czar was assisted at every turn by able staff who went far beyond the ordinary. Only days before the event, staff installed sand tee boxes on each hole of the historic 9-hole St. Martins Course. We are told that these will remain and that members will be encouraged to explore their Club’s early golf history by experiencing golf with hickories from these boxes.

 

Club President Al Thorell said his Club was proud to host the NHC. He noted that course restoration specialist Keith Foster had just completed a renovation of the St. Martins course and that the Club was very proud of the green complexes and the zoysia-grass fairways. He said he hoped NHC participants would “remember with pleasure,” their visit and the hospitality provided by the Club. In this, we can assure him that each member and each employee was both gracious and accommodating. We all felt welcomed into the Club’s home.

 

The course drew its name from the adjacent Episcopal church, St. Martin’s in the Fields. An earlier 9-hole course, built in 1895, was replaced by the 18-hole St. Martins course in 1898, designed by Willie Tucker. This course hosted U.S. Open championships in 1907 and 1910, won by Alec Ross and Alex Smith respectively. Shortly after World War II, the course was reduced to its current 9-hole layout. Despite the reduction, holes 1, 2, 8, and 9 are the original holes.

 

As well as the St. Martins Course, the Club has two other 18-hole champion courses. One, Wissahickon Hill was designed by A.W. Tillinghast in 1922. The Militia Hill Course, designed by Hurdzan and Fry, was opened in 2002.

 

The Club is also justly proud of its great tennis and cricket heritage. Barton King reigned for nearly 20 years as one of the most feared cricket hurlers in the country. In 1881, the Club was one of the founding members of the American Lawn Tennis Association.

 

The Friday night NHC dinner was held in the Club’s ballroom. The visitor walked past hallways and rooms with display cases of solemn and dignified silver trophies. Ancient benefactors regarded the passerby with reserved benevolence from their portraits. The buffet was grand, the Czar was eloquent, the dessert was perfect.

 

But, it was for the golf we came. Dan Meersman, director of grounds for PCC, who greeted all competitors on the ninth tee on Saturday, told this writer that his entire staff felt richly rewarded for their “special work” in preparing the course for the NHC.

 

“We truly loved having this event come to our club,” he said. “Every one of your participants has shown a wonderful appreciation for both our course and our efforts in bringing it to life for this event. We hope you will return.”

 

The participants loved the open layout of the St. Martins Course, with its traditional out-and-back loop. Great shade trees offered welcome respite from the sun on Thursday and later on Saturday. Few balls were lost. The holes were varied and challenging enough, some with raised greens; No. 2, “Shorty” with its cross bunkers; the par three “Hollow” tucked in the back corner of the course, the green well below the tee, played over a small brook with bunkers left and back right and large trees to the left, and though only 110 yards, its appearance gave the impression of much more. And, of course, the prospect from the ninth tee offers the view of the grand PCC buildings in the distance.

 

The Tempest 

Friday’s deluge. An unfortunate confluence of atmospheric phenomena, compounded by Hurricane Andrea’s assault on the Atlantic Coast produced a most drenching all-day torrent. Though advance weather reports created nervous apprehension among the participants, the Czar remained undaunted. “We will play on,” quoth he. As predicted, the skies darkened and the maelstrom quickened; still, “We play on,” said the Czar. When it became apparent that no respite would be had from Mother Nature’s fury, the Czar’s heart softened. “Well,” quoth he, “perhaps we can do without wearing a tie today.” Great heart!

 

The morning threesomes went out in drenching downpour. The afternoon threesomes went out in drenching downpour. Scores reflected the conditions as players struggled with wet grips and the burden of wet, heavy clothing. The only approach was, as one said, “to embrace your inner amphibian.”

 

Well, it was a soggy, soggy day. Competitors were soaked through. No dry spot remained. Irons rusted and shafts became blotchy. GoreTex was no match for the tempest, which sneered at such impetuosity. Shoes squelched with every step. One player swore he poured a pint of water from each golf shoe after his swim. During the worst of the rain, one man fancied he heard an enraged Lear calling for his fool. It turned out to be a player on an adjacent fairway shouting for his caddie’s attention.

 

No one voiced a complaint, though several may have thought about it. After all, this is the NHC, the “granddaddy of them all,” as the Czar likes to say. The conditions? Bah! All played through, and many a story was later shared of leaping intense and quick-flowing brooks that appeared throughout the course, of negotiating small ponds on the greens, and of the hole location in the middle of a considerable stream on No. 8 that would sweep golf balls away to a gathering pond on a far lower corner of the green.

 

The Czar, however, always alert to these matters, decreed that a ball in a puddle on a green could be removed to another portion of the green for a putt that would not have to travel through water. By the end of the morning rounds, such areas could not be found. Players began to approach inundated flagsticks with lofters and niblicks in an attempt to fly the floodwaters and gain the cup, every one of which did, indeed, overfloweth.

 

It must be said that the course drained beautifully and, by Saturday, all that remained of the floods were ragged remnants of grassy flotsam and the occasional squishy footing in low areas.

 

Such stuff forms the basis of legend and we are sure that the NHC of 2013 will be remembered for the gracious hosts of the Philadelphia Cricket Club, the Friday deluge, and the wonderful golf of Mr. Andy Just and Mr. Bobby Sly whose close and hard-fought contest was a thrill to both gentlemen.

 

To the Czar, we raise a toast, thank him for another memorable NHC and wish him a long and happy life.