Scottish Gulf’s hickory history is a winner with tourists
Edinburgh-based Stuart Fraser of Hickory Smoked Golf, which buys and restores pre-1935 clubs, said the company is in talks with various tourist and event operators after the focus shifted after last year’s Open Championship in St Andrews have changed. Interest is exceeding expectations with nearly a dozen confirmed bookings for group workshops in the upcoming season as well as partnerships to support hotel conference activities.
Coming from a large family of avid amateur golfers, Mr. Fraser first started the business with his cousin, Doug Mitchell, to rent five-piece hickory club sets to local golfers looking for ‘something different’.
“So the original idea was a domestic market aimed at Scottish golfers to be used on Scottish courses,” he said. “It was only late last year – probably since the Open where we ran a few events mainly for American clients – that interest from overseas and North America in particular started to pick up.
“It has grown from there into what it is now. We still rent out clubs but the real interest in this business is on the experience side.”
Hickory Smoked Golf’s workshops guide clients through the renovation process, which includes restored grips in various colors of suede, leather, denim, or even imitation snakeskin. If you want to buy your racquet and take it home with you, you can have it personalized with a laser engraving on the shaft.
“This practical element really captures the imagination, especially for tourists,” said Mr. Fraser. “Golf tourists come to Scotland for the history, so adding that element of history to their trip really sets us apart.”
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Although the commercial side of the business is still relatively in its infancy, Mr. Fraser and his cousin are already exploring the possibilities of creating an educational arm that would work with schools and youth groups to get more people into the game. They are in preliminary talks with the Stephen Gallacher Foundation to test out these non-commercial workshops, which would, in part, explore the historical roots of some of the game’s less flattering elitist and sexist aspects.
“It’s going to be about what we can learn from golf and golf history, and a big part of that is how it’s been treated with women and with people of color and ethnic minorities and how the attitude of golf has changed in those areas,” he said he called.
“The treatment of women in particular doesn’t reflect well on golf, but we shouldn’t shy away from that. That Muirfield, Royal Burgess etc have only admitted female members in recent years while there are female golfers winning hundreds of thousands of pounds on the Tour is such a bizarre contrast.
“We should look at that and talk about it and see why these kinds of divisions came about and you can go way back in golf history and see how it came about.”
In keeping with its sustainability efforts, Hickory Smoked Golf only restores existing clubs rather than making new wooden equipment. These are bought from private sellers to keep costs down.
Approximately 95 percent of inventory dates from between 1910 and 1935, the Society of Hickory Golfers’ cut-off date for “authentic” hickory clubs.
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“We definitely have a few clubs running around before 1900,” Mr Fraser said. “It’s difficult to age, but the grooves are a good indicator.
“More modern racquets have machine grooves and are very consistent, much like what you see today. From 1915 to [about] In 1925 you tend to see hand scratched grooves that someone made with a tool and they are not consistent.
“And then before 1900 and early 1900, you see clubs without grooves. It’s not an exact science, it varies, but that’s your general guide to how old the club is, and then go and research more about each one.