MARTHA’S VINEYARD, Mass. — It is billed as New England’s most unique golf event, and rightfully so. Where else, after all, could one see every contestant resplendent in knickers, knee high argyle socks and Ben Hogan-style caps, competing in an event where stymies are a strategic part of the format?
Formally known as the Hickory Heritage Media Golf Classic, this gathering of mostly golf writers keen on the game’s history is the brainchild of a son of Cape Cod named Tom Martin. Take one look at Martin and his ruddy complexion, especially when he’s decked out in plus fours, and you’d swear he just dropped in from Scotland.
Old Tom Morris, one of the game’s pioneers from across the pond, would have loved old Tom Martin and what he’s done for golf on several different levels, not the least of which is keeping alive the memory of Massachusetts golfing icon Francis Ouimet.
Ouimet, who hailed from nearby Brookline, stunned the then aristocratic world of golf as a 20-year-old amateur by defeating Harry Vardon in the 1913 U.S. Open. The story of Ouimet’s triumph was so compelling it became the genesis of a book and movie titled The Greatest Game Ever Played.
Martin, as the founder of a highly successful golf marketing and packaging company called Tee Ball Golf (www.teeballgolf.com) decided he wanted to do something to further trumpet Ouimet and the area’s golf history. Hence the Hickory Heritage Media Classic was born five years ago.
From modest beginnings with a handful of media and local business types, the tournament has evolved into a New England clambake of sorts, and a terrific vehicle to showcase the virtues of golf and golf courses on Cape Cod. It’s been publicized on the Golf Channel and will be the subject of a spring special on the Fox Sports Northeast.
Martin, his wife and son work long and hard to create an atmosphere of fun, great food and drink and a memorable golfing experience. Included in this year’s event was a practice round of conventional golf, an opening night lobster dinner, the tournament and a closing dinner and awards ceremony replete with scores of door prizes.
Beyond that, especially for contestants from other parts of the country, the chance to visit New England in early October is an experience in itself. A couple of visitors from the Southwest found the golf courses to be picturesque, the climate brisk and invigorating and the scenery as the leaves began to change absolutely spectacular.
The Hickory Heritage Media Golf Classic, meanwhile, rotates among courses on Cape Cod, with Farm Neck Golf Club on the ritzy island of Martha’s Vineyard the 2006 host site. For those not familiar with Martha’s Vineyard, it’s a tourist magnet, as well as a getaway of the rich and famous.
David Letterman, Diane Sawyer, Spike Lee, Tom Clancy and Carly Simon are among the celebrities owning vacation homes there.
One, by the way, doesn’t just jump in the car and drive over to Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a 55-minute ride on the Hy-Line fast ferry from Hyannis. The fast ferry, a two-decker, has a capacity of perhaps 200 and is a unique treat in itself.
As for the golf, it’s a hoot, starting with the outfits. Each player, as part of his entry fee, is provided, knickers, socks and cap from GolfKnickers.com Some, as did one of my playing partners, Brian Siplo, take the retro look to the max by wearing a dress shirt and necktie.
Part of the competition involves a putting contest with hickory-shaft putters and a stymie contest where participants try to jump a ball over another ball blocking its path, into the cup. The Port Arthur News representative advanced to the finals of the putting contest, but failed miserably at the stymie, using a hickory shaft pitching club.
Hickory shafts, by the way, are enjoying a resurgence in a cultish sort of way. According to a recent story in Golfweek, as many as 1,250 golfers in the U.S. play in tournaments where only hickory clubs are allowed. The headliner is probably the 9-year-old National Hickory Championship.
In the Hickory Heritage Media Golf Classic, players were allowed to used their weapons of choice, and it was mostly high tech. But my man Siplo used his hickory putter and made everything he looked it.
Early on, I was shaking my head, wondering why he was using such an ugly putter. But, since he was my partner, it became a thing of beauty as he sank one putt after another from all over Farm Neck’s smooth surfaces.
The format was what is called a Shamble, where everybody hits from the tee, goes to the best drive in the foursome, then plays their own ball the rest of the way. Making it tricky was the fact that the golf ball could not be marked on the green.
If your approach wound up in somebody else’s line, or your putt blocked somebody’s path, they had to deal with being stymied. There was no continuous putting either. The person farthest from the hole putted, then the person next farthest took a turn, until all balls had been holed.
My team didn’t win or place, although we came close, an outcome which hardly mattered. The fun and the fellowship were second to none, and old Tom Martin game me plenty of reasons to want to go back.
You will invite me again, won’t you, Tom?
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.