Sir Bob Charles (R) receives the NZ Hickory Open golf trophy after the 2023 event at the Christchurch Golf Club.
Sir Bob Charles captured another golfing title two days before his 87th birthday in a storied career dating back seven decades.
The 1963 British Open winner last Sunday won The Golf Warehouse New Zealand Hickory Open by one shot.
The 12-hole event at Charles’ Christchurch Golf Club home course at Shirley was played using hickory-shaft clubs far removed from the high-tech equipment employed in the modern game.
Charles, who turned 87 on Tuesday, has now joined former Masters and British Open winner, Sandy Lyle, as the only other major champion to win a Hickory Open.
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The hickory title came a month after Charles scored his first hole-in-one on his home course in 67 years of playing there.
He was the oldest player in the Christchurch event and narrowly defeated an opponent 35 years his junior, Mark Lawson, 51, the Christchurch Golf Club’s superintendent.
With three holes left the pair was aware it was a head-to-head contest.
Sir Bob Charles tries out hickory clubs in the leadup to the 2022 Hickory Golf Open.
Charles kept his nerve, and his one-shot lead, by recovering well from a greenside bunker on the par 3 17th hole to stay one shot ahead of Lawson heading to Shirley’s tight finishing hole.
In keeping with the tournament’s atmosphere Charles and Lawson had played the entire day’s golf in ties, flat caps and plus fours.
The competitive clock was turned back, not only by the attire, but by the quality of play as the left-hander struck a long drive up the final fairway, followed by a precise mashie niblick shot to within a metre of the final flag.
A large and appreciative gallery formed a semicircle behind the green, many onlookers similarly dressed in the tweed, waistcoats and the flat caps from the last century, and much favoured by the hickory fraternity.
Many of the women competitors were resplendent in flowing ankle length skirts and bonnets. There were even kilts in evidence as a piper stood by for the prize-giving, to be preceded by the traditional Scottish address to the haggis by Robbie Burns.
With the colourful gallery looking on, Lawson knew that he needed a birdie on the last green to put any pressure on New Zealand’s most famous golfer.
He narrowly failed to hole his 2m birdie attempt. In somewhat of an anti-climax Charles uncharacteristically missed his final three-footer for a birdie that would have brought him back to even par. However, his par was good enough to take the title in the second playing of the Hickory Open.
The 2023 field was a strong one with several accomplished Hickory players travelling from Australia and the North Island, including hickory expert Alan Grieve from the Brisbane Golf Club, a previous US Hickory Open Champion.
The New Zealand Hickory Foursomes Championship was played in the morning, also over 12 holes, resulting in a win with a score of 51 to the team comprising the youngest player in the field, Canterbury representative Catherine Bell, and her foursomes partner Richard Reid.
Charles and his partner came third on 53 in the foursomes event, two shots behind the winners.
Hickory golf is a phenomenon that seeks to return golf to the game’s roots, while at the same time reducing the reliance on technology that many golfers now view as diluting the traditional skills of the game.
The reminder of what golf is about is timely, as it is expected that the governing bodies of the game (the USGA and R&A) are about to make regulatory moves to wind back the distance the golf ball travels.
In the meantime, a New Zealand golfing legend demonstrated he is just as comfortable with the tools of yesteryear as he is with modern equipment.
Geoff Saunders is a golf writer and hickory golfer