A Date with Retro Golf...
-Tees and Coins Staff
May 26, 2020
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Here’s the thing. For the recreational golfer, the idea of assembling a bag of the best clubs of yesteryear seems magical. Finding those butter knife blades, grabbing those smaller pear shaped metalwoods, grabbing the putter that you played for years as a beginner… It all seems beautiful…
Here at Tees and Coins, we have this conversation probably once a month, talking about which iron sets we would bring out, which driver felt and sounded the purest, what covers to bring out to match the vintage feel of the clubs they protect. But what always held us back?
Fear… that those memories of puring that 5 iron and hitting it to 6 feet were just figments of our imagination, that our revisionist history minds converted that one time we nutted a long iron to 20 feet to a towering magical shot that landed to 2 inches.
Fear… that our swings are not as good as they were when we played those clubs. Father Time waits for no one, and the golf gods are particularly unforgiving by replacing that blind youthful optimism to hit those miracle shots with the sobering wisdom that those shots that left indelible impacts on our memory were the 1 of 500 shots.
The privilege of taking a day away from responsibilities, family, work commitments, to go play golf with your buddies is one that we cherish. Every chance that we get, we want to play our best. So is the chase of nostalgia worth the possible pain to the golfer’s elbow, the loss of several more $4 golf balls, and undoubtedly extra bets paid out worth it?
We said, f**k it, let’s try it, and let’s document it, so you can decide whether you want to try it next time or not.
Does Size Matter?
No trackman spin rates, no controlled conditions. Just two golfers, two mixed hybrid bags, a couple extra buddies, some great beats (our speaker comparison video write is coming soon), a couple extra balls, and several cameras, and we were off. While one of us had a full “old school” bag, the second bag had some modern clubs to serve as informal comparison tools.
Don went full retro bag, from top to bottom, with head covers and a walking bag to boot.
Driver: Titleist 975D, 9.5
Fairway Wood: Titleist PT15
Hybrid Iron: Fourteen 858
Irons: Mizuno MP9
Wedges: Don White Custom
Putter: Ping Anser 2
Not a full retro bag, Ed focused on the difference between new school and old school irons made, and how the original Terrylium differed from the anniversary model made 22 years later.
Driver: TaylorMade SIM, 9
Fairway Wood: TaylorMade SIM
Hybrid Iron: PXG 0317x
Irons: Miura CB501 (4,5), CB202(6-8), Tournament Blade (9-P)
Putter: Scotty Cameron Terrylium Newport
As we sat on the first tee box looking at the size differences between the 25 years of development, we were excited, but nervous. Due to social distancing regulations at the course, the range was closed, so no warm-up, and here we were about to goto battle with vintage clubs. As we inspected our equipment, we realized the grip on the 975 was old.
And sure enough, our partly cloudy 75 degree day turned to British Open-like spastic rain showers. Perfect. As we set the club down at address, there was a sense of familiarity… this used to be the norm. This used to be innovation. My oh my, have things changed.
“The crack of an all titanium 275cc head was different than I remembered it to be.”
“The feel of some carbon drivers gets closer to the sound of persimmon than we realize.”
And we were off. Having played this course several times, we were aware of our normal carry yardages off the tees, and found ourselves relatively close to where we would normally hit our opening tee shots. So far, so good. The Titleist 975D was a big deal back in its day. All titanium head, the EI-70 shaft, aka DL3 spec. If you were a big swinger, then it was x100 TW spec. Back then, you were either a Callaway Big Bertha Ruger Titanium guy, or a player’s Titleist 975 guy, there was no room for nuance or playing both sides.
#Where Did the Offset Go?
What are the true differences between the irons of the past and of modern day? We’ve heard the summarily dismissive answers that it is just a game of playing with loft. On the other hand is the modern-centric perspective of why expunging the benefits of technology to make golf easier for the everyday player is mindless.
Regardless, lining up to hit our first approach shots into the first green, one thing was clear: we had no idea where the ball was going to end up.
A club short? Flared 30 yards right? Pulled hard left?
Little did we know, we were going to hit all of the above in our round.
But the first hole gave us little surprise.
As we continued warming ourselves into the round, the strong scent of nostalgia was clearly following us around. The notion of walking, and playing the clubs of our childhood had us reference stories of golf decades ago…
There were some magical shots hit with the old equipment, and some that had us scratching our heads. The biggest okie-doke that old equipment can pull on a golfer is to deliver a resoundingly solid feel at impact, letting the wielder believe that, for half a second, the shot was every bit as perfect as it felt, only to watch it sail 30 yards right of its target.
“I thought it was good, then I looked up.”
While there was this consensus expectation that carry yardages with the older irons would be significantly shorter, we were surprised to not see that. User error? Of course. But here’s what modern equipment offers us, more ownership of bad shots. When you have a club that pushes the limits on making the game easier for all, it’s hard to blame the club for a bad shot, with a butter knife blade, it’s convenient and easy to blame the club. While we may have missed some greens laterally, the carry numbers were not far off, which led us to this thought…
Arguments then ensued, was the Maxlfi Revolution ball the most underrated of that era? Why did so many people dislike the MC Tour? Balata 90 or 100 compression? Tour Prestige or Professional, and did it really make a difference? The banter about golf balls went on and on. The clubs didn’t change, it was the ball that made a huge leap in technological advancement. That was our conclusion…
“The old Mizunos gave that mush sound, and felt so soft.”
As we continued to trot down the fairways with our new takeaway from the day, our tee shots on the next hole proved to debunk that in spades. A well struck drive with the 975D, compared to a thinned miss with a modern-day SIM driver, how would they stack up? Well, there was a 45 yard difference, with the mishit from the modern driver being longer. There goes the “it’s just the ball theory.” Yes the ball has made a huge change, but driver tech has too.
“Something about birds chirping and hitting the 975D took me back to my childhood”
What happens to humans after 22 years of aging? We get fat, we get bloated, and we try to implement technology to make good on our shortcomings. The same holds true for putters. This was the most fascinating part of our round. Below is the original Scotty Cameron Terrylium Newport, side by side with it’s 22 year anniversary model. There was a certain love-hate relationship with maintaining the black oxide finish and the copper insert. There were two schools of thought on this: either maintain it like your first-born or let it oxidize and rust to show how battle-tested it was.
"Make sure you check your specs, one putter had 4 degrees of loft, one had zero."
The first obvious difference is the difference in weight. Modern putters are heavier from the grip down to the head. We will leave the internet experts to decide what weight class is right for what green speed, but here’s one thing we will tell you, check your club specs before you take them out. The above mentioned putter with zero loft was the original TeI3, which made the putter nearly unusable. But what the original putter lacked in playability (due to poor owner management), it made up for with aesthetics. Something about the way the original Newport shape was sharp and easy to align on the face side of the club with gentle contours towards the back side was poetic. The modern T22 iteration, while a respectable putter in its own right, just looked a bit formulaic. When it comes to anser/newport variations, retro wins in terms of beauty up and down the street and then some.
Halfway through the round, when looking at the scorecards, there was little that could be “blamed” on playing older equipment. Tee shots were respectable, approach shots were indicative of the strike put on them, and if anything, weird lofts and swing weights on the putters did have a bit of affect on putts that we were familiar with. But nothing too jarring. The joy in hitting a 20+ year old driver, that pleasant sound (that undoubtedly sounded sweeter in the past due to Balata golf balls), that thump at impact with one piece forgings, was outweighing the negligible additional strokes it may have costed us.
“What a pleasant feel, even if it was 40 yards short of my normal driver. There’s something to this retro.”
The enjoyment we kept going back to was the sound/feel. While not attainable with modern offerings, the growing confidence that our initial fears from the outset were manageable and that it was possible to enjoy a round of golf without the best in ball speed, tungsten weighting, and optimized COG gave us peace.
“Miuras were always known to have that dense feel, not buttery soft, but like a rubber hammer pounding a nail.”
"With any putter, if it suits your eye, it can become magical."
One thing is clear, iconic designs keep getting modernized. The original Ping Anser 2, in most all of its iterations, had a distinct softness to them. Compared to the original Anser, it was considered blockier, but strictly by relative terms. Again, we see a similar trend of modern putters beefing up the originals. Is this by necessity or just modernization gone wrong?
The one thing we all unilaterally opine for are thin toplines. Throw all the mass further back in the putter head in the name of technology, but give us that svelt thin topline at address, there’s something about that that fits our eye perfectly. But 320 gram headweights? Yeah, we can leave that in the past.
As the round wore on, so did our love for older clubs. Having to hit a blade iron on from 215 no longer felt like an opportunity to hit a hero shot, it felt like an exercise in disaster management.
Constantly burning edges on short putts that we were used to making became taxing, not only our psyches, but on our wallets too. Being professionals that specialize in delivering efficient solutions by trade, this exercise seemed to be paradoxical to who we were.
"What once worked as a child, can be totally off as an adult."
But like with all things in golf, all it takes, all it truly takes, is one pure strike, and we are hooked again. So through all the pain, disappointment, bewilderment, and frustration, we spent the rest of that evening plotting out the build of our retro bags.
“If I hit it pin high from 155 with this old 9i blade, I’ll play these rest of the year. Shit.”
So where do we stand? After 18 holes, what was the consensus?
Since that day, we have been discussing, where does this end? Do we need to source some balata balls, leather wrap my grips? Do we go back a century in technology? This was an intriguing, and refreshing idea as well. Instead of chasing the future of ball speed and technology, we also find ourselves combing through history and looking for older clubs.
One thing is for sure, orders have been placed, equipment has been sourced, and if you enjoyed this trip down memory lane with us, check back soon, as we have committed to go way off the deep end in this journey.
Special thanks to T&C members Brian and Geng for joining us on this day.