Dr. Bob West & Bobby Sly – The Masters of Hickory

Bob West and Bobby Sly
Bob West and Bobby Sly
Bob West and Bobby Sly

by Joe McLean

Close to 200 golfers belong to the Canadian Golf Historical Society, a non-profit, informal group of golf enthusiasts who share a passion for the history, camaraderie and playing of the grand old game of golf.

Two GHSC Members, Dr. Bob West and his son-in-law Bob (Little Bob) Sly live in the Kingston, Ontario area. Both are accomplished golfers who are equally comfortable playing golf with their modern or turn of the century equipment and they both have individual as well as team wins.

Bob West has been a family physician for almost 40 years and is an associate professor in Family Medicine at Queens University. Bob Sly has worked at Invista Canada for ten years and has in his background a term as a Canadian Golf Teachers Federation professional at Alston Moor Golf Links. Bob Sly is the current holder and third time recipient of the Steven J. Kameika Cup and Gold Medal for his National Hickory Championship wins.
Flagstick Golf Magazine caught up with these gentlemen recently to talk about their golf careers.

FGM – How did you get started in golf?

BW – My family had always golfed so I was a club golf rat. My grandfather supported golf in Alberta during the war years and my family became friends with players such as Stan Leonard and Pat Fletcher. Surviving POW camp (where he was the local pro) my father played an exhibition match as Bobby Locke’s partner and after he died Mr. Leonard brought to our home the young Gary Player.
BS – My golf career started in the parking lot of the Public Utilities in Kingston. My Mom Gladys Cooke had been talking to a co-worker about things for an eleven year boy to do for the summer. The next day Ron Esford had an old bag of clubs in the trunk and gave them to my mom and said to get him a membership. From then on I spent the majority of my time at Belle Park Fairways. I still remember my Slazenger 2 wood. I used to crush that thing.

FGM – How did you get started in hickory golf?

BW – My office manager was related to the great James Braid and I looked for a book for her on him for a Christmas gift. The website also sold hickory shafted clubs and I bought some. My next surfing foray led to the GHSC and the Society of Hickory Golfers (SoHG) and I ended up trying to play with old clubs at the National Hickory Championships (NHC) on the Oakhurst Links in West Virginia. It was a frightening experience but the participants were so wonderful and knowledgeable about our game that I became addicted.

BS – I was introduced to hickory golf by my father-in-law Bob West. He showed me some hickory clubs and said people play with these.  I immediately asked if I could try them sometime. His response was “when do you want to go?” The attraction to hickory golf for me started the first time I hit a hickory golf club pure. There is nothing off the rack at the local golf store that has or will ever feel that good. It really feels like you’ve accomplished something when you string a round full of shots like that.

FGM – Where have you played hickory tournaments?

BW – I’ve travelled to Scotland three times to play in the Scottish Hickory Open at Royal Musselburgh and played hickory at St. Andrews and Brora (the most wonderful hickory course in the world). I’ve also played hickory tournaments at Pinehurst, the Philadelphia Cricket Club, Niagara on the Lake, Mimosa NC, Oakhurst Links, in Georgia, Birmingham, Napanee and Grenadier Island.
BS – Most of my hickory outings have been played in the company of my father-in-law on top-notch golf courses steeped in history. The most memorable course I have played is Oakhurst Links for the NHC. It is the most physically and mentally demanding test of golf I have ever experienced. I look forward to testing my survival skills every year

FGM – Can you talk about the people you have met while participating in hickory golf outings?

BW – Many of the tournaments have regulars from around the continent and the world and to name my friends from there I would be likely to omit one. There are so many. They are the joy of my golf season and I look forward each year to their knowledge and camaraderie.

BS – All the people I’ve met at the tournaments are so sincere and respectful of our game. They made it easy to join the hickory family.

FGM – What is the fascination of hickory golf for you?

BW – Holding a club held once by someone 100+ years ago and knowing he loved it is special. The feel of a perfectly hit hickory transcends the century. There is nothing like it.

BS – When I’m out swinging my hickories I can’t help but think who may have held the clubs I hold now.

FGM – What are your fondest memories in golf / hickory golf?

BW – My most memorable golf is playing the links courses of East Lothian in Scotland (where it all began) and my fondest is playing with my friends after all the competitions are over in the fall in Canada with the radiant heat of the sun, the cool breezes  and the changing leaves.
BS – I have so many fond memories but my favorites are the three Family Clan Match Championships with my father-in-law at the NHC. It seems that we can totally ham and egg it making for a great drive home

FGM – Do you have any hobbies?

BW – My hobbies are collecting old things, particularly related to golf. I’m probably more an accumulator than a specific collector because every item I find takes me back to the original owner and I imagine the joy they must have felt when it was new. (FGM Note: Many of Bob’s collectible golf clubs are on display at the Smugglers Glen Golf Club in Gananoque, Ontario.
BS – I play bass guitar in a band called “We’re From Earth” with Andrew Baker, Bill Florence, Kathryn King and Avril West. They are a great group of people who make it fun and exciting every time we play. We are set to record our second album at The Bath House recording studio late November.

FGM – Does your family support you in golf?

BW – My wife Avril and my three children are very supportive. I keep my eBay purchases private. My children are Amanda (Bob’s wife), who is a chef and a golf pro; Jordan, who is an entrepreneur and bar owner and Tony who is an artist and free spirit.
BS – My wife Amanda and daughters Lydia and Addisyn are very supportive and attend the events when it works.  They are always happy to welcome me home if I bring home a trophy or not because they know how I feel about hickory golf and they like souvenirs.

FGM – Is there anything else you would like to add?

BW – I love the attempts made to improve the game by new innovations in clubs. So many of them have strange designs including the Scoogee sand wedge, the Urquhart adjustable, the Cran cleek, the rainbow deep grooved, the various anti-shank clubs and all the putters from the Schenectady to the Hackbarth.  The longnose woods, blacksmith irons and wooden headed putters of the 1800’s are special. I have many of these on display at Smugglers together with a display of the evolution of woods from the longnose to the Kroflite. Often, when playing with hickories, people will come up and ask if I have seen the great display at Smugglers. One of my favourite clubs (not on display) is an A. Teen smooth faced mashie with a crescent bar on the head and a shaft marked W. Davis-Montreal- a rare find.