Erie L. Flad (The Second) writes about his George Nicoll Viking Series hickory clubs.
This story was inspired by Matt Dodds’ submission to The Golf, No. 5, Autumn 2019, regarding his set of Nicoll Precision Irons.
I was never much of a golfer in my youth. I played a few times with my Dad when I was in my early teens. But my Grandfather Erle was an avid golfer, and that’s all he wanted to do on weekends. He was a member of the Youngstown Country Club in Youngstown, Ohio, and that’s mostly where he played. As a lad I remember spending hours at his kitchen table on Sundays after church, prying the covers off his old, cracked and cut balls, then unwinding the miles and miles of rubber banding, anxious to expose the core; it’s amazing – the kinds of centers the golf ball manufacturers experimented with in those days – liquid, solid, steel, even radio-active!
In the late 70s I moved to California and quickly realized I was living in an ideal environment for year-round golf, as there were countless terrific nearby munis and semi-privates to play. I eventually ended up as a member of the “30-30 Foursome”; we played every course in the area that was within a 30-minute drive and cost $30 or less to play!
But back then, having no clubs of my own, I called up my Dad in Ohio and asked if he could send me his old set. He said, “Sure, I’m not playing much anymore, I’ll send them out.” He shipped them via Greyhound Bus! That’s right, about two weeks later I got a call from the Greyhound Bus Depot in Oakland … “We’ve got a package for you.” The package turned out to be a cheap tartan canvas bag with holes in the sides, and a bunch of miscellaneous clubs inside: a no-name set of woods (driver, brassie, and spoon), a few unmatched clubs, including a couple of Helen Hicks irons, one with the head snapped off, possibly my grandma’s – and a partial set of George Nicoll hickory shafted Viking Irons, “Hand forged in Scotland,” numbers one thru seven. I realized that it was with these clubs that my grandfather, Erle L. Flad, won many tournaments in the Youngstown area from the twenties into the fifties. I still have the silver bowls, cups, and trophies to attest to his prowess, including the President’s trophy of 1934, and the Second Flight Club Championship of 1945.
So what do I do with a matched set of hickory shafted George Nicoll Viking Irons? I knew nothing about them at the time. How old were they? Were they valuable? Were they playable? Should they be considered antiques? Well, I certainly couldn’t sell them – after all, they were my grandpa’s! And I had the bowls and trophies to go with them.
So I began to research golf history, golf clubs, golf collectibles, and eventually discovered the Golf Heritage Society (back then known as the Golf Collectors Society), and Pete Georgiady (thank you Pete for your help over the years, and your invaluable Value Guides!). And during the course of my research I began seeing hickories just about everywhere – yard sales, thrift stores, antique shops. And as I learned, I bought, and bought – a lot of you know how that goes.
Over the years I managed to pick up the matching 8, 9, and 10 (putter) irons. One club has a very warped shaft, another is badly cracked; aside from that they are all in pretty good shape, and I treasure them!