Belvedere Golf Club to host Hickory Grail Cup starting Tuesday

Sep. 3—CHARLEVOIX — Golfers from across the United States of America and Europe will hearken back to a time without giant titanium club heads, graphite shafts and electric golf carts when the Hickory Grail Cup and bragging rights are at stake this week.

Beginning with a practice round and opening ceremonies Tuesday, the Belvedere Golf Club in Charlevoix will host the 13th Hickory Grail — a prestigious three-day event that pits Hickory-style golfers against each other much like the famed Ryder Cup.

The difference, however, is that the three rounds of golf will be played with golf clubs with antique shafts made of Hickory wood with club heads that date back to 1935 or earlier. Nothing will be available to the competitors that wasn't available to golfers in the 1920s and '30s, except for the golf balls. Golfers will also be dressed in the standard garb from that time period, including knickers and high socks along with appropriate shirts, jackets, ties and hats.

"It's big time," said Marty Joy, the head professional at Belvedere who has been competing in the Hickory Grail since 2015. "We hosted the 2019 U.S. Hickory Open, which was the biggest Hickory Open in United States history. We had 125 players from 42 states and Canada. This is less people but more prestigious."

The Grail Cup, which is the oldest international Hickory golf match, consists of two teams of 12 players battling through three rounds. The first round, which is set for Wednesday with morning and afternoon sessions, is an alternate-shot style of play between foursomes. Thursday will be best-ball foursome matches, and Friday's final competition will be singles matchplay. Wednesday's action begins at 8:30 a.m., and both Thursday and Friday tee off at 9:30 a.m.

A flag-raising ceremony will take place at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Golfers will be in their Hickory outfits and speakers are set to address the competitors.

"It's going to be a great setting to start the Hickory Grail," Joy said.

There is no charge for spectators to attend, but they — along with the golfers — must walk the course and are not allowed to use carts.

"Just like back in the day," Joy said.

Since it began in 2000, the Hickory Grail has been played in Scotland, New York, Texas, Sweden, North Carolina, London and New Jersey. Golfers took to the most famous course in the world for the 2021 Grail Cup when they played the Old Course at St. Andrews, the site of the British Open — one of golf's four major tournaments.

"To have been able to participate in this prestigious event at St. Andrews — the home of golf — and now to play host is a dream come true for all of us at the club," Joy said. "We are very proud to welcome this event and fellow hickory players from across the Atlantic to play the game as it was meant to be played."

Playing the Old Course was an incredible experience for Joy. He and the other golfers took caddies with them to show them where the bunkers were on the course.

"They're just these holes that drop off into an abyss. In most U.S. courses, you can see at least the flashing of a bunker to know where they are. At the Old Course, if you don't have a caddy, you're down 20 shots right there," Joy said. "Luckily, I didn't hit a bunker all day. Not one."

Belvedere, which was named the 2016 Michigan Course of the Year by the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association, has a classic parkland layout that should provide the perfect venue for Hickory club play. It is the only club in the U.S. to have as many as 44 antique Hickory club players and hosts Hickory tournaments annually, including the Belvedere Hickory Open since 2006.

The course saw legend Walter Hagen win the first Great Lakes Open at Belvedere, and five-time British Open winner Tom Watson sharpened his skills as a youngster playing summers at Belvedere. Watson is still a member today.

"It's already a success," Joy said. "The prestige we've gotten out of it. The press we're going to get from it. It's just another feather in our cap."

The Grail Cup stands at a 6-6 tie after the European team won the last three series.

"We're hoping to break that tie at Belvedere," Joy said. "It would be awesome to bring the Cup back. It's been gone since 2015, my inaugural year. We've brought some new young blood onto our team, and hopefully we can snatch that trophy away from them this year."

Joy has spent the last month and a half working on every small detail to make sure his home course plays host to one of the best Grail Cups ever.

"We want to get every detail right and not miss a beat," Joy said. "I'm really trying to make this special. Following the Old Course, you've got a lot of expectations. We're going try our damndest to make everyone proud and set the bar higher than it has been in the past."