Keith Ihms can mix up history any day, and golf is a good one. So he enjoys the day on which he swung a 141-year-old golf club on the historic course where golf began.
His golf club, designed by Old Tom Morris, is a one-of-a-kind club that promises no forgiveness on every single swing.
Morris, real name Thomas Mitchell Morris, was an architect, golf club builder and Scottish golfer who won the British Open four times. Born in 1821, Old Tom Morris first began making golf club-like instruments using nail-pierced wine cork bottles. When he was 10 years old, according to historical reports, he began to play improvised “golf games” with his homemade clubs. During his career he became a master of golf, club creation and design.
He likes to show him his wedge created by Morris, which has character, history and a bit of sentimentality. It’s one of about 100 that Morris has made, he said. “None were exactly alike because they were all hand-forged,” he explained from his office, which overlooks part of the Berksdale Golf Course.
He is director of golf course maintenance for the Bella Vista Village Property Owners Association. He started working here in 2014 and brought more than three decades of experience to the table. His lifelong love of golf – and the story behind it – sparked his interest in collecting memorabilia like this. He is particularly enthusiastic about Morris, whom many in the golf community refer to as their “lighthouse”. Https://hl.nwaonline.com/news/2021/jul/21/unique-gift-creates-special-golf-memory / “He is the keeper of the green, the father of golf,” he said.
Ihms’ club, a gift from a golf course architect friend, dates from 1880. It has a hickory shaft and the original handle. There are no grooves on the club face. The shaft is not flexible like today’s titanium and other materials are. Playing is a challenge and the standards are not the same. “It’s a lot harder.”
He appreciates the history of the club and the golf ball that went with it from 1870. He did not use the golf ball when playing the Old Course at St. Andrew’s, but used the club in the game. Historical records indicate that St. Andrew’s was the first stop for the 18-hole round in 1764.
He really wanted to play the place. He remembers being on top of the 18th hole green and thinking it would be great if his shot went in. Instead, he hit the pin, which he still thought was a good hit. “It was really cool to hit it,” he said.
The unique gift came to him from a friendship that developed from golf. He was working for the Bent Tree Country Club in Dallas, Texas at the time when architect Keith Foster was hired to renovate the place. The two formed a business friendship.
Then, about a decade later, at the Little Rock Country Club at the time, He asked Foster to oversee the renovation of the place. He agreed. Old paintings helped Foster with the renovation, which focused on bringing the square back to its original 1902 design. “It is one of the oldest places that have been built,” said him. At this point, Foster was aware of his interest in historical golf articles and gave him the club as a gift.
In his role as president of a professional group, the Golf Course Superintendent Association of America (GCSAA), he has had the opportunity to travel extensively. He decided his trip to Scotland – St Andrews in particular – would be the perfect time to take advantage of this club. He got into the full story and even toured Old Tom’s shop, located on the 18th green.
He likes how the golf club brand – and the game in general – has evolved over hundreds of years.
Supervising golf course renovations has made him think about how he approaches his own golf maintenance job.
In the early days of golf, golfers did not have expensive, rambling golf clubs or specially designed, well-maintained golf courses. “That was the best you could do,” he said.
Today, Hims considers all of the additional benefits golfers can claim. Although his tenure on the GCSAA board of directors ended in 2017, he and two others are attempting an annual trip.
He loves the game and he loves the story that goes with it.
He’s working with another former GCSAA President and CEO to tackle the game’s challenge.
“Golf is not that good, but we have a lot of fun,” he said with a laugh.
He has played on several golf courses around the world including Royal Melbourne in Australia, Shanqin Bay on Hainan Island, China and Tara ITI Country Club in New Zealand.
His goal is to play as many top 100 golf courses in the country as possible. It’s now at # 64.
“Because I am proud of this achievement, I have played against Augusta National and all of the United States’ top 10, according to the latest list from Golf Digest!” he said.