(This photo of professional players prior to a tournament on Leith Links, May 17, 1867, shows a wide variety of mens’ clothing. Photo from the Library of Congress.)
Have you ever considered hosting a featherie event? It’s not as complicated as one might suspect. Let’s start with aspects of a featherie golf course. We’ve found that the best courses to work with are family-owned and have been around a while. Their owners tend to be interested in golf history, and so will be interested in your event (and the paying customers it will attract).
• A well-struck featherie will likely carry about 80 to 120 yards. However, course conditions and player experience will factor in. A nine-hole, par 3 course, with a maximum distance of 170 to 180 yards per hole works great (although you can control distance simply by teeing up closer to the next hole).
You can also just play the longer holes and don’t worry about keeping score. Instead, use match play or play the like. (For an excellent explanation of playing the like/playing the odd, please see Auld Mac's description at https://www.hickorygolf.com/new-page. He even provides a handy pamphlet that you can print out and give to your participants.)
• How many holes? Leith had 5, Bruntsfield had 6, and Prestwick had 12. In other words, do what works for you. You can also play around 3 or 4 holes more than once.
• You may not need to use existing greens. If you are friendly with the greenskeeper, ask if it’s possible to cut the grass for new greens to 1- to 1.5-inches in locations that provide the distance you want. Use a hole-cutter or garden trowel to cut holes (save plug to replace after event). You do not need a cup liner in the hole. Use a 36-inch or similar garden stake with paper or felt flag to mark holes.
• Although long-nosed wooden clubs would have been the norm in the 19th century, most players today aren’t lucky enough to have them. For a more authentic experience, you can use wooden clubs from any era—not high-lofted irons—for driving or fairway play. Driving with iron clubs is more likely to damage a featherie ball, but irons are fine for putting and chipping.
• Use sand tees. Provide players with bags of damp sand, or place a bucket of damp sand at each tee.
• If you want to be super-authentic, tee off within two length of the hole. (Most modern greens won’t accommodate this.)
• Encourage players to leave modern tools such as range finders in the car. If an 1800’s player didn’t have it, then we shouldn’t either.
• Also encourage players to dress for the period by defining dates for them. Featherie play began in the 1500s to 1600s, but that creates a fashion window that is just too large. Instead, use the 1800s as your zone: it’s well-documented and relatively easy to replicate.
Conveniently, the introduction of the gutty ball in 1848 marked the end of the featherie era (although featherie play no doubt continued for some time afterward). Let’s use that as a dividing line:
—Pre-1848: Golf was still a sport for the upper classes, so outfit choices should cast in that direction. Just Google “early 1800s golf clothing” or “early Victorian-era golf,” and a panoply of visuals will appear (alas, much more so for men than women). The key take-away for men is trousers: Knickers as golf clothing were more of a 1920s style.
—Post-1848: Even though this is past the actual featherie era, it is appropriate to pick fashion from this time. Photography was much more common then, so you should be able to Google plenty of examples. We’re still in the late Victorian era, but you will find many more examples of women’s clothing.
• If you have a featherie golf enthusiast in your area, ask if she or he would be willing to lay out a display of authentic clubs and paraphernalia for your guests.
• Have fun and don’t stress. Imagine what conditions were like in the 1800s, and share those expectations with other players. Course conditions were not pristine, and featherie balls just did not and do not travel as far as modern balls. That’s neither good nor bad: it’s just the way it is/was.