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Kelly Leonard: a clubmaker's clubmaker


Kelly Leonard (at center in white shirt) displaying a wide range of his beautiful long-nosed hickory clubs at the 2023 Oddball.


Kelly Leonard, founder of K. Leonard Hickory Golf (https://www.klhickory.com/), is widely regarded as a modern-day master of the long-nosed hickory club. He is a scholar of makers of the past, and is able to translate their techniques, tools, and patterns into bespoke clubs to suit modern golfers’ needs. His heart is in his work, and it shows.

 

If you own a Kelly Leonard club, you truly own a work of art. Owners of his clubs often say they are the very best clubs in their stand.

 

As he states in the article below, “My main objective is to put a club in his or her hands that will be perfect for them.”

 

Kelly is also a generous teacher and eager student. At this writing, we are one week away from the 2024 Oddball, a two-day featherie event, and we are looking forward to seeing Kelly, who will be traveling all the way from his home and shop in Manitoba to central Illinois. We thought it is the perfect time to share Kelly’s inspiring story and advice.

 

 

By Kelly Leonard

 

In the early summer of 2005, I was in my workshop and needed to find information on a specific construction product. I can't remember what it was but I can assure you it had nothing to do with golf.

 

I down sat in front of the computer and started. At some point, I must have entered that rabbit hole. It must have led me to something about golf because the page that changed everything was now on the screen.  

 

It was a page from Jeff Ellis's book, The Clubmaker’s Art, which had information and pictures regarding Hugh Philp. Honestly, at this time I had no knowledge of or interest in this or any hickory golf. But the attraction was immediate: the minute I saw Philp's clubs, I knew I was going to build one. I took a few mental snapshots, made my way back to the shop, and began.

 

I was so green that for the first year or so I referred to this admired clubmaker as Hugh Phillip. Chris McIntyre (aka Old Mac), who was answering many of my questions, one day politely said, "Kelly, his last name is Philp." I had a lot to learn.

 

While spending most of my life in the earthmoving field, I spent most of my spare time in my shop trying to figure out these clubs. In 2005, there wasn't much information available, which made progress rather slow. The thing is, when you really get into something, there are no limits. You will do everything you can to find whatever it is you're looking for.

 

My first club was the furthest you could get from a Philp or even Phillip. I still have it, and it has become my most cherished clubs. It's good for a laugh when I put it next to a current club. What that club does is remind me where me of where I started.

 

Over the next 10 years, I spent countless hours on research and testing. At some point, I started having confidence in the clubs I was building. They just weren't one-hit wonders. Instead, I was bringing them back home in one piece.  

 

Since 2005, I have built 700+ clubs. Unfortunately, during the early years, club documenting was in its infancy. Today, each club is well-documented. And they need to be, because when I work with a client, my main objective is to put a club in his or her hands that will be perfect for them. Since everyone isn't the same, neither are the clubs.


All of my clubs are made with materials and techniques used by the old clubmakers.  Since we do have many more tool options than they did, instead of using a type of hand saw to cut the head or shaft from the lumber, I use a bandsaw. My guess is they would have done the same. The actual shaping of the head still requires many hours to make it just right, using a crazy amount of files and rasps. As golf expanded, head duplication became necessary, but not in my shop.

 

I have made many cherished relationships since I entered long-nose clubmaking. This includes fellow hickory enthusiasts and my clients who are interested in playing gutty or featherie golf. The hickory community is one which I am privileged and honoured to be a part of.

 

Advice on swing

The Oddball [featherie event] was the first time I played with a featherie ball. So what did I do? I swung like I normally do. Overall, I was quite happy with the results. I did attempt to take the club back slower than normal, but I will say I did come down on it pretty hard. To a person new to featherie, I would recommend a slow backswing with a slightly quicker downswing. After some swings, they will figure out whether they can customize their swing to something they are comfortable with.

 

The loft of the club will play a big part of the shot. I know this doesn't directly relate to the swing, but may affect enjoyment. A 15° loft seemed to get the feather ball airborne with ease and also had good carry distance with good run-out. If a decent swing speed isn't achieved, a lower lofted club will stay low to the ground. Low is good, but I think this would be too low. This is mainly with the tee ball. Approach shots, depending on the distance, are sometimes easier to scoot up on the ground.

 

Client feedback from those who use my clubs and a Lane feather ball have all been positive. They very much enjoyed the experience. Maybe the most important point to stress is overall the game is played lower to the ground. Plotting your way from tee to green is important, and not necessarily using the high shot that lands soft on the green. You will quickly learn that gauging the distance along the grass is very important.

 

Regarding torque: unless a player is swinging a club that has a very soft shaft, they will have to be patient and let the head catch up. I do not build my clubs typically with very soft shafts. Many don't want to slow their swing down to get maximum results. I've found the swing is like a fingerprint. Folks don't seem to want to change very much. But [featherie players] understanding that they will not hit shots typical to gutty or modern golf play might be the highest hurdle.


You can reach Kelly at klhickory@gmail.com. His website is at https://www.klhickory.com/.

 



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