The all-American ebony that took to the links.
The heads of the drivers in your golf bag may well be persimmon, one of the hardest woods in the land.

One of the 200 members of the world-wide ebony family, but the only one in North America, the common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) grows all the way from southern New York to Florida, west to Texas, and into Missouri. And just as with the ebonies of East India, Ceylon, and Africa, the heartwood of American ebony appears almost black in color and is dense, heavy, and hard. But it is small in diameter. The lighter colored sapwood, on the other hand, rates nearly the same density, hardness, and weight, but there's more of it.

A gnarly, small-diameter tree seldom found growing in stands, the persimmon sprouts in places other trees shun. You'll find it growing in played out strip mines of coal, damp bottomlands, and trampled farmyards. In the best conditions, a persimmon tree might reach a 100' height, but less than half that would be normal.

Many people call persimmon "possumwood" due to that animal's liking of the tree's plum-like fruit. Yet, first-timers tasting it should beware. Ripe, it's orange pulp may be a true delight, but before then the pinkish-red globes possess enough tannic acid to keep you puckered for a full day.

Although always most well known for its puckery fruit, the persimmon's wood hasn't gone unnoticed. Lumbermen once sought it for the hard-working shuttles of textile looms. Only it and dogwood could stand up to thousands of hours wear before replacement. For its hardness, density, and resistance to splitting and splintering, persimmon long ago began showing up on the golf course as the highly polished head on a driver or "wood." Yet today, woods with persimmon heads have a loyal following on the links, even though they carry premium prices.

Illustration: Jim Stevenson