COLLECTING OLD GOLF CLUBS by Peter Dempsey

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With names like Brassie; Spoon; Mid-iron; Mashie; Jigger;Niblick; Baffy; Cleek; Push-iron; Mongrel Mashie and putting iron – you maybe baffled at what is for sale in the sports equipment pages of EBAY.

Be warned, life golf itself, this hobby can became all-engrossing. It takes over basements, garages, even living rooms, until a wife puts down her foot. Like Mrs Snow in the musical “Carousel”, who wed a fisherman and eventually decided “fish is my favourite perfume,” an antique club restorer’s wife learns to love the smell of varnish and bees-wax polish!

The origins of golf are lost in history, but in its present form it is generally agreed to have been played in Scotland near St. Andrews in the late 1400’s. In the 15th Century it is documented that the King of Scotland banned his subjects from playing the game because many had become so obsessed with the game that they were neglecting their archery practice.

In the subsequent 500 years, the game has advanced from one played with simple hand made clubs – made from tough woods such as Beech, Holly, Pear and Apple – the shafts were made from Ash or Hazel. The early clubs were prone to breakage and a golfer could expect to break at least one club during a round. These factors meant that golf was typically associated with the upper echelons of society.

You can look at the history of golf in three eras, based on the type of ball used. The design of clubs has tended to follow improvements in golf ball design.

The very early golfers used an all wooden ball; From the early 1800’s the “feathery” golf ball was used. This was made by stuffing “one Top-Hat full of fine Gosling feathers” (after boiling) into a leather bound ball.

Most shots were accomplished by a range of wooden clubs. The “rutting-iron” was used to extract balls that had landed in cart wheel ruts.

The first big change came with the “gutty” ball around 1850. This was made from a solid moulded rubber called gutta-percha. It was much stronger than the feathery, and a range of iron made clubs were introduced, as they gave the golfer better control over the ball and the ability to hit it out of difficult lies. These early iron clubs were made by the local black-smiths. Iron clubs were made by the local black-smiths until perhaps the 1870’s. As a result they were rather crude, heavy implements with massive hosel (shanks). They were hard to use and when drop forging became widely available, the mass of the clubs decreased considerably. The words “hand forged” on the back of hickory shaft clubs in the 1900’s was in fact a misnomer, as the only thing done by hand by that time was the impressing of the makers name and cleek mark. The cleek mark was a form of trademark, they range from pictures of pipes, crosses, crowns to diamonds. As a rule of thumb, the more stuff stamped on a club, the newer it tends to be.

The introduction of golf in America in the early 1800’s lead to hickory wood being used in the shafts of the clubs. Hickory became standard until steel shafts were introduced around 1925.

After the 1920’s golf clubs were manufactured on a mass scale in factories. The American’s started to “number” the clubs and so the names (all but Driver and Putter) were slowly forgotten.

The final phase has been the adaptation of computer aided design (CAD) to club design. Materials such as graphite shafts and titanium “metal woods” have come into widespread use in the last 20 years.

SO – WHAT ARE THEY WORTH?

The oldest (and most mysterious) set of golf clubs found rank as the greatest attic find in the history of golf. A set of six woods and two irons (typical number in a set at the time) were discovered in Hull, England in 1900, wrapped in a Yorkshire newspaper dated 1741. No one knows who made them or the exact significance of a lozenge with a crown over a thistle, a star in between, flanked with the letters ‘ic’ marked on one of the irons and all six woods. Many experts think they date from the early 1600’s . What is certain is that in 1998 the Troon Golf Club in Scotland, which has owned the sticks almost since their discovery, turned down an offer of $4.4m from the World Golf Museum in St. Augustine, Florida, and voted instead to continue to display the clubs at the British Golf Museum at St. Andrews.

So if you find a set of all wooden clubs wrapped up in an old newspaper, in the attic or a shed you then need to determine if those clubs are “commons” (some of the many millions made after 1900) or another set of Royal Troons!?

However, please remember  a true relic deserves respect, even  everence. You may be tempted to spruce up an old stick, make it shine and hang it on your wall – but wait!! The more you do to a club, the less it’s worth. The club should have an appropriate patina for its age. You risk ruining its value if you impose your twenty first century ideas of what it would have looked like.They look old because they are old.

It is widely thought that old hickory shaft golf clubs are scarce and therefore valuable. Most are found in a poor condition and therefore look very old, but in most cases they are just neglected. Many millions of clubs were made with hickory shafts between 1900 and the mid 1920’s. As a result, most of the clubs one finds are neither rare nor valuable, even when in good condition. Expect between $20 to $80 a club.Also expect to pay a premium for matching clubs or sets,and remember that woods tend to fetch a higher figure than irons.

More unusual clubs,either with a design introduction,patented or even just the bizare will sell between $50 and $100 here in Australia.

Sunday walking (golf) sticks (a whole new market ) are selling between $400 to $600 in 2006, as a refection of the double interest coming from both golf club collectors and collectors of walking sticks. 

Golf has been played in Australia since the 1830’s, but the first golf professional and club maker recorded here was Richard Taylor in 1891. So clubs with Australian markings date from that year. Many clubs have the professionals name impressed on their head or shaft. This gives us a way of dating the club, provided we know something about the man.

A very helpful list of early Australian golf professionals written by David Nicholls can easily be found during a google search,a must for any serious collector in Australia.

 

END - Peter Dempsey 08/06/2006 For EBAY

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