I was canvassing an outdoor antique show in the mid-80's. Windsors were going through the roof at the time. We all looking for them, hoping to make a hit. Some guy wearing a green beret caught my eye. He was walking around with armful of wood-shaft golf clubs, buying every one he came across.

"Who's that nut?" I asked. For a few bucks, you could buy an armful of woodies in those days. He was paying that per club.

"He told me, he cuts them up," my buddy, Carl said. "Uses the shafts to replace broken Windsor spindles."

"Good idea," I said.

Wood-shaft clubs have value today. Most from $3-$25 each. Rare examples can fetch thousands. Thinking back, I don't dwell on my own short-sightedness, but on the shrewdness of the man in the green cap. He had no intention of cutting those clubs up.

Except for a sprinkling of squarish irons, the ancient game of golf was played with graceful-appearing, hand-fashioned, "long-nose," wooden clubs. They were designed to sweep delicate and costly "feather balls" off sand tees or turf without breaking the golf ball's thin leather skin. Long-nose club heads, attached by a splice in the neck, are slim in profile, long(app. 6"), lead weight backed, and faced with a with a pegged-on strip of horn. The introduction of hard "gutta percha" balls in the 1850's, reversed priorities. Now it was club, not ball, needing protection. Heads and necks became stockier. Many long-nose clubs were stamped on top by maker. Authentic, pre-1890, examples are scarce and can command huge prices today. Modern-type drilling of the head to accept the shaft, "socket-head woods," began to supplant spliced-head woods in the 1890's.

Irons came into wide usage with the introduction of the "gutty" ball. Early examples were hand-forged. They are highly prized. One such club, the "track iron" was made with a tiny round face for hitting balls out of wagon wheel ruts. From about 1880 until 1920, irons were produced in pre-shaped dies and finished by app.150 known "cleekmakers." These firms or individuals stamped the back of the head with a steel die to impress their mark. Collecting "cleekmarks" is a major aspect of club collecting today. Early irons were smooth faced. In the 1890's, dots were punched into the strike area to enhance backspin.

In the late 19th century, competition in the golf industry became strong. Clubs with unusual and inventive features, "patent clubs," came into prominence. Many of these woods, irons, and putters are highly sought after today. The "rake iron," one model was patented in 1905, had open-air slots incorporated in the face. This must have been an advantage in those days, when golfers had to play a ball lying in casual water. Sam Hagen endorsed a concave sand trap wedge in 1890. It was declared illegal a year later. The famous center shafted "Schendectady" putter, patented in 1903, was outlawed in 1908-in part, because it was thought to work too well.

By 1920, most clubs were mass produced by large companies like MacGregor and Wilson. They were made with machine-applied face patterns, chrome plated heads to reduce rusting, and sold, unlike the old days, in graduated, matched sets. Steel shafts replaced wood in the 30's. Many early steel shafts were painted to look like their wood predesessors. Golf clubs are evolving faster than ever today. If you a man with a green cap buying up those useless old "Tommy Armour" persimmon woods and "Silver Scot" irons, and he tells you he's going to turn them into canes, don't believe him.

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Wayne Mattox Antiques | 82 Main Street North | Woodbury, CT 06798 | 203-263-2899 | wayne@antiquetalk.com
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