THE ART AND CRAFT OF GOLF CLUB MAKING

Wooden Clubs

The ancient craft of golf club making had no scientific rules, it was learnt by long apprenticeship and practice. In the early days it was often the skill of the bow makers, fishing rod makers and archers, whose knowledge of the strong and supple woods was used to create these early forms. As time progressed and golf became more and more popular, the demand for a higher standard of such clubs and the willingness to pay good money, made it become a trade and craft in it's own right. Many of those skills were lost with the advent of aluminium, steel and carbon fibre clubs being mass produced, but collectors still revere the results of the early craftsmen.

The term "wooden golf club" means a club with a wooden head as well as a wooden shaft. Those making such clubs were known as club makers, the earliest recorded one was a bow maker from Perth. It is thought that in 1502 James IV of Scotland bought some "golf clubbes" from him. This man, knowing what he did about the elasticity and suppleness of various woods and his bow making knowledge was in a better position to produce flexible, whippy clubs.

Other craftsmen with a special knowledge of the elastic properties of the various woods were those who made fishing rods, it appears that some of them also made golf clubs, though evidence of this seems to point towards the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Until 1900 the head of a wooden club was fixed to the shaft by means of a long splice, a "scarffed" joint of the type long used by shipwrights for repairing masts and spars. When club makers used it they called it a "scared" joint, and clubs made in this way are commonly called "scared head" clubs. The scared joint was held by glue and whipping, the latter usually of crude fisherman's twine. At the top of the shaft was the grip, which was of fine sheepskin and was thickened by layers of cloth, known as "listings", beneath it. Before 1820 the shafts of the clubs were made of ash, but at about that time hickory from the southern part of the USA was introduced because of its superior steely whip. The club was protected from the weather by prolonged rubbing down with "red keel", a substance whose composition is not known and which was dropped from use after 1830, when varnish became available.

The clubs were several inches longer than modern ones, which made them extremely whippy and gave considerable torque. The heads were long (4-5 inches) and thin (1-2 inches). The face of the club only an inch deep and gracefully curved, being "turned in" at the toe, which made the face concave. Inserted into the leading edge of the club's sole, and held there by by glue and three pegs, was a strip of ram's horn half inch wide and an eighth of an inch thick, whose purpose was to protect the wood and prevent it being chipped. When the horn eventually became damaged it could be replaced with a new piece. This feature must be of great antiquity because no wooden club without it has ever been found. Clubs of this general type continued to be made until 1880.

Club making in the 1880's
Club making in the 1880's

 

During the first half of the nineteenth century a "set" of clubs would be all wooden except for one iron. Wooden clubs and drivers or play clubs were used for driving, and all shots through the green were effected with clubs such as long, middle and short spoons. These names referred to different lengths, but the clubs also had progressively increased loft. The putter was also of wood and used for shots up to 100 yards or more. The "baffing spoon" was used for playing approach shots, particularly lofted shots. It got its name from the fact that in use it "baffed" the ball, that is it struck the ground immediately behind it.

Another club much in use was the wooden niblick , much shorter in the head than other clubs and frequently equipped with a piece of brass on its sole to protect it from damage by stones. The wooden niblick was commonly used in any situation in which the longer-nosed clubs could not be made to "sole" behind the ball, for example where the ball was in a "cuppy" lie such as a divort.

The solitary iron, which could easily burst a feather ball costing three times the value of the club itself, was used only for such desperate purposes as getting the ball out of bunkers, cart ruts or soney lies, situations in which a wooden club may shatter. When the new gutta-percha balls came into general use about 1850 iron clubs began to increase in numbers. This was not soley tosave the golf balls, it was also found to be easier to play lofted shots with iron clubs than wooden ones, and so relegating the baffing spoon to the attic. The new balls also ruined the wooden clubs, and now clubs cost more than balls.

In 1880 there came a chnge in shape of the club heads. They were much shorter(2-3 inches) and wider (3-4 inches) but with deeper faces up to one and a half inches. The biggest change was that the faces were convex, bulging forward, and so being named "bulgers". These also had shorter shafts.

In 1900 a new wood for clubheads and a new way of fixing heads to shafts were brought in. Just as hickory had been found best for shafts, persimmon, a very hard wood from USA too was now found to be better for the heads. Instead of fixing the head to shaft by means of long splice a hole was drilled in the head and the shafts end inserted into it. The new clubs were called socket headed clubs and the new method of fixing lent itself readily to machine production. American expertise came into play and by 1902 the USA was exporting 100,000 golf clubs to Britain annually. The heads were rough finished, and the British professional had merely to polish them up and stamp his name on them. So the art and craft of club making had died.

Long Nose Brassie
Long Nose Brassie

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