A Brief History of Golf Clubs

The History of Golf Clubs

One of the earlier known references to the game of golf is made when King James II of Scotland banned the playing of the "game" because it kept his subjects from archery practice!

Also, it seems that a group of sheep herders who became bored with tending flocks of sheep near St. Andrews became proficient at knocking round stones into rabbit holes with their wooden "crooks" or staffs. Hence, the History of Golf Clubs had it's beginning!

Having a creative and inquisitive mind, I began to wonder …

Photo courtesy of Buy.com

  • What degree of loft was on the 'Crook-Head'?
  • Maybe because there was no Hosel on the crook they didn't have a problem with shanks!
  • If the shepherds had a professional Crook Fitting?
  • If the typical shepherds 'Crook' was a regular or stiff flex?
  • If the shepherd's 'Crook' was the predecessor to today's All-in-One golf club? (Obviously not adjustable)
  • If they used 'sheep-skin' grips on the 'Crook'?
  • If when they transitioned from the top of the back swing, did they confuse 'Pronation / Supination' and get the 'Crook' caught on their neck, causing a severe 'Crook-in-the-Neck'?

In the history of golf clubs the very first documented reference to a set of golf clubs, was in relation to a set of clubs made specifically for King James VI of Scotland by his primary bow maker. His name was William Mayne. Mayne was commissioned to make this first set of matched clubs in the year 1603.

Found in the Royal an Ancient Club's museum are ancient golf clubs including a 'Putting Cleek' and and several old wooden-head clubs with wood shafts. The 'Putting Cleek' was crafted in the latter part of the 18th century by a golf club maker by the name of Simon Cossar from Leith. This putter included an iron head attached to a wooden shaft.

This was well documented in golf club history.

(See a sample below of a Putting Cleek made by Robert Forgan)

Early players of the game built their own club sets from a variety of wood species. The golf club heads were carved from hardwoods such as oak, cherry, beech and apple wood. The golf shafts were made from softer, more flexible woods like ash or hazel wood.

Basically, these clubs were known as “Hickory Golf Clubs”.

According to the History of Golf Clubs, these pioneer golf players used a variety of clubs in playing their game, just like we utilize in these times.

The building of golf clubs remained the same until the beginning of the 19th century when Robert Forgan of Scotland in about 1826 changed the way in which golf clubs were made.

Forgan started making golf club shafts with American hickory instead of the traditional ash or hazel wood. Forgan's golf clubs then set the standard for golf club makers.

Patterned-Faced 'Cleek' putter made by Robert Forgan in 1907.

Photo Courtesy of Sport Antiques

See charts below for a brief listing of Vintage Golf Clubs with today's modern equivalent and the approximate degree of loft.


Playclub Driver 8-12
Scraper 3-Wood 12-16
Long Spoon 3-Wood 12-16
Middle Spoon 4-Wood 15-19
Short Spoon 5-Wood 19-23
Baffing Spoon 7-Wood 24-28
Niblick 9-Wood 29-33

* * *


Cleek 1-Iron 9-14
Mid Iron 5-Iron 26-30
Mashie 7-Iron 36-40
Mashie Niblick 9-Iron 44-48
Niblick Sandwedge 54-59
Putter Putter 3-4

Shown below are a few sample Antique Golf Clubs found within the History of Golf Clubs and a brief summary of each:

Playclub (Driver):

This is a sample of a fine persimmon wood driver with a hickory shaft and a sheepskin grip. This vintage club was made in Robert Simpson's shop in Carnoustie.

Robert was born in Earlsferry, Fife in 1862, one of six brothers. Two of his brothers, Jack and Archie were competitive golfers.

Robert was better known as a club maker, but he too was a golf player, taking 4th in the Open on two occasions and tying for 2nd in 1893.

Photo Courtesy of Sport Antiques

Robert was an apprentice club maker to George Forrester, in Elie, from 1878 - 1882. He then moved to St. Andrews and worked for Robert Forgan.

According to the History of Golf Clubs, in1883 he filled the vacancy at the Dalhousie Golf Club in Carnoustie as a club and ball maker, also acting as the green keeper.

He started his own business making clubs two years later. In the infancy of the firm, brothers Jack and Archie both worked for Robert in Carnoustie.

Long Spoon (3-Wood):

This fine vintage golf club is a persimmon-head Spoon with a brass sole plate, hickory shaft and leather grip by Tom Fernie of Turnberry Golf Club (1910 - 1926).

Photo Courtesy of Sport Antiques

Tom was born in Troon and was also a professional at Royal Lytham St. Annes 1926 - 1951.

Mussleback Mashie (7-Iron):

This is a fine Andrew Kirkaldy autographed 'Elite' Mussleback Mashie with line face markings, including an American hickory shaft with a hand-made leather grip.

In documented History of Golf Clubs, Andrew Kirkaldy was born in Denhead, Scotland, in 1860. Kirkaldy was a competitive golfer and the Open Runner up in 1879, 1889 and 1891. His brothers Jack and Hugh were Professional golfers.

Throughout his professional career he lived in St. Andrews, except while he was the professional at Royal Winchester in 1892.

Photo Courtesy of Sport Antiques

He was an Honorary Professional to R & A from 1910 until his death in 1934. In 1908 Kirkaldy was enlisted by the club maker Robert Bell Martin.

Kirkaldy never had a hands-on role in the business, only making design recommendations and attracting business with his name.

According to the documented History of Golf Clubs, around 1848 the Gutta-Percha golf ball was invented by the Reverend Adam Pearson. This ball was a much better ball for the game of golf than the traditional 'Feathery' which had been used for two hundred years prior. It was very durable compared to the 'Feathery', and cost much less to make.

Because of the introduction of the gutta-percha ball, it was necessary to redesign the golf club to play this new ball. This is when the golf club makers started producing a new generation of golf clubs best resembling the modern set of woods in today's game of golf.

In the early 1900's, America began manufacturing and exporting golf clubs on a large scale. The primary choice for golf club heads had been American Hickory, but were now being made with wood species such as beech and American Persimmon.

According to History of Golf Clubs, in 1902 hand-forged metal club heads with groove-faced surfaces were becoming available with great demand. These new club heads offered an increased amount of backspin, compared to wooden club heads.

The next significant evolution in the history of golf clubs happened when in the early 1900's the Prince of Wales had steel-shafted golf clubs made to his specifications. Word soon got around about these clubs, and then clubmakers took it from there.

In 1901, according to History of Golf Clubs, Coburn Haskell introduced the newly founded one-piece rubber-cored ball. This ball caused a sensation when it was introduced. When the Haskell ball came out in the United States, steel golf shafts replaced the hickory shafts altogether. The US Open was the first major tournament to feature this new type of golf club.

In the mid 1920's the USGA introduced a numbering system for golf clubs which replaced the colorful names previously in vogue with the old golf clubs.

The merchandising opportunities of numbered clubs and matching sets was a great boon to manufacturers. In 1938 the USGA limited the number of clubs a player could carry in any particular round of golf to fourteen. (including the Driver and the Putter)

Introduction of the Ping Putter

In 1959, Karsten Solheim created the 'A-1' putter design in his garage in Redwood, California and he named his company 'PING' after he tested the putter out and it produced a loud “pinging” sound.

The Ping company grew very rapidly based upon the introduction of that first putter. In the 1970s, the company really expanded when Solheim purchased a foundry to create his own metal golf club components.

Solheim continued innovating new ideas in golf equipment. In 1972, he created color-coded clubs that showed golfers which clubs best matched their height and swing!

He created 'perimeter weighting' for the Irons, which enlarged their "sweet spot" and offered golfers better results from off-center hits.

In 1966, Solheim created the Anser putter, one of the most successful putter designs in golf's history. Ping's breakthrough came when Julius Boros won the PGA Tour's 1967 Phoenix Open with a Ping putter.

Solheim's putters have since been utilized in more than 2,000 professional wins as of 2009, and the Ping company's putters swept golf's "majors" in 1988.

Solheim's Ping Eye 2 irons developed in 1982, became the bestselling irons in the company's history as of January 2011.

The Ping Company has over 400 patents to its credit. Solheim was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001 for his lifetime achievements.

Within archives of the History of Golf Clubs, in the year 1931, the Sand Wedge was developed to provide golfers with a much better method of extracting golf balls buried in Sand Traps. Other specialty clubs such as pitching, lob, and gap wedges were eventually designed and produced.

In about 1972, manufacturers began producing golf clubs with shafts made from fiber-reinforced composite materials originally developed for aerospace and military applications.

These composite shafts were much lighter than steel shafts. However, they were much more expensive and many golfers felt the composite shafts had too much flex.

When ultrahigh-strength fibers were developed to control the flex, composite shafts became more acceptable. Today, “Fiberglas” shafts are very common.

Metal-headed drivers were first developed in1979. Then in 1989 the first oversize metal-headed drivers were designed and mass-produced by all of the leading manufacturers of golf clubs.

The oversize club heads were die cast with a hollow center and filled with high density foam material, which increased the weight of the club head, making the heads similar in weight to smaller wooden club heads.

Combining the longer light-weight composite shaft (Fiberglas) with the oversize metal woods, achieved a significantly greater club head speed at impact and drove the ball much further.

These oversize club heads also had a larger clubface area, which in turn made them more forgiving when the golf ball was struck off-center from the 'sweet spot'.

In today's market, the creation, design, and production of golf clubs involves both art and science. Most golf club manufacturers use computeraided design and automated manufacturing techniques to mass-produce thousands of clubs a year, while smaller more sophisticated producers rely on hand-crafting skills and experience to build only a few custom-made clubs a year.

We hope this brief travel through the History of Golf Clubs has been fun and enlightening!

Thanks again for Visiting Us!

P.S. We have found a wonderful website which deals with antique golf clubs. Some of the photos in this article are of actual golf clubs they have for sale. Visit the website at: http://www.sportantiques.co.uk

Add some truly unique Vintage Golf Clubs to your collection!

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