HISTORY OF HICKORY CLUBS
In 1457 James II of Scotland issued the following decree that "fute-ball and golfe be utterly cryed down and not to be used" in an attempt to encourage archery practice which was being neglected. Finally in 1502 his grandson James IV of Scotland who was a keen golfer (gowfer) himself lifted the ban against golf being played which meant that there was a necessity for clubs to be made so that Royalty, Courtiers and the more privileged amongst society could once again take up the sport. James IV ordered a set of clubs to be made in 1502 by a local bowmaker. The records show that his Lord High Treasurer paid a bill of 13 shillings to a 'bowar' of Saint Johnstoun (Perth) for 'clubbs'. These clubs would have had to be made using a strong wood such as Scottish Beech because wooden balls were used at this time so these clubs endured some rough treatment and were frequently damaged meaning that the repairs would have been costly even in those days so that is more evidence as to why the game was only played by the rich and upper classes of society. James IV is the first recorded known player of golf and Perth where he used to play is the oldest recorded location in Scotland where golf took place. His granddaughter Mary Queen of Scots was also known to have enjoyed the game and her son James VI of Scotland introduced the game to England when he became James I in 1603. In the same year he had issued a Royal Warrant to William Mayne (a bowyer burgess of Edinburgh) who had become his club maker so there is a definite connection between golf and archery from the early 1500's that continued well into the 19th century. Other trades that had an influence on club making were shipwrights who had been using the spliced joint (scare neck) for 100's of years, fishermen's tarred twine was used for whipping the early clubs, blacksmith's made the early crude iron heads and both carpenters and cabinet makers also had the knowledge and tools available to shape the wooden heads.
Damage to the clubs was lessened with the introduction of the Featherie ball in the early part of the 17th century which brought about a new excitement to the game. The ball had hand sewn leather outer casing which was then stuffed very tightly with either chicken or goose feathers to form the shape of a ball. The quantity of feathers required to stuff the casing is enough to fill a top hat. The ball was then painted white ready for use. However a major failing with this type of ball was when it became wet the cover would soften causing the ball to fall apart. This type of ball was used until around the mid 1800's when it started to be replaced with the introduction of the Gutta Percha ball made from a hard rubber material which was invented by the Rev. Adam Paterson in 1848. He had received a gift which was protected with padding made of a substance called Gutta Percha. He found that when heated this material would soften to the shape of a ball which became hard when set. This type of ball cost considerably less and with the introduction of cheaper iron headed clubs around the same time it meant that the working class society could now take up the sport and soon the young and old could be seen on the links enjoying a game of golf.
There is little knowledge about the design of golf clubs during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and clubs from these era's are extremely hard to find. Most will already be in private collections or museums. During the latter part of the 1700's rough iron headed clubs started to be produced by Blacksmiths. These were the first type of Rut Irons used to help move the ball from holes, scrapes and ruts. However there was one problem, the Featherie ball did not like being struck by these irons and more often than not the ball was badly damaged.
During this period a number of specialist club making companies were being formed as the game was gaining momentum with more clubs being required to satisfy the demands from the public. Three of these companies went on to produce some of the finest vintage Long-Nose clubs ever produced and have
The McEwan family. Founded in 1770 by James McEwan in Edinburgh, this business would last 150 years spanning 6 generations. The name McEwan on a club is recognized as 'the hallmark of excellence'. Through their dedication and superb craftsmanship, the McEwan's helped to shape the evolution of the golf club leaving their family mark on the game. Their clubs bear the mark of the Scottish Thistle and are extremely rare today.
Hugh Philp. Already a successful builder, Hugh Philp started making clubs in St. Andrews as side line in 1812 but within 7 years achieved the accolade of becoming the 'Appointed Clubmaker to the Society of St. Andrews' which later became known as the Royal & Ancient.
His clubs were known for their beautiful designed heads and very high craftsmanship. He was particularly known for his very fine putters which were beautifully balanced. The crown of the wooden head bears his name in either stamp form or sometimes in script form. His vintage clubs were so highly regarded that a few years after his death counterfeits were being produced which collectors nowadays must be aware of before purchasing a Philp club.
He died in 1856 but had already employed his nephew Richard Forgan who carried on the business maintaining the highest quality standards and who was to become a famous clubmaker in his own right.
Robert Forgan. Carrying on the Philp business after his uncle's death, Forgan traded under his own name. His brother James joined the company after a short while and it was the beginning of a very successful business which lasted for just over a century when finally the company was sold to Spalding when they transferred the operation to Ireland. At the peak of the Forgan era they employed 40-50 men and manufactured over 600 clubs per week exporting worldwide without compromising their very high quality standards. Robert's son Thomas joined the company in 1881 and soon the company name changed to 'R. Forgan & Son'.
In 1863 Robert Forgan was commissioned to make a set of clubs for The Prince of Wales who had been elected Captain of the R & A. Soon after the company were given the Royal Warrant which allowed them to stamp the Prince's crest (three plumed feathers) on the head of their woods below their own name stamp. In 1901 when the Prince Edward became King he appointed R. Forgan & Son as official clubmakers to the King which then meant the three feathers could be replaced with the symbol of a Crown. Both the three feathers and crown stamps are synonymous with Forgan clubs making them very collectable items.
Players in the early to mid 1800's would have used a set of clubs consisting of approximately nine types of varying woods. Paintings produced from this era often show the caddies carrying a bunch of clubs as bags were not used in those days, hence another reason as to why clubs were often damaged with the heads banging together and the shafts rubbing against each other.
There were often at least two Play Clubs (driver) included should one become broken during the game which was quite a common occurrence. These vintage clubs had long shafts of approx 45 inches. There was a club called the Grass Driver for use on the fairway plus two or three Spoons also for use on or just off the fairway and a wooden Niblick for use from more difficult lies in the rough. All of these clubs would normally have been fitted with a 'lead back weight' to help improve the overall balance of the club. The set was completed by including two or three different Putters. The Driving Putter was used to hit shots into the wind from quite a distance from the green. The Approach Putter had a lofted face and was used for shorter shots into the green and the Green Putter was used for actual putting as we do today. All these clubs would be of the Long-Nose variety.
By the mid 1800's the game had become very popular and there were by then many club makers starting up in business mainly situated along the East coast of Scotland from Fife down to East Lothian. Names like Tom Morris Senior, Willie Park Senior, Alex Patrick, Ben Sayers and the Auchterlonie family, to name only a few, all became renowned for producing fine quality clubs that are very collectable today. Some of these people were also excellent players with Tom Morris Senior becoming an icon from that era not only as a clubmaker and course designer, but he also won the Open Championship four times in 1861-62-64-67. His son Tom Morris Junior also won the Open Championship four times in 1868-69-70-72. However 'Old Tom' was not the first to win the Open Championship, this accolade belongs to Willie Park Senior who won the first ever Open Championship in 1860 and then 1863-66-75.
The introduction of a new Gutta Percha 'hard' ball in 1848 was the beginning of the end for the long established Long-Nose club because not only was the ball not easy to get air borne due to the shallow face and flat surface of the Long-Nose wood, but also the slender necks of these clubs suffered 'stress' when continually being used to hit the new hard ball. So a shorter and more rounded head was eventually designed with a convex face known as the Bulger which was introduced around the mid 1880's. The name was derived due to the face of the club having a bulge. This club proved successful and very popular but had one drawback, the overall design of the Bulger was not pleasing to the eye so other models were then crafted to help give the head a more streamlined look and some returned to having a straighter face, again these proved to be popular models and by the end of the century most players were using this type of club. These vintage clubs are often referred to as 'Transitional Clubs' and like the Long-Nose before them they were fitted with lead backweights and some also had leather inserts on the club face.
Some Bulger models were designed as fairway woods (2 Wood) and were fitted with a brass sole plate to help protect the sole of the club from the hard links surface. These clubs were known as a Brassie.
The Long-Nose and early Bulger models used a 'Scarehead' joint (spliced joint) to attach the shaft to the head of the club and these models are very much sort after nowadays. These clubs were also fitted with a piece of Ram's Horn on the leading edge of the sole. The joint was then glued and bound tightly
Scottish Beech and woods from various fruit trees had been used for many years for the club heads but during the 1890's they started to use the American wood Persimmon which offered a regular quality and this wood is still being used today. The shafts up until 1860 had always been made using either Ash or Hazel but with the arrival of Hickory from America a major change took place and virtually all club manufacturers started to use this type of wood from then onwards. Hickory became well established for the production of shafts until around 1920 when steel shafts started to appear on the market. However it was well into the 1930's before steel shafts replaced Hickory.
One must also mention that some wooden clubs were made from one piece of wood, i.e. no join between the shaft and head. These were produced during the second period of the 19th century and were made from Ash and Hedgethorn. The club head would be shaped from the root. These type of clubs can be recognized due to the fact that there is no whipping around the base of the shaft. Other types of joints were patented by various manufacturers towards the end of the 19th century and these are now very collectable items.
As previously mentioned above rough headed iron clubs started to be produced at the end of the 18th century and they were almost certainly made by Blacksmiths. However irons did not really come onto the golf scene until around 1840 when they started to replace the high lofted woods such as the Wooden Niblick. One of the first vintage irons to appear was the Track Iron which had a very small head enabling the player to hit shots out of cart tracks and other similar situations. There were many versions as each manufacturer made slight amendments to the design which now makes these antique clubs very desirable collector's pieces.
From around 1870 there was a profusion of iron club makers with many of the heads being made by Blacksmiths specially for the actual club maker. Irons became known as Cleeks with the iron head makers becoming known as Cleekmakers with some of these makers becoming famous, such as Robert White who supplied Robert Forgan and Tom Morris, Tom Stewart who also supplied Forgan and Morris as well as the McEwan's and Auchterlonie's. Robert Condie was also known as a very fine cleekmaker supplying up and coming clubmakers such as Robert Simpson and Andrew Forgan. All these cleekmakers were based in St. Andrews.
Other early vintage irons were quite lofted and used to make shots from rough areas of the course or lofted chip shots from around the green, plus there were some straighter faced models for shots when distance was required from the fairway. These early irons (cleeks) had smooth faces and generally had no makers stamp so unfortunately we have no idea who made them.
However from around 1880 certain manufacturers not only started to stamp their name on the rear of the head they also introduced the 'Cleek Mark' system with each maker having his own mark which could be a flower, an anvil, an animal or a type of symbol. Nowadays this makes the clubs more recognisable should the maker's name no longer be legible. The cleek mark was also used by the maker to stamp the club when making a special order for a large retailer who only wanted their name to show on the club head OR when the head was sold to the actual club maker who would show their name only on the finished article. All this information on the club head now makes collecting a very interesting and worthwhile pastime. A few makers started to hand punch dots on the club face during the mid 1890's but often these markings would disappear over time due to the fact that the caddies used to clean the clubs using a piece of emery paper.
By 1885-1890 there were many different iron designs being used with less woods now being included in a set of clubs. The iron heads were much more robust and therefore more cost effective and they were proving to be useful 'tools' on the course. Some of the irons now being used were known as:
Driving Iron - similar to our 1 iron today.
The extended section of the iron head known as the Hosel is used to fit the Hickory shaft. In most cases the shaft was fitted to about half way down the hosel, however some clubs were produced with the shaft going right to the bottom of the hosel, the latter being easily recognizable due to the fact that the end of the shaft is visible. An iron rivet was used to secure the shaft to the hosel. The earlier iron cleeks are often recognizable because they had quite long hosels and the top of the hosel was rough compared to the hosels produced from 1880 onwards.
There were many different patented designs including numerous clubs with 'adjustable' fittings so that the club head could be adjusted to make more than one type of shot. None proved to be successful but again these fascinating antique clubs are very collectable nowadays.
There were so many club and cleek manufacturers in fierce competition with each other by the early 1900's that it was inevitable that some would go out of business due to lack of orders. Some of the well known companies merged with each other making life even more difficult for the small producers and with steel shafted clubs starting to become more popular during the early 1930's a new era was about to dawn.
Not unlike today where there are literally 100's of different types of Putters available to select from the Hickory era, also produced a galaxy of models in all shapes (some very weird) and sizes for the player to test his/her skills on the green. Willie Park Senior once said, "A man that can putt is a match for anyone."
In the early days Putters very much resembled other woods having the beautiful Long-Nose design. These clubs were not only used for putting out on the green, but there were also models made for making long shots (under the wind) into the green and others with a lofted face for making the 'chip and run' type shot when near the green. Wooden headed putters were still being produced up to the end of the 19th century but with irons having substituted various woods it only a matter of time before putters would also start to be made with metal heads. These type of putters began to enter the scene after 1900 and in a few years there were many designs to choose from, not unlike today. The heads were all shapes, including round, square, pointed, mallet and hammer styles and even faces to allow the air to pass through. In fact many designs on the market today were actually tried over 100 years ago, so like fashion it is just a matter of time before a revamp of an old design reappears on the market place.
The heads were made of iron, brass and even aluminium came into vogue by the mid 1920's with many different designs using this material. One of the best known aluminium models was the Ray-Mills which was launched in 1912 and then superseded in 1915 with the New Braid-Mills model which has a slightly shorter head.
One of the most famous vintage putters is the Wry-Neck model which Willie Park Junior patented in 1894. The story is told that whilst riding in his horse and cart his putter fell out and one of the cart wheels ran over it causing a peculiar shape to the hosel. When he picked up the putter he found it sat well on the ground and was well balanced and so decided to patent the design.
Because so many different putters were produced, each being individual in character, they are most sought after by the collectors and even players because using a quality old putter on today's well kept greens can be fun and they can still be a match against any modern day version.
Fortunately the love affair with Antique Hickory Golf Clubs has never waned and today there are more and more people not only collecting these beautiful clubs for show but they also wish to play with them in specially arranged tournaments organised by various Hickory societies. Many vintage clubs that were produced between 1910 and 1930 are ideal and can still be found in a playable condition. Please view our stocklist.
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