When we say "vintage golf clubs," we aren't talking about the Titleist blades used by Tiger Woods for the Tiger Slam in 2000 and 2001, which were allegedly posted for sale on eBay in 2010. We're talking about real, old, vintage clubs.

Golf was likely invented by 15th-century Scottish shepherds, who entertained themselves by hitting anything they could find into holes and at targets. Their “game” evolved over the next few centuries, and in 1860 the first Open Championship—known in the U.S. as the British Open—was played at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in Scotland, marking the beginning of modern golf.

The earliest clubs that can be found today are from the 17th century. Those, however, are museum pieces. Clubs from the 18th and early 19th centuries occasionally make their way into private collections, but you may well need to take out a second mortgage to afford them. Such clubs, though, invoke the memory of golf’s first stars, men such as Allan Robertson, a St Andrews golfer who died in 1859. The clubs made from 1860 onward are the ones most collectors trouble themselves with. This is also when some standardization of clubs began.

In those days, the heads of Douglas McEwan golf clubs (also sold as D. McEwan & Son) were made of beech while the shafts were fashioned from hickory, a wood whose elasticity allowed for the maximization of torque in a swing. Prior to that, most club heads were made of thorn wood or fruitwood and were fixed to ash shafts.

Throughout the 1860s and 1870s, golf’s first superstar, Young Tom Morris, as he was known, dominated the British links while Scottish club makers monopolized the club-making industry—back then, some golfers still made their own clubs. Almost all of the 19th-century clubs in a player’s bag were “long nose” or “long-headed” woods, which received that name because of their long heads (five or six inches), rounded backs, and slightly curved faces—they resembled the heads of walking sticks. Long-nose woods gave players a lot of control, and since this was the era of feather balls, controlling shots was paramount.

Golfers would carry about five of these long-nose woods, one being the putter, during a typical round of golf. The equivalent of today’s driver was the play club, which was used from the tee box. Fairway woods were called “spoons” and were designed to produce different lofts so a ball would travel varying distances. Most players packed three spoons in their bags.

McEwan was only one of numerous Scottish clubs manufacturers. Clubs were normally affixed with an engraving bearing the maker’s name. Today, these engravings help collectors iden...

In addition to the woods, players also carried one iron, which helped golfers chip the ball out of tall grass or other trouble—courses weren’t nearly as groomed as they are today. Irons were often made of bronze—or, you guessed it, iron—and were produced by experienced blacksmiths. Bronze remained the more common material, however, for players using feather balls, as the iron clubs were strong enough to burst them at the seams.

It wasn’t until the 1880s or ’90s that irons became more common than woods in a set. Examples of early irons include the “cleek,” a long iron used for play in the fairway, and “lofters” or “niblicks,” which were used for approach shots.

Around the time that irons began appearing more commonly in bags, American companies such as Spalding, MacGregor, and B.G.I. started rivaling the Scottish club producers. Soon, long nose woods were replaced by scared- and socket-head woods. These had shorter head lengths and thicker necks than their forerunners. It was right around this time—1895 to be exact—that Englishman Horace Rawlins won the inaugural U.S. Open at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island.

Woods of the late 19th century were some of the first golf clubs to be partially made by machine. They were often shaped on lathes, with the finishing done by hand. Convex bulges were inserted into the clubs.

Manufacturers also experimented with the ways in which the club’s shaft was attached to its head. Spliced and forked connections were toyed with, but soon the socket joint, which is still used today, was introduced by makers such as George Forrester. To make this connection, the socket was drilled into the club’s head, which, in turn, was glued to the club’s shaft. By the early 1910s, socket-headed woods were being used by most golfers, although one of the game’s brightest stars, Walter Hagen, resisted and continued to use scared-head woods.

Thanks to the introduction of the Haskell ball, which had a rubber core, persimmon wood began being used at the turn of the 20th century for club heads, while companies such as Standard Golf Company experimented with aluminum headed clubs such as the Mills model.

It was also around this time that the first one-piece clubs were introduced. These rare clubs are probably the most collectible of the turn-of-the-century-era woods. They were the brainchild of Willie Dunn Jr. and his nephew John Duncan Dunn, although nobody is quite sure exactly how they were produced. The Dunns made these clubs for B.G.I., Spalding, and MacGregor from 1894 to 1902.

As irons became more popular, machines took over manufacturing. In fact, the ability to mass produce irons helped shaped the game. Before long, irons completely took over as the most prevalent club used by golfers.

Most irons bore the stamp of their manufacturer, and a rare few were chrome-plated. The faces of these early-20th-century irons were usually marked in a plethora of different patterns. The earliest, and most collectible of the machine-made irons, though, had unmarked faces.

In the 1910s and ’20s, steel shafts were used in clubs, which gave all clubs in a set a consistent feel. In 1926, steel-shafted clubs were cleared for tournament play by the United States Golf Association. Early steel-shafted clubs are not considered particularly collectible unless they have some sort of unusual shape or marking.

The 1930s brought about more changes to club design. Gene Sarazen, one of the day’s biggest stars, wanted a club specifically designed to dig balls out of sand traps, so in 1932 he invented the sand wedge by soldering a flange onto the base of a niblick or lofter.

Steel-shafted clubs from post-1945 through the 1970s are actually quite collectible, as many are still in good enough condition to use. Collectors often try to accumulate them in complete sets rather than as individual clubs.

In the 1960s engineer Karsten Solheim, founder of Ping, invented perimeter weighting, which distributed the weight of the golf club throughout its perimeter and increased the size of the sweet spot. But the greatest golf innovation of the postwar decades was probably the metal wood, which was introduced in the 1970s by Gary Adams, founder of TaylorMade. Metal woods are the only woods you see today, and makers have experimented with different metals such as titanium to make clubs lighter and more forgiving.

As with many antiques, older is better when it comes to vintage golf clubs. Although a set of long nose woods may not help you in the local charity scramble, they are quite a catch for any golf collector.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Wilson Arnold Palmer "designed By" Putter - Very Nice All Original 1960s VintageCustom Cobra S3 Pro Iron Set. Obsidian Nitride Finish - Dg S300**new** Adams Idea A12 Os Womens Complete Bag Set Ultra Lite 50g Ladies Flex RhPing Anser 4 Copper PutterNew Old-stock Bettinardi Bb32 353g Milled Mallet PutterVintage Used Scotty Cameron Studio Design 15 Titleist Righty Golf Club Putter. Vintage Wooden Shaft 8 Golf Clubs & BagNew Old-stock David Whitlam -- 8802 Style Milled Putter -- BeautyNew Old-stock Limited Edition Ping Scottsdale Anser #20136 Bronze PutterBettinardi Studio Stock #7 Putter Golf ClubAntique Golf Club Wood Shaft Lot Of 7 Saratoga Spalding Patent Davega Niblick NrRare Antique Stovepipe Golf Bag And Hickory Wood Shaft Clubs (5) Spalding BalticHonma Hm-5001 Black Milled Mallet PutterNew Old-stock Callaway Big Bertha Erc Ii 11* Regular Flex DriverNew Old-stock Limited Edition David Whitlam Prototype Year Of Dragon Gold PutterNew Old-stock Gauge Design By David Whitlam Eldik Ace Milled Mallet PutterBobby Grace Face Balanced Milled Putter - The Saving GracePing Pal 4 Copper PutterNike Method Core Weighted Mc04w Putter 35" Rh Used W/coverRare Antique Vintage Golf Club Wood Wooden Bullet Mallet Putter Or Driver 42"New Old-stock Maxfli Tad Moore Tm-2 Milled Putter - Seve Ballesteros StyleRare New Old-stock Ping Eye 2 Copper Orange Dot 4-sw Microtaper Steel Iron Set*mint* Gauge Design By David Whitlam Alu-inser Gaa8 Oil Can Milled PutterKro-flite Professional Golfers Assn. 4 Club Set Hickory Shaft Clubs, 4, 5, 2, 1Antique Vtg Wright & Ditson St. Andrews Wooden Wood Shaft Driver Golf Club NicePing Model 1a Redwood City Ultra RareNew Old-stock Ping Eye 2 Copper Orange Dot Microtaper Steel Shaft Lob WedgeAntique Vintage Tom Stewart Woodshaft Mashie Iron Ernie DoeringMacgregor Vip Tourney V-foil #3-pw Steel Stiff Combo Iron SetNew Old-stock Kevin Burns Signature Series 9307 Milled Mallet PutterPing Karsten PutterPing Eye 2 Black Dot Steel Shaft Lob Wedge - Square GroovesTour Stage Premium Forged X Blade IronsTitleist Scotty Cameron Futura 34" Milled Mallet Putter1960's Ping Anser Karsten Co. 9.5" First Step PutterAntique Rolfe Adjustable Golf Club With Wooden Shaft All Original And Working Rar Antique Golf Travel Golf Case/bag The Boomer England3 Antique Wood Shaft Golf ClubsLot Of Two Vintage Ping PuttersPing Anser Forged Iron Set Golf ClubOdyssey White Hot Pro #3 Putter Golf ClubJapan Maruman Mst-31 Forged #3-pw,aw,sw Graphite Stiff Regular Iron SetTitleist Scotty Cameron California Sonoma Putter Golf Club (no Headcover)Macgregor Jnp Forged Iron Set Golf Club With Extra Wedges, Callaway 3 Wood New Old-stock Callaway Big Bertha Steelhead Iii #3 Steel Uniflex Fairway WoodCallaway Bobby Jones Bj-1 Milled PutterNew Old-stock Callaway Big Bertha Erc Ii Titanium #5 Regular Flex Fairway WoodNike Method Core Weighted Mc04w Putter Golf ClubRare Vintage Golf Club Stan Thompson Tailored Wood & Brass 36 1/2" PutterVintage George Low Special Driver Wood Shaft Wooden Golf Club Old Leather GripRare Jack Nicklaus Macgregor Limited Edition Iron 00/1000 (exclusive To Dealers)Rare Vintage Ben Hogan Medallion 2-eq Set*mint* Nos Ltd Ed David Whitlam 5th Anniversary 2004 Gauge Design Milled PutterMacdougall Ben Hogan Putter Brass Very RareAntique Hibbard Brassie # 633 Hickory Wood Shaft Golf Club Vg Plus Shape New Old-stock Callaway Big Bertha Steelhead Iii #5 Steel Uniflex Fairway WoodCallaway Big Bertha Driver Golf ClubTaylormade Rbz Tp Tour Driver 9 Degree Matrix Ozik Hd6 Stiff ShaftAntique Hickory Shaft Tom Stewart St Andrews Scotland Mashie Niblick5 Antique Vintage Wooden Wood Shaft Golf Clubs & Canvas Bag Rothmoor