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    

Tommy Armour Eql Single Length Golf Club Iron Set 3-9, Pw & Sw : Rh : Reg : Vgc*mint* Titleist Scotty Cameron "sc" Bullseye Putter - John Reuter DesignNew Old-stock 1980's Tad Moore Handmade Milled Putter - Great FeelPing Copper Anser 2 Putter - Nice FeelBettinardi Mercedes-benz Brass Milled Putter W/ Honeycomb FaceNice Copper Ping B-60 Putter - Graphite Shaft - Dark Patina, All OriginalTitleist Cameron Bullseye "sc" Putter - All Original- Nice Feel- John ReuterMatched Set Hickory Wood Shaft Golf Clubs Jock Hutchison 8 Irons 2-9 Antique NrPing Eye 2 Stainless (green Dot) 4-pw Steel Shaft Iron Set - Square GroovesJapan Maruman Ml-6070 Conductor Img 5 Style PutterMacgregor Tourney M75w Eye O Matic Woods Persimmon 1,2,3,4 Leather GripsScarce Antique Holzapfel Golf Club Practice Iron Divot Putter Design No 689154Nice - 2 Ping Putters - Anser 2 Pat.pend. - Anser 2x With Long HoselAntique Wood Shaft Golf Club -the Toby Putter- London England Hand Forged 3 Vintage Ping Anser Putters - Anser 85068 - Anser 2 Stainless - Anser 3 Ping G20 - 10.5* Driver Golf Club (used)Japan Mizuno Pro "power Blade" Irons 3-p - Tour Spirits Model - Graphite StiffPing Anser 2 Putter - All Original, Nice FeelVintage Golf Zenith Niblick Nicoll Hand Cleek Mark Hickory ShaftKrank Golf El Diablo 460cc 6* Stiff DriverPing Eye 2 Beryllium Copper Iron Set - 1 Thru Sw, Black Dot, 1/2" Long ShaftsCallaway Bertha Mini 1.5 Xstiff 12 Degree3 Antique Putters - Hickory - Wright & Ditson Beeline - St. Andrews - InvincibleKzg Forged Blades Iron Set Golf ClubVintage Golf A Pair Of Matching Fancy Face Socket Head Woodshickory PlayersMacgregor M43 Persimmon Woods 1,2,3,4 Played In 2 Us Opens Neck Numbers1920 " Sunday Walker " Miniature Hickory Wood Golf Club Dated From Silver MarksAntique Burke "golfrite" Stainless #2,3,4,5,7a Hickory Shaft IronsDeep Groove Mashie Antique Wood Shaft Golf Club Ls / NrNew Old-stock Kevin Burns Signature Series 9306 Milled Anser Style PutterLouisville Golf Limited Edition Thumper Bluegrass Bomber Persimmon Driver3 Vintage Ping Pal Putters - Pal (bronze) - Pal 4 (copper) - Pal 5ks (face Bal.)Antique Burke Putter - Flower/bee Cleek Mark - Hickory Rare Alex Patrick Jr. Hickory Shafted Fancy Faced Hump Backed Mashie .......niceSpalding Gold Medal Dedstop Deep Groove C54 Mashie Niblick Wood Shaft Golf ClubWright - Ditson One Shot Series Deep Groove Antique Wood Shaft Golf Club Ls/nrVintage "the Haig" (walter Hagen) Hickory Shaft Mallet Putter - All OriginalBen Hogan Precision E WedgeAl Dijulio "by Confidence" Ix Putter - Hand Made - 8802 StylePing Cushin "karsten Co." - Slazenger - All OriginalVintage Golf Ben Sayers Rustless Mashie Niblick Hickory ShaftJapan - Maruman Verity-u Irons 3-pw - Graphite, Regular FlexPing G5i Tess Putter (nice)Rare Macgregor Custom Tommy Armour 68 Persimmon Wood Set 1,3,4Antique Wooden Golf Club "wood"! No Reserve! *mint* Ping Eye 2 Copper (orange Dot) Zz Lite Steel Sand WedgeVintage Ben Hogan 1953 Commemorative Persimmon Driver - Oil HardenedTaylormade Mc Tour Preferred Irons 3 Thru PwVintage Golf Club Matched Set Lillywhite Frowd & Co6 Pcs Vintage Wood Shaft Golf Clubs Antique Irons Drivers Putters Famous BrandsNike Sq Sumo *sweet 16* Driver, Regular Flex + Bonus! Right-hand Lot Of 3 Antique Otey Crisman Hickory Shaft Putters - 7h 18h Selma Alabama"the Spalding" Antique Hand Forged Smooth Face Wood / Wooden Shaft Golf Club(2) Vintage Macgregor Response Zt Putters (mi 615 & Mi 700)Vintage H&b Louisville Grand Slam Golf Clubs Woods Driver 2 3 4 PermissionMacgreggor Tourney 1,2,and 3 Woods, Tourney 2 Iron3 Vintage Ping Anser Putters - Cushin (z Bend) - Kushin - Cushin (standard Bend)Copper Ping Eye 2 Irons 3-p (black) - Square Grooves - Microtaper Shafts1960 Wilson Dyna-powered Triple Duty Wedge - Black Button - All OriginalAntique Vintage Burke Wood Shafted Putter X69