The item listed below first appeared in the "Through the Green" magazine in June 2010.

It is reproduced by kind permission of the author. Minor changes have been made to the layout to accommodate my web site. Photogrphs may not be of original quality.

 


The Troon Golf Clubs

  A theory on provenance

from Ian Crowe

It is surprising how little has been written about the Troon Clubs considering the general consensus amongst gold historians that these six wood and two irons are the oldest extant relics of the game of golf  the clubs are currently displayed at the British Golf Museum in St Andrews on loan from Royal Troon and the woods are thought to be from the early eighteenth century; the irons from the seventeenth century.  However, the woods at least may well be more than 100 years older than this. 

Early Descriptions

The discovery of the clubs in Hull, England was reported in the August 15, 1898 issue of The Times and the article was reprinted in The Book of Golf and Golfers by Hutchinson (1899) and in Golf Magazine (August 26, 1898).  In summary, around 1898, during renovations of an old mansion in Hull, the clubs, and a newspaper dated 1741, were discovered in a previously boarded-up cupboard.  The house, which had been inhabited for many years by a family of burgesses named Maiser, had apparently burned down in 1700 and was rebuilt.  To have survived, the clubs must have been deposited in the cupboard after the fire.  The owner of the mansion at the time of the discovery was MR J C Sykes, a merchant; he dispatched the clubs to Ayrshire where they came into the possession of Adam Wood, an ex-captain of Troon Golf Club.  In 1915, Mr Wood donated the clubs to what is now Royal Troon Golf Club.

  The Times article (which can be easily accessed via the internet by going to Google Books, searching for The Book of Golf and Golfers and reading pages 295-30) points out that the clubs look 'antiquated' and somewhat crude compared to the clubs of the day and that Mr Balfour, Leader of the House of Commons (Captain of the R&A 1894-95 and later Prime Minister) was of the opinion that the clubs might be from the period of the Stuart Kings.  The writer wrongly suggests that the eight clubs are a set.  The six woods are actually three pairs, each having a play club and a spoon with thorn heads and ash shafts the irons have a heavy spur toe and a light square toe.  (Could it be that the clubs were used by three players who also shared the irons? A single caddie could easily have carried all eight clubs.)  It is also notable that there is no putter.  The article also compares the cubs in weight and length to those of Willie Fernie, the 1883 Open Champion and Troon professional, and, not unexpectedly, discovers that the wooden clubs are much longer and the irons much heavier that Fernie's  However, the Troon woods have much flatter lies.

At the end of the article that the issues of ownership and maker are discussed as follows:


Perhaps, however the most interesting feature of the clubs is a stamped device which every one of them bears.  The apparently black colour matter used in the impression has grown very dim and much defaced but as it has been repeated forty -four times over the cubs its details are certain.  Essentially it consists of a figure whose outline may be descried as a rhombus with the obtuse angels rounded, or an ellipse with the ends run to a point, containing a series of characters.  In the upper angle there is a royal crown, in the lower a Scotch thistle, in the middle between those emblems a five-rayed star, on the left-hand side of the star the letter I (which may stand for J), and on the right-hand side f the start the letter C.  The specific characters are isolated and of he natural colour of the wood, while the ground was black, so that the figure must have been impressed by stamping and not be stenciling - a common form of mechanical reproduction in the early days  The outline of the characters is crude and irregular. In the case of the wooden clubs the imprint is placed on the head where the name of the make is now found and in the case of the irons it is placed on the shaft adjacent to the grip.  On each of the wooden clubs the figure is repeated six times, so as to imitate the general shape of the original, and on the iron clubs four times with the same intent.  What relationship this combination of letters and symbols bears to the clubs, whether it denotes ownership or identifies the maker, cannot be said with certainty; but is may be assumed that the letters do represent the name of the maker, and that the symbols may denote a special permission on the part of one or other of the Kings of Scotland, equivalent to a monopoly of the kid that is granted to certain tradesmen of today in the use of the royal arms.

             

 

      The Stuart Thistle             Drawing of lozenge                Coin of James 1

Reassessment

The conclusions reached above were challenged by Alastair and James Johnston in their indispensable work The Chronicles of Golf; 1457-1857 (see 1741, pages 186-189) where they wrote as follows:

On the latter point, most of today's golf historians would exercise more caution in postulating such a theory.  No monarch since James II was deposed in 1688 has shown any propensity for golf.  It is unlikely that the office of Royal Clubmaker, which we know was first established in 1602 and was still in existence in 1669, survived until the 1740's  What is intriguing, however, is the coupling within the motif, of the Crown (representative of the reigning monarch) and the Thistle (symbol of Scotland). However the Kingdom of Scotland as an independent preserve dissolved in 1603 with the Union of the Crowns.  Dare we speculate that the date of manufacture of these clubs, portraying a stamp or royal approval or licensed under the King's prerogative, could be attributed to a period before 1603?  The suggestion by The Times that the markings recognized a trade monopoly of some kind is also unfounded as we have found no historical record of any exclusive privilege being granted to any particular club maker.  We have also happened upon and identified several club makers in the 17th and 18th centuries, with no allusion to any of them having been awarded any particular protected right in pursuing their trade.


The proposition that the letters incorporated in the symbol represent the name of the maker is also dubious.  Wooden golf clubs and the heavy, ponderous irons were so different in composition that they required entirely separate crafting techniques and facilities.  Wooden clubs could be carved and shaped by those more accustomed, perhaps, to fashioning bows and arrows.  The metal clubs, on the other hand, would have had to have been hammered into shape in foundries by blacksmiths or even, given the magnitude of the task, by those more accustomed to working with 'heavy duty' processes, such as armourers.  Therefore, it is unlikely, in our opinion, that the symbols on these clubs, consistent as between woods and irons, would designate a common manufacturer.

The most pragmatic theory would, however, focus on the nature of these markings more probably identifying the owner of the cubs.  They tend to suggest that the family from whence they came was of aristocratic Scottish heritage with, perhaps, and the family did have some prominence, then it is unlikely that these golf clubs would be the only heirloom evidencing its existence.  It is not unreasonable to surmise that light might one day be shed on the origins of these implements whenever chance or effort results in someone comparing these insignia with similar markings depicted upon others artifacts from the same ancestral line.


A Theory

Three obvious questions remain unanswered.  Who owned these precious implements, who made then and how old are they?  I believe that the clubs belonged to James VI of Scotland and I of Britain and that William Mayne made them for him in the early 1600s.  (When James received confirmation from the Privy Council that he would be King of Britain, he quickly moved the royal court from Edinburgh to London and, somewhat surprisingly, at the same time, in April 1603, appointed Mayne as his personal club maker).

My reasoning is based primarily on the lozenge/rhombus and its contents and, in addition, on historical records:

The Lozenge itself is a token of noble birth and also represents constancy and honesty.
The Crown represents royalty and would only have been used by royalty or with their consent.  As there is little, if any, evidence that club makers stamped or marked their clubs before the end of the eighteenth century it is unlikely that the Crown denotes a royal warranty.
The Thistle topped with a Crown is called a Stuart Thistle and was used for over 150 years on Scottish coinage by all Stuart monarchs from James V to Charles II.
The Mullet or five-pointed star denotes some divine quality from above, celestial goodness, a noble person and, in cadency, is the mark of the third son.  In heraldry, cadency is a system used to distinguish among members of the same family on coats of arms and, in the case of royalty, to show succession.


The combination of these symbols suggest that the stamp denotes the birth of a third son to a Scottish king.

This leave only the letters I and C to be deciphered and I believe that these represent IACOBUS and CAROLUS ie Latin for James and Charles.  I am interested in old Scottish coins and have purchased a few books on the subject.  On examining he coinage of Stuart monarchs I note the similarities between the symbols on many of the coins and the symbols on the Troon Clubs.  In this regard, James VI was the most consistent in using the thistle and the crown together and also, in his case, in using the letter I (Iacobus) on the right and R (Rex) on the left.

When I first examined the family of James VI(1566 - 1625), I found that his first son, the Prince of Wales, was Henry (Frederick) Stuart both 19th February 1594 and died 6th November 1612.   His second son appeared to be Charles, who succeeded James as Charles I, was born 19th November 1600 and beheaded on 30th January 1649.  However, on closer examination I discovered that, in July 1595, another child was stillborn.  The sex of this child was not recorded but, if it were a boy, Charles would, indeed be the third son but second in succession.  As best I can ascertain none of the Stuart kings prior to James VI ad sons whose names began with the letter C.

In addition to the above, from historical records, we also know the following:-

James was a golfer as was his mother Mary Queen of Scots.


His sons, Henry and Chares, were both golfers.
In 1603 William Mayne was appointed 'Maister fledger (arrow maker), bower (bowmaker), club maker, and speir-maker to his Hienes'.  As a spear maker he may have worked with metal as well as wood and may well have been capable of making iron clubs as well as woods.

This theory that the Troon Clubs were commissioned by James VI in celebration of the birth of his son Charles (the last monarch born in Scotland) has its basis in historically recorded facts.  However, there are still numerous questions that remain unanswered.  Were the clubs made when Charles was born in 1600 (and was Mayne making clubs for James at this point) or after Henry died in 1612 and Charles became the heir to the throne or even later?  Why are there three pairs of play clubs and spoons, a square toe and a spur toe?  Why, when we know that golf has been played in Scotland since before 1457, have no similar wooden clubs been found?  These clubs probably survived because they were royal clubs, were well made by the best club maker in the land, were little used and were well cared for.

As I said, this is a theory based on facts but I would strongly encourage those more informed than I in Scottish history, heraldry, coinage and golf to add their comments for and again my conclusion.  What is more important is that we do all we can to establish, with the highest degree of accuracy possible, the rightful place in golf's long history for these ancient and most important relics.


References:

Johnston, AJ and JF Johnston. The Chronicles of Golf 1457-1857. Private, 1993.
Hutchinson, HG. The Book of Golf & Golfers, Longman, Green. 1899
Hamilton, DN. GOLF Scotland's Game.  The Partick Press. 1998
Geddes, OM. A Swing Through Time - Golf in Scotland 1457-1743. HMSO. 1992
Bateson, D.Scottish Coins. Shire. 1987
Richardson, AB. Catalogue of Scottish Coins In The Edinburgh Museum.  Andrew. 1977