Development of the Golf Club



 Clubs from my collection showing the development 1850 - 1900

Wooden Headed Golf Clubs


In the early days of golf club makers as such were non existent,  implements were made to order from either a Shipwright, Bower (Bow maker) or such an artisan skilled in the use of wood, later to be known as Club makers. 

These tradesmen did not leave markings on the clubs to show who made them. Clubs were ordered individually and sets of clubs were not normal. However many owners did have their clubs marked to show ownership. It is very difficult therefore to attribute a makers name to a specific club. This is even more difficult when only a few examples exist.

Later on, when clubs were made in larger numbers, it is possible for clubs to be attributed by style, measurement, quality of workmanship etc. This skill can only be learnt over a long period of time and by people who have access to most of the more important relics of the game. Very few such people exist and even they disagree on certain topics.

A few early craftsmen appeared in print as club makers and automatically become candidates as the maker of these clubs. The first club maker recorded was the 'Bower of Perth from whom King James IV of Scotland purchased golf clubs, unfortunately he is not named.

The first named club maker is William Mayne, Bower Burgess of Edinburgh, who in 1603, became the first Royal Warrant holder when appointed Clubmaker to King James VI of Scotland (James I of England). Nothing else is known of him, but he must be a possible candidate when considering who made these ancient clubs.

A few experts have suggested that the woods and irons could not have been made by the same person, they demand different skills. However, if we take careful note of his appointment - He was in fact appointed as Bowmaker, Spearmaker and Clubmaker to the King. So either he had all these skills or his business had various artisans making these different objects under his supervision.


Iron Headed Clubs

Iron headed clubs were initially made by Blacksmiths, later when golf became more popular and demand increased makers specialised in the art of iron headed club making. they were known as cleek makers.

From the mid 1800's makers began using marks to identify their own brand, these marks became known as cleek marks. They are in some ways reminiscent of brands used on cattle. There are collectors who specialise in collecting every different mark.

Once the industrial revolution took hold, hickory shafts were imported from the USA, and heads were made by the drop forge method. The mass production coupled with the growth of the railways spread the game of golf wide and far.

Growth of the game of golf

Number of golf clubs in the UK (approximate)

1800                    7

1870                  34

1890                387

1910              4135

2000              7500


The Revolution of the Golf Ball


The Feathery

The ball used during the period from which these ancient clubs were used (1613-1848) was the Feathery.

I give this date range because the feathery was patented in 1613, however a large word of caution. This does not by any means, mean that this ball was not used before that time. In fact it is recorded that the Romans in Britain used a similar ball in their sport.

This is very important when deciding what a club would look like as in every occasion throughout the recorded history of golf, the design of the club has changed only when a new ball arrived on the scene. That is why I borrow the phrase from a modern car advertisement

'The development of the Golf club - The revolution of the Golf Ball'

This fact is also of supreme importance when deciding upon the age of these golf clubs

The feathery consisted of three pieces of leather stitched together, then turned inside out to hide the stitching with only a small aperture through which the maker had to stuff a top hat full of boiled goose feathers. The ball was not complete until every last feather was inside. The aperture was then stitched closed. As leather dries it contracts and as feathers dry they fluff up and expend. This produced a fairly hard ball which travelled great distances, certainly 200 yards was not exceptional, and over 300 yards have been recorded (probably with a following wind) In wet weather of course things were very different, once waterlogged it became almost impossible to use. To overcome this problem most balls were coated with a lead based white paint.

A Feathery Golf Ball


In order to carry out this task he needed a number of tools, spikes to ram in the feathers, callipers to check the size and of course needles and thread. Carrying out such physical work he also needed a thimble like leather protector for his hands.

Ball Makers Tools


A good ball maker could produce four balls in a day, so they were fairly expensive. It is said that a good ball could cost a lot more than a club?

Ball making became something of a family trade. The most famous being: Allan Robertson & Tom Morris of St Andrews, Gourlay of Musselburgh, and Dickson of Leith. There were of course many others.

Today a Feathery can realise many thousands of pounds at auction.

The Gutta Percha Ball

Gutta Perch is the resin of Malayan tree which goes hard very quickly after being tapped from the tree. Fortunately it can be softened and moulded be immersion in hot water.

This meant that they could be massed produced from iron moulds. Initially smooth, then hand hammered to give a better flight and eventually made from moulds with pre cut dimple within the mould.

Smooth Guttie


The combination of Gutta Percha ball at a fraction of the cost along with mass produced hickory shafts made golf affordable to all.

The effect upon the wooden headed golf club however was not so good. The hard impact caused the long nosed, elegant clubs to break. Initially leather insert were fixed into the club faces to absorb the impact. But soon the club changed the head became shorted and deepened as can be seen in the picture of clubs at the top of the page.

Almost overnight the profession of Feather Ball maker was ended even the most obstinate amongst them was forced to go into Guttie manufacture. Fortunately as there was a greater demand for gutties most fared very well.

During the feather ear iron headed clubs were used as little as possible as they could cut the expensive feather ball. With the advent of the Guttie all this changed and iron play became more and more popular


 Feathery - Guttie - Bramble - Moulded Guttie - Moulded Rubber -Dimple Rubber

To Follow - The Rubber Ball Arrives