The History of Golf Clubs

| May 23, 2015

Golf is one of the oldest sports in the world and has been around for hundreds of years ever since people figured out that they could hit rocks around with sticks. Golf originated in the fifteenth century on the east coast of Scotland, although it did not develop into the sport we recognize today until the latter half of the 1700s. Golf enjoys a fair amount of popularity in the world with over four million golf players in the United States alone. Fundamental to the progression of the game of golf has been the development of golf clubs that have been made from a variety of materials.

The History of Golf Clubs

The History of Golf Clubs

When golf as a sport first emerged in the late 1400s near St. Andrews, Scotland, the game was played with primitive clubs and balls. Usually, the players themselves carved their own clubs from wood. Clubs were not required to conform to a certain standard so golf clubs took on many different shapes and sizes. The game was a disorganized affair where players did not have rules or professional tournaments. The King of Scotland even banned the game for a while because golfers became so obsessed with their newfound sport that they disregarded archery practice. The first golf balls were also carved out of wood.

Customized for Royalty

As the game become more popular, golfers then turned to skilled craftsmen to fashion their clubs from wood. In fact, in 1504, King James IV had a customized set of clubs made for him and appointed William Mayne the first official Royal Club Maker. During the early 1500s, golf clubs began to be distinguished into different types. A set of golf clubs comprised play clubs or longnoses for driving, grassed drivers or fairway clubs for medium range shots, and spoons for shorter ranges. Sets also included a putting cleek and niblicks which were similar to wedges. The head of the clubs were typically made out of hard woods such as holly, beach, pear, and apple, and the shafts made out of hazel or ash. A splint and leather straps connected the heads and shafts together.

In its early days, golf remained a rich man’s sport because golf clubs were costly in terms of the time and effort put into crafting them. Clubs often broke and had to be replaced. Then, in the 1700s, makers of clubs began to experiment with leather and metals for the club faces. When golf was introduced in America in the 1800s, the standard wood became hickory. The 1800s also saw the development of iron shafts by local blacksmiths. These irons clubs were mostly of poor quality and extremely heavy. However, better clubs could be made in the late 1800s with drop forging and began to be mass produced in factories in response to rising demand. Heads continued to be made out of wood until the 1900s.

Century Golf Innovation

The twentieth century began a whole new era in golf club design and innovation. The period from 1900 to around 1930 saw drastic changes in the both golf clubs and balls. Gene Sarazon invented an early version of the sand wedge. American Persimmon became the choice wood for club heads, and instead of being smooth, the heads were enhanced with grooves that allowed for more distance and control of the ball. In the late 1890s, blacksmiths like Thomas Horsburgh began experimenting with steel shafts, and they were legalized in 1920. Billy Burke became the first person to win a major tournament in 1931 at the U.S. Open using clubs with steel shafts. Steel shafts were more accurate and durable, but the game of golf was reinvented once again as the swing had to be changed to accommodate the new clubs.

The introduction of Steel Shafts in golf clubs

Steel shafts became standard in the 1930s and clubs became more uniform. The modern practice of numbering golf clubs instead of naming them comes from this time period. Then, the end of World War II brought about more research into composite and synthetic materials for golf clubs. Golf clubs also began to be manufactured in new ways. In 1963, casting was introduced for the construction of golf clubs, and this made golf more affordable for the average person. Professional players, however, continued to have handmade clubs. The early 1970s saw the launch of popular graphite shafts. These shafts held an advantage over steel shafts in that they were lighter and stronger. The early graphite shafts had several flaws but manufacturers combined them with other materials to reduce twisting and improve performance.

The change from wooden to metal heads

In the early 1980s, a company called TaylorMade continued the innovation in golf clubs with the introduction of what they called Pittsburgh Persimmon woods. This was the first company to develop metal woods for the heads of golf clubs, and they gradually replaced wooden heads completely. Today’s golf clubs are typically made out of graphite shafts and titanium heads. Titanium is strong and lightweight, allowing for club heads to become quite large without being too heavy. Players today can take advantage of a large variety of materials for golf clubs. They can choose which materials work the best for them to improve their swing and overall game.

The future of golf clubs

Golf clubs have been around for several hundred years. They have evolved from simple wooden sticks carved by the players themselves to graphite and titanium clubs manufactured on a large scale. The changes in golf clubs and the processes used to make them have transformed the sport to one exclusively for the wealthy for one enjoyed by all types of people. Golf clubs will most likely continue to develop and change as new technology is available and becomes more affordable.

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