About Historical Golf
The Lure of Historical Golf
For many of us, playing with hickory or classic clubs has become more satisfying than playing with the latest and greatest equipment that modern golf offers.
Most golfers have gone into a golf store seeking the latest club that is going to make us a better golfer only to find that you cannot buy a better golf game. But when you play with an old club, you can imagine who may have owned the club and where it might have been. You are experiencing golf history.
Historical Golf Timelines
Below is a GHSC-developed chart which displays Historical Golf Timelines in terms of the golf balls, types of golf clubs and shafts used.
Three key time periods in the timeline are The Featherie Period (1618-1850), The Gutty Period (1850-1905), and The Rubber Core Ball Period (1905-1930). Prior to the use of the featherie, wooden and “hairy” hand-stitched golf balls were used. Improvements in the golf ball meant that shot distances and shot control improved.
The introduction of strong and durable hickory shafts into Scotland from the Americas in 1826 was another key event in the development of golf clubs. Besides hickory, other woods were used for shafts including ash, hazel and various hardwoods. Here’s a link to an excellent summary on the history of the golf shaft.
Prior to 1900, golf irons were hand forged by blacksmiths—such clubs were smooth-faced and heavy—and after 1900, irons were generally lighter and their faces were scored (with dots and/or lines) thereby improving spin and shot control. Prior to 1900, woods (e.g. driver, brassie, spoon) had long-nosed heads and by 1900, these clubs were being replaced by ones with more bulbous/rounder heads. The first numbered sets also started to appear and this would form the basis of our modern golf sets.
The first steel-shafted clubs arrived in the early 1920’s. In 1924, the USGA legalized steel shafts and they were allowed in the U.S. Open, though only in putters. Cyril Walker, the winner used one. The R&A continued to ban them until the Prince of Wales used a set at St. Andrews in 1929. That event helped force a rules change. In 1931, Billy Burke won the U.S. Open—the first player to win with steel-shafted golf clubs. Here’s a link to a Golf WRX article about a resurgence of interest in classic steel clubs.
Selection of Clubs and Balls for Historical Play
When playing historical golf, today’s players will generally assemble for themselves a set of post-1900 hickories (i.e. small persimmon-headed woods with scored irons) for modern hickory play.
Many players will also assemble a set of pre-1900 hickories (i.e. long-nose or transitional-headed woods with smooth-faced irons) for gutty play.
In either case, these sets may contain a mix of original antiques and approved replica clubs. For casual play using clubs applicable to the pre-1900, post-1900 or classic steel periods, today’s historical players will often choose to replace the period appropriate replica ball with a less expensive/low compression modern ball. Accordingly, please refer to our Guidelines for Historical Golf Play.
Note: Some players may wish to experiment with using a set of pre-1900 hickories and replica featherie balls. See our Useful Links Link #B3 on how to source those flight-restricted replica balls.