Why Have A Golf Collection?
“Almost everyone, at one time or another, collects something.” So wrote Ben Crenshaw in the Foreword to The Encyclopedia of Golf Collectibles (see below). How true that is. Those of us who are passionate about the game of golf and its history are especially fortunate because the game, its implements and paraphernalia” date back to the 15th century (and possibly earlier). So, its roots are deep and its branches are many. Those of us who collect provide a variety of reasons to explain our passion: it’s fun, it’s educational and it can even be profitable as some collectibles turn out to be great investments. But at the end of the day, collectors realize that the most important aspect of collecting is the opportunity to engage with those who have a similar passion. Many great friendships among GHSC members have been formed by a shared interest in the hobby of collecting “golf stuff.”
How Does One Start Collecting?
Most collections are planned, but some just happen “naturally,” without one even realizing it. Perhaps you have decided to keep certain scorecards because they provide evidence of your skill on the course, such as breaking 100 for the first time. Maybe you made an eagle or a hole in one and want to keep the ball. Or maybe you were given a gift of grandpa’s favourite putter or a friend brought you back some Masters memorabilia. (Anything Masters-related is always in great demand.) Things of this nature get accumulated, and before you know it, a small golf collection has been started, reflecting a little bit of who you are and “stuff” that you have come to cherish. And you find yourself adding to this modest collection because these items have become reminders of places and moments and people and “things” that have touched your life in a meaningful way. At its core, collecting is simply an extension of history by surrounding yourself with tangible things that have contributed to that history.
What Types of Items Comprise a Golf Collection?
There are two very broad categories of golf (and golf-themed) collectibles: implements of the game (clubs, balls, bags, tees, etc.) and items that showcase or celebrate golf. From a practical viewpoint, this latter section should really be divided into two further groups; books and everything else.
Proportionately, the size of each category In terms of actual items collected and/or collecting activity typically break downs as follows:
- clubs, balls, bags, tees 40%
Everything else, comprised of: 40%
- ephemera (magazines, programmes)
- scorecards, postcards
- tobacco cards
- pin flags
- tournament memorabilia such as tickets/badges
Where Are The Best Places To Find Golf Collectibles?
Collectibles can be sourced from many places. For those starting out, garage sales, flea markets and antique stores are a great way to start building a collection. The internet offers the opportunity to “shop” using Ebay, Kijiji, and dedicated golf auctions such as: GOLDEN AGE Golf Auctions; The Golf Auction; Pure Golf Auctions; Jeff Ellis Golf Auctions; and several more sites. GHSC hosts an annual Buy, Sell, Trade show (held at the Glen Abbey Golf Museum in Oakville for several years) plus smaller trade shows at various hickory events that we hold. We have also had a booth at the TORONTO GOLF SHOW for over 15 years that features several tables of golf collectibles. Sports Memorabilia/Collectibles shows often have some golf items available for purchase if you look hard enough.
Where Can I Find Information About Golf Collectibles?
The internet is a great resource to start gathering information (see websites mentioned above). Information that will help you become knowledgeable can also be found in the following excellent reference books, many of which can be obtained from libraries or purchased on Ebay:
- Antique Golf Collectibles—A price & reference guide, Chuck Furjanic, 1999
- Beyond the Links, Stories, Collectibles & Ephemera, Sarah Fabian Baddiel, 1992
- Decorative Golf Collectibles, Shirley & Jerry Sprung, 1991
- Encyclopedia of Golf Collectibles, John Olman & Mort Olman, 1985
- Great Golf Collections of the World, McDonough & Georgiady, 2012
- Golf Antiques & Other Treasures of the Game, John & Mort Olman, 1992
- Guide to Golf Collectibles, Roger E. Gilchrist, 1998
- The Club Makers Art, Antique Golf Clubs & Their History, Jeff Ellis, 1996
- The Implements of Golf-A Canadian Perspective, W. Lyn Stewart & David R. Gary, 2001
- The Vintage Era of Golf Club Collectibles, Ronald O. John, 2001
- Wood Shafted Golf Club Value Guide, Pete Georgiady, 2020
Other golf societies (e.g. Golf Heritage Society) can also be a valuable resource. See our section on “Links.”
How Do I Know What a Golf Collectible is Worth?
Implicit in every golf collection is the “big question”—what is it worth? Firstly, you must understand that “price” is determined by the vendor generally based on supply and demand…and includes a determination of the item’s condition, age, rarity and historical importance, just as in any other type of collectible. But an item’s worth is the subjective value you place on the item and it is a relative term depending on each person’s point of view, including the intangible quality of “desirability” for the buyer. (Beauty will always remain in the eye of the beholder.) This explains why Buyer A for example, might be willing to pay $150 for an item, but buyer B only a fraction of that amount.
Secondly, one also needs to appreciate that the place from which an item is purchased may also have an influence on price. Collectibles bought at a flea market typically carry a much lower price tag than the same item bought at an auction or antique show.
While it is impossible to provide price guidelines in this forum, we can comment on prices pertaining to hickory golf clubs in a broad sense. Most collectors think that hickory clubs are “expensive” but the vast majority of wooden shafted clubs from the early 20th century are “common” clubs (those without any distinguishing or important characteristics) and can be purchased for $25/club or less. At the other end of the spectrum, there are clubs that are priced at several thousands of dollars. These are generally clubs that have been made by the finest craftsmen of their time (e.g. Hugh Philp), are in extremely good condition, are old (1850-1875) and are rare.
If you are not sure about what is a “fair” price for an item that interests you, do as much research as possible and talk to other collectors. They will almost always be willing to share their knowledge and thoughts.
Practical “Collecting Advice”
These tips won’t turn you into an expert overnight, but they will definitely help you get to your goals faster and minimize the mistakes you will make along the way.
- Learn something about your area of interest before you make any purchases. Talk to other collectors. Network.
- Don’t start a golf collection with the idea that it will be an investment from which you will eventually profit. Collect because you love golf and the things which connect you to the game. Buy objects that are aesthetically pleasing to you, that you care about and want to preserve.
- Start out with a plan for your collection. Don’t buy things just because they are cheap or that represent a “good deal.” Much of the joy of collecting comes from the “thrill of the hunt.”
- Focus on just a few collecting areas at first. Put quality over quantity. Accept the fact that you are never going to “collect it all.”
- Know in advance what you are willing to spend for an item that fits your collecting tastes—and try to stay within a reasonable limit of that number. (Some sellers may be willing to negotiate downward slightly from their asking price, but this has to be assessed on a case per case basis. In some instances, you can purchase items at a bit of a discount, especially if you are buying multiple items from the same vendor.
- As with all collectibles, the old adage of “buyer beware” still applies; if a significant amount of money is involved in a prospective purchase, make sure there is some provenance available or that the authenticity of the item can be firmly established.
- Display your collection and let others see what you have. Share your collecting stories with others. Every collector has a different set of attractions and motivations, but we all share a similar exhilaration of finding our own personal treasures.
GHSC Vice-President and Collector-at-Large