A Brief Overview of Golf Club History

Ever look at your golf club, and think, "How did we get here?" A lot of golfers wonder about golf club history. Yes, you know it began in Europe. Yes, you know it's evolved over the years. And yes, you'll know the rest of the story, after you read this.

In The Beginning
In golf's earliest stages in Scotland, golfers casually used rather primitive equipment to play the game. Over time, players began to carve their own clubs from wood, eventually turning to carpenters to create actual clubs. The earliest known reference to a set of golf clubs can be traced to 1502, when King James IV of Scotland commissioned a Perth bow-maker to make him a set.

Heads Up
Golf club heads were initially made from tough woods, such as beech and holly, while shafts were made from ash or hazel. However, the cost and time that went into manufacturing clubs made them a bit too expensive for most players. Long-nose clubs were fragile, and golfers would break at least one a round. The high cost of making and replacing golf clubs led to the game's early association with the wealthy.

Hickory Dickory Club
In 1826 Scottish club-maker Robert Forgan started importing hickory from America to create more durable clubs. This quickly became the wood of choice for all club-makers, although other woods were still used because they were cheaper. The evolution of the golf ball into the more modern Guttie design forced refinements in club manufacture. Thin, long-nose clubs gave way to "bulgers," with thick, bulbous heads that could absorb the impact of the harder ball without breaking. These clubs are the first to resemble the woods we use today. 

Here Comes the Metal
By the early 1900s, imported American persimmon replaced hickory as the most popular material for club heads. Club-makers also started experimenting with metal. The first steel shafts appeared in the late 1890s. Irons with grooved faces that improved backspin debuted in 1902, around the same time that club designers began using lightweight, durable aluminum. Metal clubs were banned from tournament play initially. The were finally legalized after the Prince Of Wales used a set on the Old Course at St Andrews in 1929. Two years later, Billy Burke won the US Open, becoming the first golfer to win a major tournament with steel-shafted clubs.

Modern Clubbing
By the 1930s there was a wide variety of clubs made from traditional and modern materials. To stop players from loading up their golf bags and to favor skill over technology, the rule limiting a player to 14 clubs in a bag was introduced in 1939. This led to the practice of numbering woods and irons rather than naming them.

Golf clubs became more affordable in 1963, as a new casting method made it possible to mass-produce club heads. These clubs are great for beginners, but advanced players still prefer hand-made clubs for their unique feel.

The last major development came in 1973,  with the arrival of lightweight, rigid graphite shafts. And that, in brief, is the history of the golf club.

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