History of Golf Clubs
By Dan Kilbank - OttawaGolf

Golf matches prior to 1850 were played with hand crafted, wooden-shafted golf clubs. Woods were long whippy hickory sticks with oversized grips and long skinny heads, which looked like elongated hockey sticks. It is amazing that players could control them at all.

Blacksmiths began forging metal golf clubheads for use during the feather ball period. These were the game's first crude irons. They still had wooden shafts of course. They endured into the gutty days, up until about 1885.

Putters were usually wood from top to bottom. No effort was made to fit the clubs to the individual. Taller men often had to stoop to make contact. Early clubs were made quite upright, causing the player to stand very close to the ball. This design was influenced by the game of cricket.

Gutty period wooden clubs were deeper in the face and sturdier made than the feather ball period wooden clubs. Players also started using more iron headed clubs and less wooden headed clubs as the gutty balls were hard and did more damage to the wooden clubs.

The first experiments with steel shafts were a failure since they were so heavy. Perforations were introduced, but were no improvement over hickory. The answer came with high carbon steel, which was heated and tempered.

The steel shaft was legalized by the USGA in 1926. Three years later the R&A followed suit.

The new clubs offered a wide variety of lofts and matched sets became the norm. The old timers looked down on the new sticks. They believed that a real golfer should play a variety shots with fewer clubs. The idea of one swing and lots of clubs seemed like cheating. In 1934, a player by the name of Lawson had so many clubs that his caddy demanded extra money. In 1936, the USGA passed a rule limiting the number of clubs to 14.

Between 1885 and the 1890 there was a transition period from long nosed wooden clubs to semi-long nose clubs to the modern persimmon headed clubs.

Between 1890 and the mid 1930's, the number of golfers grew at a rapid pace in the world. Golf companies manufactured and sold millions of wooden-shafted clubs worldwide during that 40-year period. Wooden shafted clubs remained popular well into the 1930’s, despite the availability of good quality steel shafts as early as 1914. Better players started using steel shaft golf clubs in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Many traditional players resisted changing to steel, but by the mid 1930’s, steel had replaced the hickory shafted clubs once and for all.

Nowadays, of course, new materials abound, including graphite and titanium. With today's pace of change, who knows what’s next?

1 woodDriver
1 ironDriving Iron
2Mid Iron
3Mid Mashie
4Mashie Iron or Jigger
6Spade Mashie
7Mashie Niblick
8Lofting Iron