Collecting Golf Clubs

For several years now, I’ve thought about starting a collection of antique golf memorabilia. Clubs, balls, old scorecards. That sort of thing. So I found this article in Forbes very interesting.

So what makes a club valuable. The Forbes article has a hint:

With wood-shaft-era material, you want age, a known maker, rarity, distinctiveness and decent original condition (no massive head cracks, please). Clubs by the earliest known makers, like Simon Cossar and Andrew Dickson, carry a steep premium. Examples by early-19th-century maker Hugh Philp, the so-called “Stradivarius of club makers,” are valued for their graceful lines, fine woods and highly polished finishes; they generally sell between $10,000 and $25,000. Other illustrious 19th-century makers: John Jackson, Willie Park Sr. and Jr., Willie Dunn, and the McEwan family. According to McGimpsey, examples start in the low four figures. Same for Old Tom Morris, the legendary “grand old man of golf.” He not only won four British Opens, kept greens at St. Andrews and designed courses, but he was a premier ball and club maker as well. Even his death was steeped in golf lore: He succumbed after falling down the stairs of the wine cellar at St. Andrews.

One of the most appealing collecting niches? Unusual clubs that were someone’s “better idea” of how to take strokes off your game. As golf skyrocketed in popularity between 1890 and 1930, patents emerged for everything from adjustable-weight woods to spring-face drivers to a putter with a telescoping alignment rod. Most had short production runs or exist only in prototype.

For more information, you’ll want a guide book. The “Bible” is one called The Clubmaker’s Art, although it is priced at an absurd $400 dollars. That makes the book more expensive than many of the clubs.

There also are a large number of guidebooks available, including Antique Golf Collectibles: A Price and Reference Guide (Antique Golf Collectibles), Collectible Golfing Novelties, Olmans’ Guide to Golf Antiques & Other Treasures of the Game, and Gilchrist’s Guide to Golf Collectibles.

Of course, the thing to remember with collecting is that it’s a hobby, not an investment. When I was in high school, I collected comic books, and spent hours poring over “price guides” which purported to tell me what each book was worth. I was sure that I was going to make a fortune. But I didn’t.

What I learned through experience, and what economics courses in college later taught me is that things are worth only what people are willing to pay for them. it’s all fine and dandy to say that a comic is worth $75, but that’s only true if you can find someone willing to pay $75.

So with bitter experience and formal economics training in hand, I’m going into my golf collecting with a different attitude. I’m only going to buy things I like for awsthetic reasons, and I’m going to completely ignore book values. If I like it, and the price seems right, I’ll buy it.

So this summer, as I travel about, I’m going to take the time to stop at the little antique and second hand shops I see along the way.

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