The evolution of golf equipment is quite fascinating to me. When I was in St. Andrews, Scotland, in September, I visited the British Open Museum. This interactive museum showcases equipment from the 1700s to current British Open Champion’s clubs.
The earliest clubs were made out of wood. The shafts were made from ash or hazel wood and the club heads were made from tougher woods like, holly, beech, pear and apple. In 1750, club heads made of iron were made in blacksmith shops.
In 1826, a club maker in Scotland used hickory to make shafts and it became the standard for shafts due to its availability and durability.
By 1870, factories were able to mass produce iron club heads. In 1908, grooves on the iron clubface were introduced to increase backspin and generate more distance. Persimmon club heads for wooden clubs became popular in the early 1900s.
Steel shafts were introduced in 1925. Nearly 50 years later, in 1973, the graphite shaft was introduced, which was lighter and had increased strength over steel shafts.
Taylor Made was the first to produce metal club heads instead of persimmon. In 1991, Callaway Golf introduced the Big Bertha, which was an oversized metal club head.
Today most drivers are oversized, made from titanium, and are as big as 460 cc. The shafts of today come in five different flexes.
The earliest golf balls, circa 1618, were called “featheries,” made of feathers and leather, and were extremely difficult to make. The ball maker could produce only four or five balls a day. The cost in today’s money would have been about $14 per ball.
In 1848, the golf ball changed to the “gutta percha” ball, made from the rubber-like sap of the Gutta tree, which was cheaper to make and more durable. In 1898, Coburn Haskell introduced a ball made from a solid rubber core, with rubber bands wrapped around it with a balata cover.
Companies such as Dunlop Rubber began mass-producing golf balls. In the 1900s, golf balls started having dimples.
The balls of today have multiple solid layers. Distance balls typically have two-piece designs. Spin-control balls are generally two-piece and are designed to reduce spin. The Total Performance balls can be three or four layers.
After reading about the evolution of equipment, I would love to be able to play a round of golf with hickory shaft clubs and featherie balls and see what it feels like.
Dr. Jean Harris is an LPGA Master Professional and teaches at local courses. firstname.lastname@example.org; golfdoctorjean.com