The Golfing memorabilia sale will be held by Bonhams at St. Andrews, Fife on 21st July to coincide with the Millennium Open Championships.
Highlighting the auction are two rare mid 19th century wooden longspoon clubs. One was made by McEwan, c.1840 (£5,000-8,000) and the other by Willie Dunn Snr, made c.1858 and estimated at £4,000-6,000. Before 1880 the design and construction of golf clubs changed very little. Throughout the first 400 years of the game’s known history they were made with long, slim heads which had a strip of horn inserted along the leading edge of the club to prevent wear and tear and a lead filled cavity at the back to give them weight. First made by specialist craftsmen, by the mid 19th century, many professional golfers and their families turned to club-making including the Parks, Dunns and McEwans.
For the first 400 years, golf was played with a leather-covered ball stuffed with feathers. Included in the sale is an example made by W & J Gourlay, c.1830 estimated at £400-600. It was a time consuming and skilful process to make a feather ball. First the leather was softened with alum and water, cut into pieces and then sewn together with waxed thread, leaving a tiny hole to turn it inside out. Then the maker would cram the ball with as many boiled goose feathers as possible.
Those who are in need of a constant reminder of the game will be pleased to find a selection of pictures with a golfing theme. Particularly fine is a 19th century watercolour entitled “Golfing on the Heath” estimated at £800-1,200.
The origins of golf can be traced back many years but it was in the 14th century that variations of the game began to be played in Scotland. Mary Queen of Scots was a keen player and her son James I took the game South, to London, when he inherited the British throne. James I played on Blackheath Common which is where the Society of golfers was established in 1608 and is the origin of the world’s oldest golf club.
Golf was played with leather balls stuffed with feathers and five or six wooden clubs carried by hand in early times. In the 1850s a less expensive ball was introduced made of gutta percha, a form of rubber which was more solid than the original feather balls. This improvement of the golf ball meant that wooden clubs had to become stronger and led to an increase in variety helping to develop the new iron clubs.
By 1900 rubber-core balls were introduced and wood clubs became smaller and rounder to withstand the shock of hitting them. At this time golf had become exceedingly popular and clubs and balls which had previously been made by craftsmen were mass produced in factories and workshops. There were no trolleys but most players carried their clubs in a canvas bag and used wooden tees, when they drove off rather than the earlier players who used small piles of sand.