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Copyright: This document is copyright © 1997, 1998 David Nicholls. It may be freely linked to, and reproduced electronically or in print provided it is credited to the original author and includes the above email address and this copyright notice.

Golf History and Antiques

New: The origin of the word "golf"

Newest: The origin of 18 holes

The History of Golf Clubs

Restoring antique golf clubs

One of my passions in recent years has been collecting antique golf clubs. One of the problems I've faced has been restoring clubs that have been neglected for decades. The question you have to answer is, how far do you go in restoring an antique golf club? To clarify my own thinking, I wrote this piece.

Valuing hickory shaft golf clubs

Since I posted the previous article, I've been asked by several readers about how to value old golf clubs. It's not an easy job and there are few real experts, but I've put together some information that might be useful.

Golf history in Australia

Golf has been played in Australia since the 1830s, but the first golf professional and club maker recorded here was Richard Taylor in 1891. So clubs with Australian markings date from that year.

Living in Australia, I've come across many hickory shaft golf clubs associated with the early Australian golf professionals. Many clubs have the professional's name impressed on their head or shaft. This gives us a way of dating the club, provided we know something about the man. It turns out to be quite a difficult job. Working with collector and dealer Leon Rowbell in Melbourne, I've put together a list of golf professionals in Australia between 1891 and 1941. So far as I know, this is the only list of its kind.

The History of the Golf Club

As a result of people finding my other pages on antique golf clubs, I've had a few requests for information on the history of the golf club. So far as I'm aware, there's nothing on the Web about this. So I felt there would be some interest in a short piece on golf clubs and their history. I don't intend this to be a definitive history, and certainly not an academic treatise. This is only an outline of the subject, some thoughts of my own, and a list of books that you can try to track down.

The Origin of the word "golf"

This is the most common question I get asked. It is not, as is widely supposed, an acronym for "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden"! Here's the story:

The word "golf" is recorded as long ago as 1457, in the statutes of the Scottish Parliament, when the sport was banned because it interfered with archery practice. The word was also spelled "gowf", reflecting the way the Scots pronounced it. Some say the word derives from an Old Dutch word "kolf, kolven" meaning club, clubs.

The origin of 18 holes for a golf course

This is a question I'm asked quite often. I lost some email today, including one asking about the origin of 18 holes in a golf course, so I thought I'd put the answer here in case the author of the lost email returns...

The answer is that it's an accident of history. In the early days, golf courses had no standard number of holes. On 5th May 1858, new rules were issued by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews, Scotland, for its members. Among these was the stipulation that "one round of the links or 18 holes is reckoned a match...". At that time the course at St Andrews had 18 holes, and that became the standard for golf courses around the world.

DN, 26 March 2002

And a final piece about an unusual golf teacher...

The obsession and how to learn it

I have over 60 books on my shelves on how to play golf, dating from about 1910 to 1992. They are but a tiny fraction of the books published. My collection reflects the obsession I share with many, the urge to play better golf. The last book I bought was by Gerry Hogan. No, not Ben Hogan, Gerry. He has changed my golf. Gerry has the most original mind engaged in teaching golf. If you are worried about your golf swing, here may be the most important hyperlink you'll ever click.


David Nicholls

Queries or feedback? .

Please note: I usually get at least two queries a day asking about clubs and golf history. I try to answer these as quickly as I can, but sometimes other things intervene (ie work!) so there can be some delay in getting a reply. Also, some replies I have sent have returned to me as undeliverable. Please make sure your email address is correct!