Date: February 21, 2015
Author: Martin Blake

History on display at Royal Melbourne


Golf clubs have changed dramatically over hundreds of years, a fact made evident by the beautiful, permanent display of clubs through the years in the clubhouse at Royal Melbourne. But in other ways, they have gone Back to the Future.

The modern-day hybrid club, a melding of the iron and the fairway wood, is not so different to the 'spoon' that was used in Scotland hundreds of years ago. There is one on display at the Golf Society of Australia's tent at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open this week, a beautiful wooden club made by member Ross Baker.

Baker is a club maker based at Lost Farm in Tasmania, and has his tools with him this week to show off the ancient art.

Said past president Ian Rennick: "With all the old clubs, the heads were probably from fruit trees: apples, pears and so on because they have a very dense grain. It's so dense that you can't break it. If you get a bit of pine or something like that, it just shattered.

"He gets a bit of timber for the shaft, which was usually hickory. The grain has to be straight. Any knots will break and you've wasted your time. He shaves it down to eight corners, then 16 corners, tapering it down into a shaft.''

Baker cuts the wood for the head with the a machine; beyond that, everything is done by hand. "He uses files, planes, chisels until he gets it tapered down and join the shaft and the head together by splicing. The join is glued with adhesive made from ram's horn. He heats it up and join it and wind the cotton around it — he makes the cotton himself and dips it in tar. He says it'll never break. You might crack the head or break the shaft, but the join won't break.

"That club will be too light so he has to add some weight to it using lead. He drills a hole in the back of the club, four holes at angles. It has to be exactly the right temperature or it won't go into the holes and lock it in. If it's too hot, he burns it.''

The society, which has close to 200 members, has a bunch of old clubs on display, including spoons, 'jiggers', 'mashies', 'run' irons and 'brassies'.

The Golf Society of Australia was formed in the 1980s. "They decided that something had to be done about the history,'' says Rennick. "No one was preserving it. One of our main aims is to tell people about the history and get people at clubs to preserve it''.

The society display is near the first tee.