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How little the world has turned
With so much talk about new developments in technology that are allegedly ruining the game, let's reflect that such innovations are actually far from new

I am sure you will find this hard to believe, but there are certain people in today’s world of golf, both on the playing and journalistic sides, who think I am rather out of date, living in the past, not keeping up with the latest innovations in the game. They suggest I am old-fashioned with my thoughts about how the ball should be struck and do not appreciate the skills of those involved in the mental, physical and gastronomic sides of the sport – the trainers, pill-peddlers and the like. But I stick to my guns. I think overall very little has changed in the world of golf in the last 150 years.

The game is still played from a side-on style, with clubs which look relatively the same as they did when the game began. Of course there have been refinements in all departments of sport and that has helped to make golf, in many cases, much easier, but balanced against that is the state of the courses played by the great champions of 100 years ago, which bear no resemblance to the magnificently conditioned courses we see presented today.

All through the ages people have tried to improve the golfer’s lot. A new way of tuition can lead to fame and fortune, and for a period of a few years, or may be more, that person is heralded as a great teacher, a healer, a soothsayer, someone who commands respect from the golfing fraternity - I’d say the more so if he is almost impossible to understand.

The golf club manufacturers are always striving to produce something that will ‘tweak’ the rules a little bit, that will provide (if the player is prepared to pay the price) a ‘magical’ club that will almost do all the work. The golfer needs simply to address the ball, waggle the club, draw it back and leave the rest to the equipment.

Well, here are a couple of things to ponder, particularly when I say “there’s nothing new in the world of golf”.

On January 18, 1933, a certain John Owen Thomas from Anglesey applied for a patent whereby you could adjust the weight and balance of golf clubheads. It’s quite extraordinary to look at the presentation he made to the powers-that-be and compare it to the clubs made today, where certain weights can be put in the heel and toe to give you better controlled flight, distance and so on.

In 1935, Hugh Cowan Murdoch, of Pretoria, South Africa, presented an invention relating to the introduction of mercury (or quicksilver), which would flow up and down the steel shaft, altering the weight at the moment of impact. Also in 1935, George Edward Bowser and William Harding, both of Leicester, put forward an application based on the distribution of weight in the heads of both woods and irons: screwed studs, which would be numbered for reference according to their weights, could be put in or withdrawn at a player’s whim.

Aluminium and wood clubhead by Thomas Yeoman of Eastbourne in 1894 Ahead of its time: Thomas Yeoman applied for a patent on his invention, combining an aluminium clubhead with a wooden striking-face, in 1894. So the trend for exotic metals in the quest for distance is nothing new

The one that really took my eye was an application dated February 1, 1894, by one Thomas Yeoman, of Eastbourne, a clubmaker by profession. His invention related to golf clubs which were then known as the driver and brassie (effectively, a 2-wood). He had the idea of making the head, traditionally made of wood, entirely of metal, preferably aluminium, but with a wooden striking-face – as you can make out in the photograph above (kindly supplied by Gi’s memorabilia expert Kevin McGimpsey). The latter consisted of a ‘plate’ of hardwood recessed into the face of the head.

When you think that every club made today (apart from specialist ones that are really for show) is constructed from different forms of metal, it makes you think. Back in 1894, Mr Yeomanwas already thinking ahead of his time. He was perhaps not as advanced as Leonardo de Vinci, but not bad all the same!

His claim was that the golf head and neck would be of solid metal but with the combination of hardwood secured in a dovetail recess in the strikingface of the club. That may be some way from today’s sophisticated monsters costing £400 or £500 a time, but it just shows you that for centuries there have been people interested in the game of golf who have been thinking, burning the midnight oil, trying to improve the equipment and hopefully, no doubt, trying to make themselves some money.

So I shall continue to live in the ‘better parts’ of years gone by. If those who criticise me don’t like the fact that I am not a devotee of wearing hats, particularly back to front, in or out of the clubhouse, and putting feet up on coffee tables, then so be it. Hats off, shake hands at the end of a contest, show courtesy to your opponent. And if you have a great deal of arrogance, at least try to keep it within yourself.

Finally, I should add that I am grateful to Dr Donald Holmes, past President of Parkstone Golf Club, and a keen collector of golfing memorabilia, for supplying me with the information from a bygone age.

August 2009

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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