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The History of Golf Club

The origins of golf are shrouded in history and probably evolved from other games in which a small object was struck with a stick. The Romans had a game called Paganica, which involved hitting a stone with a stick. The French had a similar game called chole, while the English had cambuca, which used a ball made of wood. Possibly the strongest claim to golf comes from the Dutch, who were known to play a game called kolfas early as 1296. In its original form, kolfwas played on any available terrain including churchyards, highways, and frozen lakes. The object was to hit a succession of targets by striking the ball with a long-handled wooden club. To allow a clear shot, the ball was slightly elevated on a pile of sand called a tuitje, from which we get the modern term tee.

The Dutch claim to the origin of the game is hotly disputed by the Scots who point out that they had been playing golf for as long or longer than the Dutch. Whatever the origin, there is no dispute that it was the Scots who popularized the game. It became so popular that in 1467 the Scottish Parliament passed an act banning golf because it was taking time from archery practice necessary for national defense. The ban was widely ignored. Ironically, the first manufactured golf club was made by a Scottish bow maker named William Mayne, who was appointed Clubmaker to the court of King James in 1603.

Early golf clubs were made entirely of wood. Not only was this material easy to shape, but it was also soft enough not to damage the stuffed leather golf balls that were used until the mid-1800s. With the introduction of the hard rubber gutta-percha golf ball in 1848, golfers no longer had to worry about damaging the ball and began using clubs with iron heads. Because iron heads could be formed with sharply inclined striking faces without losing their strength, iron-headed clubs, called irons, were most often used for making shorter, high-trajectory shots, while wooden-headed clubs, called woods, were used for making longer, low-trajectory shots.

Until the early 1900s, all golf clubs had wooden shafts whether they had iron heads or wooden heads. The first steel-shafted golf clubs were made in the United States in the 1920s. It was about this time that some club makers started using the current numbering system to identify different clubs, rather than the old colorful names. The woods were numbered one through five, and the irons were numbered two through nine. The higher the number, the more inclined the surface of the striking face. The putter rounded out the set of clubs and retained its name instead of being assigned a number. The sand wedge was developed in 1931 to help golfers blast their way out of traps. In time, the sand wedge was joined by several other specialty golf clubs.

In the early 1970s, manufacturers introduced golf clubs with shafts made from fiber-reinforced composite materials originally developed for military and aerospace applications. These shafts were much lighter than steel, but they were expensive and some golfers felt the new shafts flexed to much. Later, when ultrahigh-strength fibers were developed to control the flex, composite shafts gained more acceptance.

The first metal-headed drivers were developed in 1979. In 1989, they were followed by the first oversize metal-headed drivers. The oversize heads were cast with a hollow center and filled with foam, which made them the same weight as smaller wood heads. When combined with a longer, light-weight composite shaft, the oversize metal woods achieved a greater head velocity at impact and drove the ball further. The over-size club heads also had larger striking faces, which made them more forgiving if the ball was struck off-center.

Today, the design and manufacture of golf clubs is both an art and a science. Some club makers use the very latest computeraided design and automated manufacturing techniques to build hundreds of thousands of clubs a year, while others rely on experience and hand-crafting skills to build only a few dozen custom-made clubs a year.

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