Tools of the Trade: Clubs & Balls

Essential to the game are clubs and balls. Both have undergone many changes in shape, size and materials since the 17th century. The collections chart these design developments and interpret the wider social and economic impact that they have had on golf.

The story begins with the earliest known set of golf clubs – two irons and six woods dating from the late 17th to early 18th century.  These long-nosed clubs were used with feather balls, the earliest type of golf ball.  A large tableau explores the method of making these feathery balls.  The work was hard and time-consuming, and the balls themselves were expensive and easily damaged. 

Key moments are unveiled, from the introduction of the gutta percha ball, derived from tree sap around 1848, to the revolutionary rubber-cored ball fifty years later.  The resulting explosion in innovative and outlandish club design, driven by golf’s social popularity, led to the first legislation on club design in 1909 by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

Science met golf to establish the accepted size and weight of golf balls from the 1920s, and the quest to discover the most aerodynamic dimple pattern.  From the 1960s, clubhead weighting, size and adjustability have gone hand in hand with experiments using different materials, from fibreglass and graphite in the 1970s to the high-tech metals used in club manufacture today.

(1) Haskell rubber cored ball (2) Contemporary putter (3) Inside a modern golf ball

Did you know?

During and just after World War II, golf ball supplies reached crisis point, due to a shortage of rubber. In 1942 the Government forbid the remoulding of old balls. Following R&A intervention, the ban was lifted. One of the arguments used was that the Army Medical Council encouraged golf as a remedial exercise for wounded personnel.