The following steps read like a baking recipe, but the end result is no ordinary casserole.
Modern clubs require lots of heat, steel, precision shaping equipment, and a staff that knows what it’s doing. It’s an expensive game before even reaching the first tee.
Making historically accurate period clubs that mirror the processes and even use the same tools actually employed centuries ago in St. Andrews requires its own special kind of capital—starting with a patient, detail-minded craftsman. Would you be able to (literally) cut it as a vintage club maker?
Step 1. The first and most obvious step involves deciding on the type of club you plan to make. Each wood clubhead shape is derived from a reinforced steel master template that will serve as the carving guide in a heavy-duty lathe (Step 3). Master templates are pretty easy to come by, but creating the most legitimate replicas requires connections. The St. Andrews Golf Co. crafted its Philp’s Baffing Spoon master only after being granted unique access to an original—and rare–Philp’s club that was part of a private collection.
Step 2. Cut wood blocks from 2- to 4-inch planks using a band saw. Wood types typically used in club heads over the centuries included persimmon, beech, and maple, among others. Blocks should be cut with particular attention to the direction of the wood grain. Proper grain direction leads to a stronger club.
Step 3. Insert the metal template and up to four blocks into a heavy-duty lathe. Although crude by today’s standards, shaping four club heads at a time was once considered a “mass production” alternative to far slower hand-worked processes. Still there’s manual work involved. The old mechanical lathe doesn’t spit out perfect shapes, so some significant elbow grease is required to sand down the rough edges.
Step 4. Put on some weight (see feature photo). Wood on its own does not make for a competitive club. For added distance and balance, club heads need some added heft. Just like the days of yore, the artisans of the St. Andrews Golf Co. drill a hole under the sole of the wooden club head and then fill it with molten lead that is still liquidized in a small open kiln. This is real blacksmith work, involving thick gloves and a bucket for containing and pouring the superheated lead. (Additional weight will be added later, with the addition of a brass sole plate and fixing screws.)
Step 5. Cut the aforementioned sole plate to the shape of the club head from a brass plate sheet having a thickness of 2 millimeters (less than one tenth of an inch). Sole plates add a protective layer to the wood sole. They’re also prime real estate for those who want to personalize a club with their name or logo.
That’s a process unto itself since staying true to the old technique requires logos to be transferred onto a metal hand punch and later manually (and carefully) impressed onto the plate with five or six solid whacks of a “pound hammer.” Once customization is complete, the plate is both glued to the club sole and secured with countersunk screws.
The Baffing Spoon in particular did not employ a brass sole plate, but other long-nose clubs did. The ad-on enjoyed such a level of popularity that at one point a whole category of clubs—“Brassies”—became a common part of golf nomenclature.
Step 6. Sand joint between head and shaft. In modern clubs, this is the area known as the hosel. During the early years of club making, when using a splice joint, it was referred to as either a “scarf joint” or “scare.” This area requires a good deal of skill and precision, since the shaft and club head require not only proper balance but also “visual flow.” Early club makers achieved this using a variety of materials for sanding such as a wood rasp, sand paper, and even shark skin.
Step 7. Sand the club head to achieve the pleasing contours and graceful lines first fathered by Hugh Philp. If you’ve ever worked with shaping wood, you know this is a skill that requires a steady hand. Oversanding is not an option unless you want to sand every other contour down to achieve the proper proportions—and a club head that is smaller than intended.
Step 8. Get shafted. The hickory shaft needs to be sealed against the “ingress” of water in order to prevent bowing and other undesirable effects. Linseed oil does the job. Several coats of varnish add value too.
Step 9. Getting close to the final product now. “Whipping twine” made from flax and bitumen—now a very difficult-to-find product—is added to increase the strength of the scare.
Step 10. Shaft priming. The grip needs a solid connection. Hickory shafts are usually primed with bitumen, a viscous mix of tarry hydrocarbons that solidifies after a couple of hours’ exposure to air, anchoring the grip material in place.
Step 11. It’s a wrap. Starting at the butt end of the club, the grip, usually made from leather, suede, or carpet webbing, is wrapped tightly onto the shaft until it is the correct length.