St Andrews Golf Company: A Brief History

St Andrews Golf Co. Ltd’s roots date back to 1881. It is the last remaining Scottish golf club manufacturer, a result of major consolidation in a favored local industry that began decades ago. Following is a brief history.

The company is home to three of Scotland’s most famous club making brands: George Nicoll, Tom Stewart, and of course, St Andrews Golf Co. itself. It is the only golf club manufacturer in the St. Andrews area and the last club maker in the world retaining the traditional skills to hand craft playable sets of hickory clubs. (The compny makes modern state-of-the-art golf clubs, too.) The St. Andrews Golf Company offers visitors to its workshop the unique opportunity to see how clubs have been made for 600 years since golf was first played in the area known the world over as ” the Home of Golf.” With all it offers, it’s surprising that STAG is not a household name in the 21st century. I’m pretty confident that if you give a quick read to the following compilation of highlights that dot history of the company, you’ll find yourself at least a little surprised, too. Officially, it all starts with George Nicoll in…


1881: George Nicoll Opens Shop


George Nicoll (featured image), a blacksmith by trade, began the manufacture of hand forged iron heads or cleeks. Nicoll’s designs were innovative and included in 1895 a swan neck putting cleek which created the same effects a modern centre shaft putter. The designs attracted some very large orders one being placed in 1898 by the Forth Rubber Company for 10,000 clubs. Amongst Nicoll’s many staff players were 3 times winner of The Open Championship Henry Cotton, Brian Huggett, Dai Rees and Vivian Saunders. The company remained in the same family until 1982 and had distribution throughout the golfing World. The famous hand cleekmark first appeared in 1905 and is still used today at St Andrews Golf Co. Ltd. (who now owns George Nicoll) during the production of George Nicoll clubs both ancient and modern.


1893: Tom Stewart Opens Cleekworks


Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart, Jr. opens his “Cleekworks” on Argyle Street St Andrews. Tom Stewart had learned his trade as a blacksmith with his father in Carnoustie where cleeks were sometimes made, (George Morris, older brother of Tom was a client of renown). In 1890 Stewart went to work in St Andrews with the well-known clubmaker Robert White and in 1893 started business for himself using the famous pipe brand cleek mark previously used by his father in Carnoustie. The cleeks found favor with many famous golfers including US Open winner Francis Ouimet and Grand Slam winner Robert T Jones Jr. Over the years millions of pipe brand clubs have been produced. Out of respect to Bobby Jones St Andrews Golf Co. reproduce exact copies of the clubs supplied to him during his ‘Grand Slam’ year of 1930. The pipe brand and Tom Stewart Company are now part of the St Andrews Golf Co.


1906: St Andrews Golf Company




St Andrew Golf Company, Dunfermline and Glasgow, began production. The company was responsible, through one of its designers Willie Ogg, for its Oggmented clubs being a very early method of producing a balanced set. Notable players to use these clubs were Densmore (Denny) Shute 1933 Open Champion, Gene Sarazen and Johnny Farrell.


1907: Arnaud Massey Wins First Overseas Open With Nicoll Clubs


Arnaud Massy


The 1907 Open took place at Hoylake. Arnaud Massy and Walter Toogood were the first round leaders with 76 each in terrible weather. At the end of 36 holes, Massy held a one stroke lead over J.H. Taylor and Tom Ball. Tom Williamson and George Pulford were two behind. Harry Vardon was down the field, eight behind and James Braid was ten strokes off the lead. In the third round, Taylor shot a 76 while Massy went around in 78 and the Englishman now led by one shot. In the final round, Taylor sliced his second shot at the 3rd hole into the long grass and he ended up with a seven, which cost him dearly. He reached the turn in 41 and came home in 39 for a total of 314. Massy’s 38 for the front nine took him into the lead and then, like Taylor, he came home in 39 for a total of 312. Massy became the first overseas player to win the Open. Massy won with a set of George Nicoll irons.



1926: Nicoll’s Indicators Forever Change Club Market


Indicator Iron

George Nicoll produces the revolutionary new set of clubs called the “Indicator” series. This set was to radically change the market for clubs. They were the first matching set of irons, each was stamped on the back with the approximate distance the club should achieve thereby helping golfers with their club selection, hence the name Indicator. Each club was made with the same weight of shaft and flex something we take for granted today, but this was breakthrough thinking at the time.



1930: Bobby Jones Jr. Winds Grand Slam with Stewart and Nicoll Clubs


Grand Slam Stamp

Robert Tyre Jones Jr. completes the holy grail of golf, winning the Open and Amateur championships of Britain and the USA in the same calendar year. A feat never achieved before or since.


Bobby Jones (as he was affectionately known) was fanatical about his clubs. On his retirement from golf, which followed soon after completing his grand slam, he stated, “I was very proud of my clubs. There were some sixteen which I considered to be on the active list.” Five of those clubs were made by Tom Stewart & George Nicoll both brands now owned by the St Andrews Golf Co.



1933: Densmore Shute’s (and) Wins


Densmore Shute


From the middle of the pack American Densmore Shute returned his fourth round of 73 and found he was sharing the clubhouse lead with fellow Ryder Cup player Craig Wood. It looked certain that they would be joined by a third member of the team when Diegel played a fine second shot to the last hole and needed two putts for a tie. He left the first putt virtually stone dead and crouched over the ball in his familiar style with elbows splayed wide, forearms parallel with the ground. Renowned golf correspondent Bernard Darwin reported that he missed “by the widest possible margin.” He had, in fact, missed the ball completely. An air shot with the putter. In the subsequent play-off Shute clinched the championship by five shots over 36 holes. Denny Shute went on to win two consecutive US PGA titles later in the decade. Shute played with St Andrews Golf Co. clubs.



1934: Henry Cotton Wins First Open

Henry Cotton Open Winner, 1934


The decade of American domination in the Open Championship was finally ended at Royal St George’s in 1934. Opening rounds of 67 and 65 by Henry Cotton left all opposition so far adrift that it was almost as if he was playing a lone exhibition. The second round of 65 was seized on by the Dunlop company and their best-selling golf ball bore the magic number for many years. A third round of 72 brought a little reality to Cotton’s situation, but with one round to play he still held a 10-shot lead over the field. Yet after the first 12 holes of his final round there was grave doubt that he could hang on for the title. In common with Bobby Jones, Cotton suffered badly with nerves and found it difficult to cope with the pressures of tournament golf. Unable to eat properly before the last round he suffered stomach cramps and reached the turn in 40. Three more shots were spilled over the next three holes before he was able to stem the flow. Short of the green in two at the 13th he chipped to four feet and holed the putt, steadying his nerves sufficiently to get home in 79. At the end of the drama it was still good enough to give him a five shot margin of victory and the first of his three Open titles. Henry Cotton used George Nicoll clubs throughout his career right up to his retirement in the mid ’70s.



1937: Cotton Repeats Open Title


Henry Cotton, 1937


The 1937 Open Championship was played at Carnoustie. Ed Dudley, one of the American Ryder Cup team members playing in The Open, was the first round leader with a score of 70. Reg Whitcombe moved into the lead after the second round, holding a two shot advantage over his brother Charles and Dudley. Henry Cotton was tied for 6th, five shots adrift. The final two rounds of the Championship were played in a steady, cold, downpour. A third round score of 74 saw Reg Whitcombe maintain a two stroke lead over his brother Charles whilst Cotton moved up to third place, three shots behind. Reg Whitcombe was out early in the fourth round and seemed very concerned about how wet the grips of his clubs were getting. At the 7th tee, his driver seemed to slip out of his hands in the middle of his down-swing and he topped the ball. It slithered all of about 40 yards and finished in the rough. He ended up taking a six at the hole, which would ultimately prove decisive. He finished the round on 76 for a total of 292. Cotton, who was playing behind Whitcombe, was aware that he needed a 72 or better to take the lead. Playing excellent golf despite the conditions, Cotton made up the necessary ground and arrived at the 18th needing a six to win. His second shot found the bunker at the edge of the green, but he was down in five to post a total of 290. Only Charles Whitcombe could realistically catch Cotton if he shot a 72, but he could manage no better than a 76. As the afternoon wore on, the greatest danger to Cotton was that the course would be declared unplayable because of the amount of water lying on it and the round cancelled. The course remained playable – only just – and Cotton was declared The Open Champion.



1948: Cotton Cleans Up for Third Time


Henry Cotton, 1948


When he won his first Open Championship at Royal St George’s in 1934, Henry Cotton set a new record 65 in the second round which was to give its name to a famous Dunlop golf ball. It also helped him on his way to a five-shot victory. At Muirfield in 1948 his second round score of 66 lacked the resonance of his earlier record, but it propelled him towards another five-shot winning margin and his third Open title.



1968: Brian Huggett Tops European Order of Merit


Huggett turned professional in 1951 and won sixteen events on the European circuit, including two after the formal start of the European Tour in 1972. He topped the Order or Merit in 1968 and was the third highest money winner in the first season of the formal tour. Huggett was a George Nicoll player during the ’60s and ’70s.



1977: Vivian Saunders Rides Nicoll Clubs to Top of British Ladies Open

Vivian Saunders wins the British Ladies Open at Lindrick Golf Club. Vivian was a long time player of George Nicoll clubs.



1982: George Nicoll Brand Joins St Andrews Golf Company

George Nicoll is bought by the Swilken Golf Company of St Andrews now just the St Andrews Golf Co. and moves its operations into the town.



1995: Tom Stewart Brand Makes Three

The Tom Stewart brand is added to the St Andrews Golf Co. group.



2007: Company Opens New Workshop




Company moves to its new facility just 5 miles south west of the town. The factory opens its doors to visitors who would like to see traditional clubs being made.



2008: St Andrews Golf Co. Opens Near Old Course



Golf Place Shop We open our first retail shop at 8 Golf Place St Andrews, just 50 yards from the 18th green of the Old Course.



2012: Renewed Innovation



We invest in the latest training and fitting equipment, such as:


The popular product provides a solid foundation for club fitting & coaching efforts.






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2013: New Forged Set Impresses


To celebrate 100 years since George Nicoll debuted the Precision Series we launch a limited edition forged set.


New Head Design


These irons are forged from 1020 carbon steel and feature a CNC-milled cavity, designed to appeal to a wide range of playing levels without compromise. Amateurs will find outstanding feel and forgiveness on off-center hits even while the most experienced players (including playing pros) will gain every advantage of workability.



2014: James White Joins Team


Sponsorship deal with professional Alps Tour player James White. James only recently turned pro after enjoying an illustrious amateur career.




Career highlights: •2006 Scottish Boys Champion •2009 & 2011 Scottish Universities Strokeplay Champion •2011 Scottish Golf Union Order of Merit Winner •2013 Scottish Amateur Championship Finalist


Sean T. Kelly
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