ST ANDREWS GOLF CO.
The story of the St Andrews Golf Co. (STAG) is a rich one combining historical importance, modern relevance, and future intrigue spanning 135 years, during which time it has often been at the center of golf’s greatest moments. Haven’t heard of the company? You’re not alone. In a golf industry with media that treats every breezy announcement like a Category 5 hurricane, STAG has somehow managed to stay something of a best-kept secret that’s hidden in plain view.
I happened on the company myself by chance, during the course of a discussion about favorite irons with members of my LinkedGolfers group on LinkedIn, in 2010. While most members listed iron brands that dominate the highly visible, off-the-shelf retail world, one member listed “George Nicoll” as his favorite set. Nicoll, an inventive late-19th, early 20th-century club maker who is typically the domain of collectors and hickory golfers, I would soon learn, is the name through which the St Andrews Golf Co. sells modern clubs of its own creation. A simple call to the company opened the doors to a world of golf I never knew existed.
In the ensuing years, I’ve written about the company and its history in print for Bauer Media’s brief revival of one of the most beautiful golf publications I’ve ever seen–Golf Illustrated–and for a handful of other publications. From those projects, others followed. To their credit, a rare few print, online, and broadcast media outlets that still venture beyond reporting simple soundbites (the Discovery Channel being one) have tuned in not just to a company and its sizable selection of both fascinating and high-quality products, but also its representation as a kind of living history. Largely, however, the history and importance of STAG is overlooked, if not actively ignored–even today.
A Buried Treasure
Take for instance the story of Francis Ouimet. Known as “the father of amateur golf,” Ouimet’s legendary and dramatic 1913 U.S. Open victory over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.–a kind of real-life Rocky story–is often credited by golf historians as the “tipping point” that ignited golf’s rapid spread through North America.
Of far lesser age than his opponents and from a blue-collar family that could barely afford putting food on the table, Ouimet could not have been more of an underdog. Yet his solid nerve and mastery of that generation’s clubs changed the entire landscape of golf in America.
Accomplished author Mark Frost (Hill Street Blues, Twin Peaks) re-popularized Ouimet’s story in the 2005 movie The Greatest Game Ever Played. Both the real-life and cinematic stories are categorically American in their inspiration that anyone is able to achieve anything at any time. It’s a great flick even non-golfers will enjoy. What’s missing in the story, however, is that Ouimet won this game-changing event using clubs made by Tom Stewart–clubs owned by and still crafted by hand today at St Andrews Golf Company’s workshop.
The omission wasn’t necessarily an intentional one resulting from, say, outlandish product marketing fees or frugal producers. Nobody from the film ever approached St Andrews Golf Company about the matter. More likely is that producers either decided the fact was an unnecessary distraction or, perhaps, never considered it to begin with. (Considering the amount of credit given clubs today as a primary contributor in a player’s win, it’s hard for me to believe at least one of the historians on set would not at least point out the detail.)
Eight years later, in September 2013 the golf world at large recognized, celebrated, and prolifically published materials in honor of the centenary of Ouimet’s great achievement. Most every golf-related publication with a name covered the anniversary in the weeks leading up to the actual day. Again, despite the concentration on all things Ouimet, I could find no mention of STAG online and elsewhere, outside of stories I had written myself.
Out of the Darkness
In a sense, “STAG” lives in the shadow of the Old Course, both figuratively and literally (its retail location is a chip shot from the Old Course’s 18th green). Its documented age is roughly just a quarter that of the legendary links, but the most famous names representing the beginning, middle, and current state of the game of golf attacked the Old Course armed with the imaginative inventions of club makers that are integral to the modern STAG brand, including the innovative George Nicoll (who opened shop in 1881), the prolific Tom Stewart (est. 1893), and the original St Andrews Golf Company (est. 1906).
What has captured my attention is how all the people that comprise the St. Andrews Golf Co. are proving to represent protectors of the heart and soul of the Home of Golf and its spirit–without really being conscious of it. Let’s face it: Making historic clubs by hand is an act of the heart–not a relentless pursuit of wealth.
Many of the company’s makers were outstanding players who very well could have been playing pros. Perhaps fame and fortune awaited them, but no matter. Instead, they chose clubmaking as the source their livelihood–and they’re damn good at that too. In a modern world dominated with selfies and Kardashians, it’s hard to imagine people might resist a try at becoming public superstars, but the call to the art of craftsmanship has tremendous pull in a country defined as much for golf skills off the course as on.
If you you’re interested in learning more about STAG, its history, its people, and its products as a whole, I highly recommend you begin by reading “Built to Last: St. Andrews Golf Company.” Writing that story served as my own introduction to this most interesting organization–an introduction that has exponentially improved my knowledge of and appreciation for golf’s special history.
“…the people that comprise the St. Andrews Golf Co. are proving to represent protectors of the heart and soul of the Home of Golf and its spirit–without really being conscious of it.”
Armed with a general framework and context, the significance of each story you read thereafter will be easy to identify. Some will add detail to the richness of “times before.” Others will provide exclusive first looks at the premium clubs the historic organization has developed after years of research and pegged as the featured characters of a new text of its own the company hopes will extend St Andrews relevance to clubmaking centuries on.
As STAG is the only company of its kind in the Home of Golf, its efforts are St. Andrews’ image as a respected contemporary center not just for historic clubs and courses but also for innovation in modern club design today (a task, I might add, that can not be taken lightly). Some of the stories here date back months and even years. While some of the questions posed in our earliest stories are now answered in others that followed, each article is as relevant today for first-time readers as it was the the day it was published.
More to Come
New stories–stories that connect STAG to Babe Zaharias, to the Queen Elizabeth II, to the future of printing, and to innovative clubs, to name a few–will arrive in the near future. So will stories specific to the intersection of the St Andrews Golf Company and the development of the PGA, which was born the year STAG turned 35.
The St Andrews Golf Company has never paid–or even asked–for this attention. I remain committed to providing it, nonetheless, because I consider STAG to be a uniquely inspiring and innovative organization that has not only survived many storms but which also faithfully represents what it is we mean when we say “The Spirit of the Game.”