In 1848 a new type of golf ball made its debut and at a stroke made the game more affordable for the masses. Legend has it that a Reverend Pattison of St.Andrews received a statue from the Far East around which strips of hardened Sapodilla tree sap had been used as packing. This substance was called "gutta percha" and was being used in ever more inventive ways due to its properties of being soft and pliable when heated in boiling water, yet hard and quite resistant to environmental degridation when at room temperature.
The Reverend Pattison was a keen golfer and decided to experiment by making golf balls from the gutta-percha. Initially, his efforts were unsuccesful as the smooth hand rolled balls tended to duck, dive and weave when struck. A handful of these smooth balls stamped Pattison still exist and are very valuable. After sometime it was noticed that the balls flew much better after picking up small cuts, nicks and dents. It would be almost 50 years later that scientists fully understood the reason for this seemingly unlogical aerodynamic behaviour. However, the pratical ball makers were not slow to capitalise on this observation and they began to sell new balls that had small dents applied by the flat ends of hammer heads. Initially, these were applied in random fashion but after a while different makers tended to adopt particular patterns, the most well known being the criss-cross markings within squares done by Robert Forgan.
The new "gutties", as they became known, cost about a fifth of the hand-sewn leather featheries. As featheries cost an equivalent of 50 British Pounds each in today's money the new gutties made the game afordable for many more middle class merchants. As a comparator an iron club cost the equivalent of about 35 British Pounds each, with wooden headed clubs costing about 50 British Pounds each.
Social changes also meant more people down the class structure having more money and time for leisure activities, and this resulted in groups of working class tradesmen forming their own golfing societies. In many of the golfing towns this often meant the "artisan" ( meaning skilled manual worker ) societies would share a course ( but certainly not the clubhouse! ) with the long established "aristocratic" societies with purely gentlemen members.
Many of these artisans were club or golf-ball makers or were in some way employed in the upkeep of the courses ( "keepers of the green" ). Often their professions caused them to be out on the links or hitting golf balls quite frequently and it wasn't long before their golfing abilities became more expert than the gentlemen masters they served.
On the 17th October 1860 a stroke-play tournament was held for 8 "professionals" at Prestwick Golf Club. Willie Park Snr of Musselburgh triumphed over the local greenkeeper Tom Morris Snr by three stokes and was allowed to keep the red leather prize belt for the next year. Tom triumphed the following two years when Amateurs were also allowed to enter. "The Open Championship" had truly established itself on the annual golfing calendar. The competition did not take place, however, in 1871 as Tom Morris Jnr had been awarded permanent ownership of the belt when he had claimed his third tournament in a row in 1870 at the tender age of only twenty. By the next year though they had commissioned a silver claret jug as the annual prize, and "Young Tommy" duly obliged by winning that year too!
As the popularity of golf began to grow in the latter half of the nineteenth century so individuals turned their minds to golfing inventions. The first patent for a golf club was granted in 1876 to Thomas Johnston who turned to making the heads of golf clubs from a hardened rubber material called vulcanite. Few of these clubs survive today and when offered for auction they often fetch in excess of 5000 British Pounds each. Another 13 years went by before the second patent for a design for a golf club was granted in 1889; this time to Willie Park Jnr for his concave faced lofter which was not dissimilar to all of the concave faced irons that village blacksmiths had been hand producing for several centuries beforehand!
The 1890's saw the craze for golf explode and in this decade over 120 patents were granted for golf club designs. Ironically, a patent was never sought for what was possibly one of the most significant developments in club design and one that still is in use today - "woods" with a outwardly curved face. Two men ( Willie Park Jnr and the keen amateur Henry Lamb ) exchanged open letters in Golf Magazine in 1890 each claiming that they had invented the "bulger" as early as 1883, although neither had sought to commercialise the idea via a patent.
Developments in golf
1848- Advent of Gutta-Percha Golf Balls
1851- Prestwick Golf Club founded.
1856- Pau Golf Club founded in southern France.
1858- Allan Robertson scores 79 on the Old Course, breaking 80 for 18 holes.
1860 - The first "Open Championship" is held at Prestwick Golf Club, with Willie Park of Musselburgh returing victorious.
1861- Amateurs also become eligible to play in The Open, with "professional" Tom Morris Snr returning victorious.
1864- North Devon Golf Club founded at Westward Ho! becoming only the second course in England apart from Royal Blackheath.
1867- The Ladies' Golf Club founded St. Andrews.
1869 - Liverpool gofl Club founded at Hoylake.
1888- The oldest surviving golf club in America is officially established in Yonkers, N.Y. They are colloquially known as the "Apple Tree Gang" as the course was originally an orchard. ( Note, their are patchy records of golf having been played in the Carolina's in the 1700's! )
1890- The first amateur ( John Ball of Liverpool ) wins the Open Championship.
1893- Lady Margaret Scott wins the first Ladies Open Championship.
1894- United States Golf Association founded.
1895- First US Open Championship held.
1898- Invention of the wound-centre golf ball by Coburn Haskell.
A set of clubs from this period:
Wooden Brassie ( 2 wood )
Wooden Brassie Spoon ( 3, 4, 5 wood )