Treasure hunt: taking a swing at golf collectibles.

AuthorNameth, Louise

While most golf memorabilia--even recent Tiger Woods autographs--are collectible, aficionados relish finding rare clubs and balls that date back to the mid-1800s. Older "feather" golf balls bearing a manufacturer's mark are usually more valuable than those without a mark. Golf balls made of gutta-percha, known as "gutty" balls to collectors, can easily sell for $100 apiece and wooden shaft golf clubs can be worth several thousand dollars in the right market. Of concern are reproductions, especially golf balls imitating l800s models, that have infiltrated the secondary market. There's a lot to consider and learn, so it's wise to study up before starting a golf memorabilia collection and to buy from a knowledgeable dealer.

Did you know that King James II took the drastic measure of banning golf as a sport in l457? He actually feared the practice of regular golfing would interfere with developing archery skills, the main form of conducting warfare during that time. Fortunately, for those who love the game as well as with collecting, The Scottish Golf Society reports their ancestors largely ignored the ban and continued to play. On March 17, 1744, a few golf masters formed the first club, the Company of Gentlemen Golfers, and the rest is history.

The oldest golf balls, known as feather balls, were used for several hundred years into the l850s. These balls featured leather cases actually stuffed with feathers, according to the Collector's Encyclopedia of Golf Collectibles by John M. Olman. According to Olman, although feathers are normally thought of as being soft, filling a ball with enough feathers to fill a top hat makes it quite hard. Feather balls with a manufacturer's mark are most desirable and can be worth hundreds or even thousands to the right collector. Even those without a maker's mark will easily bring more than $500.

A new type of golf ball, known as a "gutty" by collectors, was developed around l848. These balls were made of gutta-percha, a hard rubbery substance molded from a milky juice obtained from trees. Although they were widely used from the l800s through about l910, not many of these true antiques remain on the market today. Some collectors may pay at least $100 to own a "gutty," while others focus on collecting celebrity balls in online marketplaces such as eBay.

Most popular among today's collectors are wooden shaft golf clubs, which were manufactured through the 1930s. Prices for these can run as high as several...

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