THE golfer is one thing and his set of clubs is another, but it is not too much to say that, in most cases, it is possible to gauge a golfer's capacity by his clubs. There are plenty of clubs about, but good clubs - and by good clubs I mean well-balanced weapons made of good material - are surprisingly rare, and are to be found, for the most part, in the bags of professionals and first-class players. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, the good player knows a good club when he sees and handles it, which the bad player does not, and secondly, the bad player, if he does happen to get a good one, soon knocks all the virtue out of it. A golf club is like a fiddle. One may purchase a fiddle that to all outward seeming is perfect, but unless all its parts are made of the proper materials, well seasoned, and harmonising one with the other, Sarasate himself will not be able to make it discourse sweet music. So is it with the golf club. From the end of the shaft to the nose of the head it must be a composite and harmonious entity. The head must not wobble at the end of the shaft, nor must the shaft be so heavy that the head at the end of it fails to make its existence felt. The one should be the complement of the other, the two parts living and working together in power and beauty. Such clubs, as has been said, are rare, even as good violins are rare, and like violins they improve with age and sympathetic use. The late Tom Kidd, the famous St. Andrews professional, and one of the longest drivers of his day, was the happy possessor, during the last years of his career, of an exceptionally fine driver, the maker of which was old Tom Morris. Kidd was a tall man, and the shaft of this club was long, thick at the leather, and finely tapered. The head was long and narrow, as was the fashion in those days, but the face was fairly deep, and there was no lack of wood in its composition. With age, the varnish which had been originally applied on the light beechwood without staining, had attained a beautiful deep amber colour. When Kidd died, the club fell into the possession of an English golfer, who took it to London and kept it in his box without using it for nine years. It was then acquired, in exchange, by a friend of the writer's, and it returned in his possession to St. Andrews. Its new owner was standing on the first tee, with the club in his hand, preparatory to striking off, when old Tom Morris, who was standing by, approached and asked him where he got "that club." The golfer replied that it once belonged to Tom Kidd, to which old Tom replied, "I ken the club fine; whaur did ye get it?" - a remarkable testimony to the individuality of the club and to Tom Morris's powers of memory.
In these latter days, when golf clubs of all conceivable new materials and design have been indefinitely multiplied, and are being daily launched on the golfing world, backed by testimonials from many of our leading players, it is exceedingly difficult for the beginner to know what maker to patronise, and what particular clubs it would be advisable for him to purchase.
The solution of the first difficulty is, so far, comparatively easy. Any good professional who makes clubs, will be able to supply a workmanlike and possible weapon. Let the beginner avoid the shops, unless they be the shops of professional players, for the stock of the ordinary shop is too often composed of the work of ignorant and inexperienced men, and made of wretched material.
In the second place, in choosing a set of clubs, the beginner should eschew all new patents and new-fangled makes. Let him limit his choice to a driver - bulger if he will - a brassy, an iron or mashie, a cleek, a niblick, and an iron or wooden putter. If he cannot play golf with those clubs, it is certain he will never play it with anything else, and he will probably save himself much vexation of spirit.
As above indicated, the first point in a club to be noticed is its "feel." It must be well balanced. When the intending purchaser waggles it, the shaft should not, on the one hand, remain stiff and unresponsive to his call, nor, on the other, should it wobble from the leather downwards like a length of seaweed. The shaft should feel steely and even, through its entire length, and any slight give it may have when the weight of the head bites it, should take place some three or four inches from where it enters the whipping.
The shafts of all iron clubs should be more rigid, but not so inert or heavy that the weight of the head does not make itself felt when the club is handled. The best shafts, both for wooden and iron clubs, are made of hickory, although good shafts are also made of ash, lancewood, green-heart, purple-heart, lemon tree, and a variety of other woods. The very finest, though they are difficult to obtain, are made of split hickory, i.e., hickory which has been split from the wood with the grain, and not sawn off the plank.
The heads of wooden clubs are usually made of well-seasoned beech-wood. Apple-wood is also used, but it is a hard wood, and though more durable, it lacks the spring of beech-wood. In choosing a driver head, choose one that has plenty of wood in it, and one in which the face, or hitting part, is fairly deep. As a general rule it is well to be suspicious of a darkly stained and varnished head. "Good wine needs no bush," and club-makers are but human after all. In a head that has been merely varnished, it is at least easier to see the grain of the wood, and that ascertained, it can easily be stained and varnished to taste. The grain should always run down the neck, and if it thereafter turns inwards to the face, so much the better. You will have a club, if the wood be well seasoned, that will stand plenty of hard hitting. If the grain runs across the neck it is sure to break in course of play. These remarks apply equally to the choosing of a brassy, with the exception that its shaft should be shorter, and perhaps a little stiffer.
Driving cleeks and mashies should have powerful shafts, and there seems no reason, for driving purposes, why they should not more nearly approach the length of the wooden driver than they usually do.
The approaching iron, or mashie, should, above all things, be a handy club. It must be perfectly balanced and not too heavy, and the face, whatever the angle of its loft may be, should be a flat surface from heel to toe, and should not be hollowed out in the middle.
The niblick should be heavy and very thick at the sole. The face is often made too small. Select one with a good large face and well laid back. You will find it of great service in ruts, and when the ball lies merely cupped in a bunker, and when it is possible to hit almost directly at the ball.
Perhaps more variety is to be found in the make of putters than in any other kind of golf club, and the ingenuity and caprice of golfers have in this matter been fully exercised. After all is said and done, it is difficult to beat the old wooden putter. But the iron putters invented by Willie Park, jun., and J. H. Taylor are serviceable weapons, and an ordinary cleek with the shaft shortened is as good as anything else. The chief points to be looked to in a putter, its appearance and make being secondary considerations, are that it should be well balanced and not too heavy.
The length of club which the beginner should choose, depends upon considerations of his proportions. A man of 5 ft. 10 in. or 6 ft., who has nothing abnormal, either of length or shortness, in his arms or legs, should use a driver whose length, from the top of the shaft to the bottom of the whipping, is 41 or 42 inches. The brassy should be an inch or an inch and a half shorter, and the clubs used for quarter strokes, 5 or 6 inches shorter than the driver. The driving cleeks and irons are usually mid-way in length between the brassy and quarter irons. The iron clubs are made shorter, because being more upright than the wooden clubs, the player stands nearer his ball.
These lengths are given assuming that the clubs are of normal lie. A player who uses a very upright club will, of course, require a shorter shaft than one whose clubs lie flatter.
A set of first-rate clubs, as I have before pointed out, is not easy to come by, and the beginner will fare better in the end if he acquires his clubs gradually, picking them up from time to time from professional players, even if he pays a fancy price for them. He will thus, in most cases, be certain that he has got a good weapon, which is the first step towards becoming a good player.
After exposure to rain or wet, clubs should be carefully dried, and should have some poppy or other thin oil rubbed well into the shafts, and, it need hardly be added, that the heads of iron clubs should always be cleaned after play. A wipe with an oily rag will keep them from rusting.
To preserve the spring of the shafts and prevent them from warping, clubs should either be laid flat or suspended by the neck, by clips similar to those used for billiard cues. They should never be left to rest on their own weight for any length of time.
As a general rule, the fewer clubs a golfer can do with, the better. Very few good players use more than six or eight clubs, and most of their strokes are played with three or four. To become a successful golfer, it is absolutely necessary to acquire confidence in one's clubs, and this confidence can only come of intimate knowledge of them and of their capabilities. The man who fills his bag, as many do, with a multiplicity of clubs, and is constantly trying, now one and then another, for identical shots, will never learn to play the game. Of course it is a good plan to carry a spare driver or brassy, but these should never be used except in the case of a breakage.
The question of what balls to use is not beset with so much difficulty. All the well-known makers supply good material, and it is simply a question of getting balls from them that are of the proper age. It is a great mistake to suppose that the older a ball is, the better, and it is quite common to hear golfers boasting of having so many dozen that they have been maturing for two years. Balls made of fresh gutta-percha are properly seasoned and at their best about six months after being made and painted; but care should be taken that they are kept, during this period, at an even and moderate temperature. If they are kept longer they are apt to become britllc, and when struck the paint will crack off. It balls are known to be a year or more old, they should be immersed in boiling water for two or three seconds before being used. This will do something to soften the paint and prevent it peeling off, but the balls must not be allowed to remain longer in the water, or the gutta-percha will also be softened.
Golf balls are finished with various markings, and at present the "Agrippa" ball, with its bramble-like surface of small and deep markings, seems to be the favourite, though the "Eureka," the "A 1," the "Silvertown," and the "Varsity" are also popular.
The only sizes of golf balls one sees nowadays are 27 1/2's and 27's. But ten years ago 28's, 28 1/2's, and even 29's were quite common, and against a wind or on the putting green, these larger sizes, by their superior weight, were of great use. They had the further advantage of remaking into full-sized 27 1/2's and 27's, which cannot be done to-day with the smaller-sized balls.
"'THE CARDINAL," PRESTWICK. (From a drawing by Garden G. Smith.)