Old and Odd Names For Golf Clubs – Any Sound Familiar

Ever heard someone call their clubs a strange name that just seemed alien to you? Well, they may not be making it up after all.

Our research has unearthed some weird and wonderful sounding names that our beloved clubs have been called at one time or another.

A Brief History of Golf & Clubs

The game of golf played in the 18th and 19th Centuries was slightly different from our modern game of today, but the objective still the same – get a ball into the hole for the least amount of strokes.

The difficulty of achieving the above, when one considers that the game was played in open fields, plowed lands with ruts, rocks, and water, must have taken skill.

As early as 1603, King James IV of Scotland commissioned a bow-maker, by the name of William Mayne, to craft a set of clubs for him, and he became the Royal Club Maker.

In the early, to mid-1930s many of the clubs came from Scotland and later from America.

Clubs were all made of wood and designed by the players themselves, who created their shapes.

The wooden clubs generally had a metal-base plate and a lead-weight added to the back of the head with face inserts of ivory or bone to reduce wear.  To secure the head and grip to the hickory shaft, whipping of black, waxed linen thread was used.

Later the set was developed to perform specific shots.

The wooden clubs took an age to craft and the cost was extremely high.

Ultimately this influenced the decision to move to iron heads which were much hardier.

Archibald Barrie invented a traditional set of irons that were used from 1903 to the 1940’s.

Traditional egg-shaped head irons varied greatly in their loft, and the shapes determined the playing characteristics of the club.

Up until 1939, golfers could carry from 20 to 30 clubs in their bag, but The Royal and Ancient Committee introduced the 14-club rule in the same year.

The development of shafts was ongoing, as the hickory shaft was very whippy and difficult to control.

Materials used included aluminum,pyratone, fiber-glass and resin, and steel.

They were often stained or painted to look like wood.

In 1924 the US Open only allowed steel shafts in a putter and in that year Cyril Walker used one to win the tournament.

Old and Odd Golf Club Names

19th Century

  • The Cleek: A metal-headed golf club with an elongated blade, with very little loft. Used for putting and would be equivalent to a 1 or 2 iron today.
  • Lofter: Had varied loft that would range between a modern-day 5 and 8 iron.
  • Niblick or Rut Niblick: A club used to get out of trouble or a rut in the field. It had a very small rounded head and generally the most lofted club of the 19th Century irons. The loft would be that of a modern-day 9-iron or wedge.
  • Sabbath Stick or Sunday Stick: Golf was not encouraged on a Sunday by the Church of Scotland, so the enthusiastic golfer had to find a solution. Clubs were disguised as walking sticks, and the head fitted comfortably into the palm. When out of sight or unobserved, it would be turned around, and a few shots played.

20th Century

A typical set in this era with common names:

  • 1-iron = Driving-iron
  • 2-iron = Mid-iron
  • 3-iron = Mid-Mashie
  • 4-iron = Iron-Mashie
  • 5-iron = Mashie
  • 6-iron = Spade-Mashie
  • 7-iron = Mashie-Niblick
  • 8-iron = Pitching Niblick
  • 9-iron = Niblick

 

  • Jigger = A low-lofted club with a short shaft, like a modern-day chipper.
  • Mashie is derived from a French word, Massue, and means “ club.” Another definition is an archaic name for an iron with a high degree of loft, and a typical club of choice on a short course. Hence the name Mashie Course.
  • Niblick is a diminutive of neb/nib and means “a little nose.” The niblick was used to “gouge” out golf balls from ruts and tight places. During the latter part of the 1800s, an iron-headed niblick became popular and had high-loft.

Other Names of the time:

  • Play Club = Driver.
  • Brassie = Base-plate of brass and equivalent to a 3-wood.
  • Spoon = A higher-lofted wood equivalent to a 4 or 5-wood.
  • Baffing-Spoon or Baffy = A 7-wood or approach wood.
  • Bulgers = A wooden club with a broader and shorter head than the traditional long nose. It had a convex face which “ bulged out”.

The spoon had a concave (cupped) face and was meant to be hit with a squat side-swipe.

Clubheads became larger and rounder and the spoon-face disappeared.

It has been compared to a modern-day 3, 4, or even 5-wood, but these have convex faces.

Change of Tradition:

In the 1930s Spalding Sports Goods Company introduced its number system into sets of golf irons and standardized the numbering from 1 to 10.

Eventually, this would see the demise of the names within traditional sets as they all graduated to the number system.

The story of the Wedge:

Gene Sarazen developed the first Sand Wedge and used it with great success.

He owes his invention to Howard Hughes, who was a good friend of his and owned an airplane.

One day while taking off on a trip he noticed how the wing flaps were lowered to create lift at take-off. He believed that if he followed this idea, he could lift the golf ball out of the sand much easier and consistently.

He took a niblick and added lead to the sole of the club and 10 degrees loft.

It worked so well that he hid his invention from the authorities, for fear of them banning the club. Much to his relief his design was accepted and approved by the Royal and Ancient.

Today all the manufacturers have developed their concepts in producing this shot saving club. Next time you recover from the sand in your round, lift your cap, and thank Gene.

The Golf Ball

The ball played in the early days also influenced the development of golf clubs.

The first golf ball was manufactured out of beech wood, which is hard, and this took its toll on the club-face.

It was not perfectly round.

The featherie followed, made from leather and stuffed with bird feathers.

After this, the guttie was introduced and was made from sap. It was heated and molded into a round ball.

Todays Comparison of the Old and the New Sets

Modern Old
1 WoodDriver
2 WoodBrassie
3 WoodSpoon
4 WoodWooden Cleek
1 IronDriving Iron
2 IronMid-Iron
3 IronMid-Mashie
4 IronMashie-Iron
5 IronMashie
6 IronSpade-Mashie
7 IronMashie-Niblick
8 IronLofting-Iron
9 IronNiblick
Putter                                            Putting Cleek

Some Anomalies

  • Mashie – The name has 2 sources and both appear to be correct.
  • Spoon – It is debatable where this wood fits into the set, but in my opinion, it is either a 4, 4.5, or 5 wood.

The fact that the face was concave and not convex, clouds the issue.

Summary

Writing this article has been a revelation to me and I trust that it will do the same to you as you read it.

Golf is a very difficult game to master, and even with the latest technology, very few accomplish this regularly, without putting in many many hours of practice.

I cannot comprehend how difficult the game must have been in the old days, with clubs that had whippy shafts, heads that offered not much stability and a minimum of loft variations.

Consider where they played their golf and the conditions of their so-called courses.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Enjoy the read and your next round of golf.

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