Club Evolution : Sotheby’s Offers Jeffery B. Ellis Antique Golf Club Collection

Sotheby’s to offer The Jeffery B. Ellis Antique Golf Club Collection in September

By Stephanie Wilson


Arnold Palmer once said, “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening – and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.”

Golf has captured both the hearts and minds of great men throughout history. To golf is to strive for perfection; sub-par is never adequate. Since the invention of this great pastime, the tools of the trade have also been tweaked and modified as they, too, evolve towards perfection.

Jeffery B. Ellis might know more about the evolution of golf clubs than any other man alive; he has devoted the past 30 years of his life to traversing the globe to find additions to his growing collection of antique clubs. Ellis’ first set of antique clubs was discovered at a Goodwill store in 1974 and he was immediately hooked by their complex simplicity.

As he says, “In the world of sport, there is really no more creative implement.” His passion for the subject grew along with his collection, even driving Ellis to pen three books over a period of twelve years, each dedicated to the intriguing subject of club making. Just this year, he released a two-volume set, The Clubmaker’s Art: Second Edition Revised and Expanded, which details every piece in his fulgurous 800-club collection.

Ellis’ amassment spans every aspect of golf clubs at almost every point in history between 1600 and the early 1930s. He says, “The experience of assembling this collection was completely absorbing. I did not want one of everything, just one of everything that was truly creative, unique, or historical. Consequently, I enjoyed the clubs I collected, but I lived to collect the next piece.”

His diligence has allowed for a prolific collection that is turning up at Sotheby’s New York for an exhibition open to the public from September 20 through the 26. This will be followed by an auction on the 27 and 28 that is expected to take in more than $4,000,000.

Lee Dunbar, director of Sotheby’s Collectibles Department, said, “This collection not only holds some of the greatest golf clubs ever made, but provides an unequalled width, breadth, and depth to the history of the golf club. Amazingly, the collection also provides an opportunity for both beginning and advanced collectors to acquire clubs they can enjoy for a lifetime.”

The Ellis Collection begins with what is widely considered two of the oldest golf clubs in existence. A Very Early and Important Square Toe Light Iron, circa 1600, is a first generation club that was designed for when the ball was on sandy ground or among small stones, the 17th century’s version of a sand trap, perhaps. This club is expected to take in up to $250,000.

The collection also holds a fine Long Nose Putter made by Andrew Dickson. The first clubmaker to mark his clubs, Andrew Dickson served as a caddy to the Duke of York when he was a young boy. The wonders of this collection do not stop there, as it even contains the first metalwood produced in the entire history of the glorious game. Devised and patented in 1891 by William Currie Jr., an India Rubber Manufacturer in Edinburgh, the Currie Metalwood was nearly a century ahead of its time and is the only one known to exist today (estimated $25/40,000). The collection also contains the first metalwood to be produced in the United States: Edward Slade’s 1896 Metal Head Driver with a Spring-Loaded Face (estimated $5/8,000).

The wonders of this diverse collection don’t cease, and some need to be seen to be believed. Although some of the innovations seen in this collection did not catch on, some of the clubs are responsible for shaping the game into the art form that it is today. This exhibition and auction is a must-see for any and all golf enthusiasts.