History of Spalding Golf Clubs

By Peter Stevens

No matter what brand of club you pull from your bag, you owe some thanks to one company--Spalding. At the turn of the 20th Century, golf had stirred mild interest in the United States, and A.G. Spalding & Brothers sporting goods saw an opportunity. The company was already selling golf balls when, in 1905, it became the first in America to offer its own brand of golf clubs.
 

The Early Years

Starting in 1900, Spalding opened clubmaking factories in London and in Fife, Scotland, producing forged iron heads for Spalding clubs sold both in the UK and U.S. Irons made during that time are distinguished by an anvil cleek mark. The company's unique "baseball mark"-- A.G. Spalding had helped put baseball on the map--was stamped on the clubs and below it "Made in Great Britain" appeared. Throughout America, the affordable Spalding clubs flew off the shelves and reaped huge catalog sales.

Innovation

Spalding introduced many variations of hickory-shafted clubs to bring distance and control to the professional and duffer alike. The company was selling aluminum fairway clubs by 1910, and its Gold Medal series (1910 to 1919) featured aluminum bronze. Spalding's lead-faced putters also provided better touch for players. One of the most famous Spalding clubs was the Cran Cleek (club with a narrow face and little loft) for poor fairway lies and even putts. Today, collectors prize the narrow-faced Cran Cleek.

Deep Grooved and Drop Forged

Golfers have always known that deep-grooved irons produce better control and spin. Spalding led the way with such deep-grooved designs as the "waterfall" and waffle-face irons.

Until the USGA banned deep-grooved irons, Spalding's Stop 'Em and Dedstop clubs brought a smile to countless players' faces.

By the Roaring '20s, A.G. Spalding & Brothers was using the process of "drop forging" to manufacture metal clubheads. Clubmakers' traditional method had been to shape metal heads with an anvil and forge; now, like Henry Ford's assembly-line Model T's, Spalding craftsmen used a mechanical hammer to craft clubheads, drill sockets in them to attach the shaft and then polish the heads, all of which allowed Spalding to manufacture matched sets of clubs and mass produce them.

State-of-the-Art Shafts

Spalding clubmakers paid as much scrutiny to shafts as to heads. The company experimented throughout the 1920s and 1930s with lathe-turned hickory shafts that featured circular ridges spaced at standard intervals down the entire shaft. The design gave the clubs an exotic bamboo look; the underlying message being that these clubs offered players bamboo's legendary flexibility and whip-like strength.

Too Many Choices

With Spalding's mass-market success breeding scores of imitators, players could pick and choose from countless club lines. Golf bags bulged with 20 to 25 clubs, and the USGA, fearing too many specialty clubs had watered down the game's skill levels, took action. In 1938, the USGA passed an edict limiting players to 14 clubs.

End of Spalding

The success of Spalding golf clubs had compelled the USGA to act, but this success was not destined to last forever. Mismanagement and a growing golf market has seen Spalding cease manufacturing golf products, selling off popular brands like Top Flite to Callaway in the early 2000s. 

About The Author

Peter F. Stevens is an award-winning author and journalist whose 10 books include "The Voyage of the Catalpa." For more than 25 years, he has contributed to a wide array of publications including "American Heritage," "American History," "Yankee," "VFW," "Golf," and "Golf News." The "New York Times" frequently syndicates his work.

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