This weekend, Golden Age Auctions will close an event that features approximately 2,000 total golf clubs spread across more than 500 lots. The auction acts as a museum and a time capsule, with clubs that showcase centuries of golf history and craftsmanship ranging from Hugh Philp to Scotty Cameron. This is the first auction hosted by Golden Age since their record-breaking Spring event which tallied $6.6 million in total sales and delivered the most expensive golf item ever sold at auction with the $5.2 million Tiger Slam Irons. In the midst of what has been the strongest single year for the sports memorabilia market, we preview the lots that could reach head-turning valuations while also taking a figurative walk through the history of collectible clubs.
One of the preeminent golf collections ever sold at auction, the Jeff Ellis Collection once captured headlines when Sotheby's sold his lineup of antique clubs for a multi-million-dollar price tag in the early 2000s. These clubs, now scattered amongst various collectors, make infrequent appearances at auction and this event by Golden Age features unmatched volume from the historic collection. In total, there are 48 lots featuring clubs that were once held within the Ellis portfolio and the range is simply astonishing. Included in the auction and returning to the public market for the first time since 2007 is possibly the finest set of hickory shafted irons in existence - the 1933 Bobby Jones set. This lineup of irons is not only tied to a golf legend who's influence is still present today on courses around the world, but also a crucial turning point within golf history and carry the weight of being one of the last representatives from the age of wooden clubs and the final chapter of an era before steel and pyrotone would dominate the market.
If you were creating a Mount Rushmore of 19th-century clubmakers, no one would question if you etched Willie Park, John Jackson, John Allan, and Hugh Philp in stone. While Philp stands in a tier of his own (more on him below), it is an impossible task to find an auction that presents such an assemblage of expert craftsmen. With more than 20 clubs from the 1800s, the auction highlights a span of work that includes historic hickory and one-piece drivers.
When you think of the iconic athletes and their tool of choice, there are a limited number of legendary duos.
Babe Ruth and Hillerich & Bradsby bats, Michael Jordan and Nike sneakers, or Wayne Gretzky and a Titan hockey stick. One combo that fits the bill is Tiger Woods and Scotty Cameron. Soon after winning an NCAA championship in 1996, Tiger Woods migrated from an Odyssey Dual Force to a putter manufactured by Scotty Cameron. Over the course of his historic career, the red dot putter and Tiger became synonymous with golf greatness. Similar to greats like Gretzky, there are a plethora of mind-blowing stats and records from Tiger's peak seasons. Between 2002-2005, Tiger attempted 1,543 putts of three feet or less. He proceeded to make 1,540 of his putts within 36 inches, good for a rate of 99.8% while the PGA Tour average across that same time period was 96%. In 2008, Tiger sank 98% of his putts within five feet of the hole while the tour average settled closer to 90%. This weekend, Golden Age is set to sell a signed Scotty Cameron Red Dot Backup Putter, an idyllic representation of Tiger's prowess. This backup (or deadstock as our own Dylan Dittrich coined it) comes from a microscopic quantity of red dot Tiger putters to ever appear at public auction. If the putter itself is not rare enough, it carries the penmanship of the golf legend himself. For those unfamiliar with the golf memorabilia market, finding an authentic Tiger auto is a feat itself. Tiger and his team have been notoriously reserved when it comes to signing items and the overwhelming majority of Tiger autos are found on paper products like programs or in lesser cases, golf balls. One major flaw of collectible golf is the terrible canvas that is a golf ball. The dimples and spherical physique of a golf ball does not yield a reasonable population of clean signatures which makes collecting them an arduous and costly task. This Tiger Woods signature might be the cleanest on-club auto to ever appear at auction. It displays Tiger's matured penmanship, which connected his first and last name, a trend he started years into his career, and the visually impactful components, such as the letters T, G, W, and D are all crisp and seemingly unaffected by the textured clubface. The auto is perfectly framed, with precise centered between Tiger's initials and the iconic red dot. This is the first signed putter of its quality to appear at auction and could be the only in existence - factors that could contribute to an exciting evening of extending bidding.
To call this the most impressive piece of Arnold Palmer memorabilia ever sold at auction might somehow still be an understatement. Aptly nicknamed 'The King' - Palmer rose to prominence with the onset of the television age and offered viewers an easy-to-love combination of charm and charisma. While his modest personality won over fans, he was busy winning PGA titles. Between 1955-1973, Palmer secured 62 PGA Tour wins including 7 major championships. One of his trusty tools of the trade was his collection of putters, which carried the moniker, 'Old Faithful'. The provenance of the putter is impressive and was given to 1964 Open Champion Tony Lema by Palmer himself. With a combination of certifiable authenticity and a connection to one of the game's most lovable characters, the club could find itself as the centerpiece of an impressive collection or even in the halls of one of golf's great museums.
World history meets golf history with this offering which features a personal set of golf clubs with Augusta National headcovers from the estate of Dwight Eisenhower. In 2011, Golden Age sold a similar set for $13,702 and those cubs are now a museum piece, displayed at the USGA Golf Museum and Library. The clubs currently on sale carry a facsimile signature of the late President, and the headcovers, while visibly worn, exhibit the distinct pantone green color made famous by the celebrated golf course. Eisenhower was a true ambassador for the game of golf and is rumored to have played more than 800 rounds of golf during his tenure in the Oval Office. The general turned Commander-in-Chief built lasting friendships with legends like Bobby Jones and Arnold Palmer and today, the Eisenhower cabin still stands on the property of Augusta National. This set of clubs and headcovers is currently priced at $8,952 and has garnered 18 bids heading into what should be an active weekend of bidding.
The 98th putter head...
Sometimes the backstory of an item is just as great as the collectible itself. The story behind this Scotty Cameron putter dates to 1997, when 97 solid copper club heads were stolen from the company's warehouse. The stolen heads were completed and awaiting final stamping to become Classic X models before they would hit the open market, but an act of thievery resulted in all the heads vanishing. Well, almost all. One of the putters had been kept separate from the group and was saved from certain melting by Robert (Bob) Bettinardi, an employee of Scotty Cameron, who would later go on to build his own golf equipment company. The demand for early Scotty Cameron putters has risen dramatically over the past decade but any collector would be hard pressed to find a golf club with a story quite as entertaining as this one. The bronze putter has attracted 24 bids and sits at $4,076.
Know as the Stradivarius of golf, clubs from Hugh Philp truly are an example of art within athletics. Using the wood of fruit trees as his canvas, Philp combined an unrivaled level of craftsmanship with expert precision that ensured every detail within the club was perfected. The foremost club architect of the 19th century, Philp emerged as the leading figure within the golf equipment industry during a golden era for the game. Philp would become the official club-maker for St. Andrews and his work was sought-after by the top players around the world including 5-time Major Champion J.H. Taylor, who owned and inscribed the club set to sell at Golden Age. Similar to a Stradivarius violin, the counterfeit market for Hugh Philp clubs is active and the marketing of reproductions as originals is an unfortunate reality. This inscription from J.H. Taylor has been authenticated by JSA and the club itself bears all the attributes of an authentic and original 1800s masterpiece from Philip. From intricate details like grove depth to the wood layering, and the H. Philp stamp, the club carries full-proof evidence that supports its provenance.
When the 1963 Frank Sinatra Invitational was played at the Canyon Club in Palm Springs, California, in 1963, no one knew that 'inaugural' also meant 'final'. The first and only event was won by Frank Beard and while the tournament brought together elites from both the golf world and Hollywood, it ceased to exist after just a single tournament. Designed by Toney Penna, there were 150 copper plated Macgragor putters created and just as the tournament disappeared, so did the majority of the clubs. In 2013, one of these /150 clubs was uncovered at the estate sale of Bing Crosby's longtime accountant while most have never resurfaced. The demand for Sinatra-related memorabilia has diminished in recent years as these putters once consistently commanded at least $20,000 at auction, but the tournament gift still makes for an impressive collector piece that showcases a crossover between the game of golf and a Gilded Age legend.
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