Sir Winston Churchill once said: “Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an ever smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose” and he was a man who faced many challenges. For those that are willing to take to the fairway and overcome those challenges to win in a major tournament there can be great rewards, but those rewards aren’t limited to the green, as a wealth of prizes can also be found via golf memorabilia at auction.
What began in Scotland during the Middle Ages steadily grew throughout the UK and US during the Industrial Revolution and as golf developed and grew in popularity, so did its equipment and competitions, leaving in its wake a trail of memorabilia and treasures that have been known to attract some serious figures when they go under the gavel.
From historic PGA medals, to antique clubs and putters, limited edition Rolexes, memorabilia, and even collectables from a Frank Sinatra charity golf tournament, there is a wealth of choice and history for collectors to own. Where to start collecting though and understanding the value of certain memorabilia isn’t an easy challenge and can leave some collectors in the rough.
There is though help at hand to help keep collectors on the fairway. Golf memorabilia and artefacts are nearly as highly prized as the tournaments themselves with clubs, PGA trophies and limited edition watches attracting the most attention at auction. But where to start?
Trophies and medals
Pulling on that famous Green Jacket at the presentation ceremony in Butler Cabin after winning the US Masters is perhaps the pinnacle of any golfer’s career. Competing against some of the best players in the world at the famous Augusta National Golf Club, the prize money and trophy on offer for the winner form part of a rich reward, but it’s the jacket that carries with it the prestige, with the winner helped into it by the previous year’s winner.
The jacket carries a certain degree of respect and kudos and surprisingly, a number of these have found their way to auction including a vintage edition from 1980, allowing the collector to own the single greatest triumph for any linksman and be the sharpest dressed at the 19th hole. One original member’s jacket sold for $4,062 in 2008, but the title of Most Expensive Piece of Golf Memorabilia Ever is held by a Horton Smith Masters Tournament Green Jacket, which sold for $682,000 in 2013.
Owning a slice of history like this isn’t reserved to fashion though, as PGA medals dating back nearly 100 years have also appeared at auction. Take Walter Hagen’s gold and diamond-set winner’s medal from the 1927 PGA Championship at the Cedar Crest Country Club, which went under the hammer in England, fetching a hammer price of £35000.
Similarly, Leo Diegel’s 1929 PGA Championship Gold Medal sold for $35,850 and offers an incredible piece of near 100-year-old history from a player who captured consecutive PGA Championships, played on the first four Ryder Cup teams, and was even inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2003.
Both of these prices pale in comparison to Gary Player’s 1974 Masters Trophy that earned a final bidding price of a whopping $523,483. Other notable sales include a 1904 Olympic Games Golf Trophy that sold for $493,777, and Gary Player’s South African Open Trophy, which sold for $48,841.
The game of golf hasn’t changed that much, but the apparatus used has progressed drastically over the past century. Today, modern drivers offer much larger faces, allowing golfers to increase their ball speed and distance, while the lighter weight head and shaft makes it easier to generate more swing speed.
This advancement has brought with it progression on the fairway, but also a unity of design, especially when compared to the individual and ornate clubs that date back as far as the 1700s. Featuring intricate carvings, elaborate decorations and a distinctive approach to design more associated with fine furniture than sports equipment, it’s clear why they’re highly collectable.
As a result of this fine craftsmanship, clubs are increasingly highly prized; a fact that was shown when The Jeffery B. Ellis Antique Golf Club Collection was listed at Sotheby’s in New York, 2007. The collection of more than 650 historic clubs ranged in price from $625 to $181,000 for an 18th century long-nosed putter by Andrew Dickson, who caddied for the Duke of York as a boy in 1681 and went on to become a golf club producer.
Such is the prestige of the Andrew Dickson club that not only did it receive the highest bid in the prestigious collection, but the club was exhibited at the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition. There’s little doubt that the Ellis collection is of the highest order and offers an insightful snapshot of the price of antique clubs.
Memorable golf memorabilia
Rolex and golf go hand in club. In fact, the prestigious watch with a crown have roots as long-term supporters of the game since 1967. So, it’s no surprise that Rolex has produced a number of special edition timepieces, including the Rolex ref. 16203 Datejust Nick Price Edition; made in a run of 200 in 1996 in honor of Nick Price’s success in PGA tournaments and estimated at HKD30,000 – HKD40,000. Similarly, another Rolex Perpetual Datejust made especially for a junior golf championship in Japan in 1997 was estimated at $5,400 – $6,600 in 2002.
It’s not just the practical that appeals to golf enthusiasts though. Art has its place too, particularly when the piece is as fine as The Bunker by English artist Charles Edmund Brock, which realized $56,776 when it went up for auction in 2000. A little further down the price scale is Walt Spitzmiller’s Augusta, which sold for $6,000 in 2016 and shows Johnny Miller putting at the 1978 Masters with Arnold Palmer watching on.
More traditional collectibles similarly attract considerable attention, such as a lot of 19 volumes and two photo albums inscribed to Clifford Roberts, co-founder of the Augusta National that sold for $3,050 in 2009. Elsewhere, a 1997 Tiger Woods signed Official Masters Journal reached £300 in 2012, while a Jack Nicklaus signed 1979 Sports Illustrated reached $150.
This isn’t to say that all golf collectibles have a uniformity to them, as there are some finds that verge on unique, for those willing to hunt them out. Take the set of six identical 2004 Masters flags signed by Arnold Palmer that sold for $1,553. Or, for something a bit more obscure, how about a vintage PGA arcade machine for a mere $30? It would look great in the garage and, if you’re lucky, your significant other might not even find out about it.