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Irish Golf Memorabilia

Leaving aside the rarified atmosphere of collecting featheries or rare 18th century rut iron this is more a view of what is available to a collector interested in Irish golf memorabilia. Since Charles I receiving news of the Irish rebellion while playing golf on the Leith links was illustrated in John Gilbert’s painting and later in a bronze plaque the prospect of collecting golf memorabilia loomed.

Golf programmes
The essential Irish programmes for any collection would be a 1951 Open Championship – Royal Portrush, 1947 Open Championship at Hoylake representing (winner Fred Daly) and the more recent programmes from the wins of Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Rory Mcilroy. The Amateur Championship 1946 (Jimmy Bruen’s win Royal Birkdale), 1949 (Venue – Portmarnock, the only time it was held outside the United Kingdom) and the 1953,1958 and 1960 all won by Joe Carr with the 1960 Championship being held at Royal Portrush.

Other programmes for any collection would include the 1958 and 1960 Canada Cup the 1975 and 1997 European Amateur Championship, the 1991 Walker Cup held at Portmarnock, and the 1968 and 1996 Curtis Cup at Royal County Down and Killarney respectively.

The post-1975 Irish Open programmes are getting scarcer at least to the mid-80s and the period 1927-1953 (excl. 1940-45 and 1951/52) rarely appear at auction. The earliest to go to market seems to have been 1933 programme, so the existence of Irish Open programmes prior to this is in question. Other desirable programmes would include the Dunlop Masters from 1959 and 1965 and the Alcan Golfer of the Year Championship 1970 which again don’t appear too often, all were hosted by Portmarnock G.C. Any of the early Ryder Cup and Walker Cup programmes would have some significance for an Irish collector.

One of the oldest programmes to come to the market is for the Irish Amateur Open from 1900 played over the Newcastle (Royal County Down G.C.) links and won by Harold Hilton. The Ladies championship programmes are not well documented although there were likely drawsheets for all the British Ladies Amateur championships the earliest recorded programme is 1963 at Newcastle, County Down but the earliest programme that has been presented for sale is the Tramore Ladies Championship Programme (1906).

Golf Books
The essential Irish golf books for the collector are: William Gibson’s: Early Irish Golf [1988], William Menton’s: The Golfing Union of Ireland 1891-1991 and the Gilleece and Redmond collaboration of Irish Ladies Golf Union – An Illustrated Centenary History 1893-1993 are all indispensable and likely to increase in value over time. Patrick Campbell’s: How to become a scratch golfer has regularly made the list of people’s favourite golf books of all times and is part of the Classics of Golf collection.

The really rare books relating to Irish golf are pre-World War I especially the Irish Golfing Guides 1909-1916. Grants: Sportsman’s holiday guide 1897 has rarely appeared at auction. Lionel Hewson’s Irish Golf Directory 1926-27 is extremely rare as is the 1928-29 edition of the same book, a further edition was cancelled before publication in March 1935 citing increased printing costs. The Irish Golfers’ Annual 1897 would be extremely rare with only one in existence that we are aware of and is held in a private collection.
Classics like May Hezlet’s: (the Portrush golfer) Ladies Golf 1904 and the 1907 revised edition, and Bernard Darwin’s: Golf Courses of the British Isles 1910. Other rarities would include J.P. Rooney’s The Irish Golfers’ Blue Book [1939/1940] and Play Good Golf [1939]. The George C. Nash tourist guides of Golfing Northern Ireland and the earlier Golfing in Ulster would form any part of Irish golfing library.

The 1952 and 1953 Golfing in Ireland by J.P. Murray and Martin Coffey respectively are considered scarce titles, the former appears to be the scarcer of the two. Pre-1960s Golfing Union of Ireland year books were first published in 1927 and our prized sources for reference material.

Any of George C. Nash’s trilogy of letters: General Forcursue and Co…[1936], Letters to the Secretary of a Golf Club [1935] and Whelks Postbag [1937] have come closest to a cult status, in so far as a golf book can. The first in the trilogy, Letters to the Secretary of a Golf Club, have been reprinted in the Classics of Golf series and by Rhod McEwan publishing.
Patrick Campbell’s: “Around Ireland in a Golf Bag” [1937] published from humorous articles that appeared in the Irish Times is another rarity and one which the Irish Times reprinted in the newspaper sixty years later. Golf Club centenaries or jubilees are a value reference source and, due to limited print runs some are highly collectible. Most of the premier golf clubs in Ireland would have produced centenary books, Royal Belfast, Portmarnock, Royal Dublin, Royal County Down and Royal Portrush, Lahinch, Portstewart and Ballybunion, to mention but a few, and many of these would still be in print such is the notoriety of the club.

Golf booklets like: May Hezlet’s: Portsalon, Robert Browning’s: Royal Portrush, the Portstewart booklet and the official handbook of the Killarney golf and fishing club 1946 would also enhance any collection.

The 1905 Golf Stories by Marietta and published by Hodges Figgis & Co. Limited: Dublin is probably more valued for its age and rarity rather than its content. Other books that have significant interest for the Irish golf collector are two very rare booklets on ladies championship golf both of which were auctioned in 2003; Thomas Glover’s: Ladies Open Golf Championship May 1902 a privately printed book sold for EUR1,400. This championship was held at Deal golf course but was won by Miss May Hezlet. The other book is The Ladies Golf Championships – A History from 1893-1932 sold for EUR1,250 its significance to Irish golf being that nine of these 35 championships were held in Ireland and some of those held overseas were won by Miss May Hezlet or Ms Rhona Adair, the two most renowned Irish golfers from the turn of the twentieth century.

The railway lines left their mark with London and N.W. Railway – Greenore and the Ulster Golf Links circa. 1920, Dell Leigh’s Golf at its Best on the LMS [1925] includes Portrush and Newcastle Co. Down and Great Southern Railways: Parknasilla Co. Kerry: New Golf Links [1929] to name but a few.
A. Duffer (hopefully a pseudonym) in his book “Lines from the Links” [1928], Adam Mathers: “Along the Northern Coast..[1940] and even Percy French felt the need to put pen to paper to voice their frustration with the game.

The Golfers Annuals[1888-1910]/Handbooks[1899-2014]/Manual[1881-1907?] are valuable reference sources for any golf collector as much of the first half of the twentieth century provides photographs and details relating to Irish golf.

Golf magazines
Early Irish golf magazines consist of The Irish Golfer [1899-1905] and these are extremely rare and valuable, the first volume appeared on the 23 August 1899. The National Library of Ireland has two volumes [1899-1901] which may have been part of the Rev. John Kerr’s (aka The Sporting Padre’s) collection which was put up for sale in Edinburgh on September 20th 1901. The volumes 1900-1903 are held in a private collection and 1904-1905 may well be near extinct at this stage, at least in Ireland, although a complete collection is kept by a library in London. The first three volumes 1899-1903 appeared at auction in 2017 and sold for £5,200 to a bidder from the United States.

1924-1971 saw the publication of Irish Golf and these too are proving to be uncommon. The National Library’s collection begins from August 1927 (Vol 4 No. 40) the existence of the earlier magazines in this series are unknown. The ‘Ulster Golf’ magazine, which started publication in June 1949, is also relatively scarce. 1971- early 1990s saw few Irish titles in circulation but since then there has seen a surge in the number of titles available most of which have little monetary value (apart from their retail value) and many have moved onto digital platfoems but are invaluable for understanding the current state of play in Irish golf.

Golf postcards
In general the most prized of the early postcards contain golfers, events and clubhouses. Most golf courses up to the 1920s would have a postcard printed mainly by the Valentine & Sons, William Richie or the Lawrence Publishing companies. Some of the cards were issued by the railway companies like the rare Irish Golf Links postcard issued by the LNWR.

Other postcards were published by the manufacturers of golf balls like the Michael Moran postcard to promote the Dunlop Junior golf ball in the early 1900s. The postcards are far too numerous to detail here but the more valuable of them provide historical record of golf fashions at the time or known golfers (e.g. Rhona Adair or May Hezlet), hazards (Mann’s Bunker, Matterhorn etc.) any of the clubs houses dating back to the early 1900s (e.g. Royal Dublin, Woodenbridge, Rosapenna, Malahide, Royal Portrush,Arklow etc.).

The National Library of Ireland has some of the postcards original pictures in its archives from its Valentine collection. The Portrush compendium of postcards placed on a card reading “Would suit you to a tee” would also be of interest to the Irish collector. There were also humorous cards issued by E.T.W. Dennis & Sons in the 1930s for Irish resorts like Rosslare and Killarney.

Trading cards
Trading cards are somewhat limited when referring to Irish golf, the exceptions would be Fred Daly and Harry Bradshaw on the A& B. C. Chewing Gum Ltd (c. 1954) or Wristy Christy on one of the sportscaster cards (1977-79). There is also the Irish edition of the Churchman’s issue Jovial golfers (73 cards), the W.D. & H.O. Wills golfing issue (1924) which includes Royal Portrush and Newcastle and the John Player & Sons tobacco cards on championship golf courses which also includes Portmarnock. Probably the rarest in this genre is WM. Clarke & Son (Dublin) from 1902 that contains 12 cards on golfing terms. Naturally there are other cards since then that would have been mass-produced and are not referred to here.

Golf balls
Given the timing of the earliest golf in Ireland we can safely skip by the feathery golf ball and move straight to the gutta or gutty golf balls and then the rubber cored golf balls. In general there is little evidence to support that early golf balls were made on any scale in Ireland and few have been presented for sale at auction.

The exceptions to this rule would be (a) John Aitken of Royal Portrush who was responsible for three golf balls; the Aitken, Portrush Lily and The Clan, circa 1890’s (b) Joseph Braddell & Son, Belfast with the Meteor and Shamrock in the late 1800’s and (c) C.S. Butchart with the Butchart golf ball produced around the 1890’s and they also sold the Donard, Celtic and BP golf balls. Probably the most famous Irish golf ball is the one that Harry Bradshaw played out of the bottle at the 1949 Open Championship to be beaten by Bobby Locke in a play-off. From the mid-1930s Dunlop use the produce golf balls in its factory in Cork.

The “Elverys Special” was sold by J.W.Elvery & Co. at the end of the nineteenth century. Other outlets selling golf clubs and balls around this time were A.W.Gamage Ltd. and Lambert, Brien & Co. Ltd. Tom Hood (Golf club and ballmaker) the professional at Royal Dublin Golf Club offered the Special Rocket, Bramble and Dollymount balls, which may have been remoulds, around the same time. During the early 1930s Elvery’s also sold an Elverys New Gypsy golf ball.

In the early 1940s Michael Bingham (native of Tralee) who had already put his inventive genius to work at producing golf clubs turned his attention to golf balls and specifically an alternative to the rubber cored golf ball as the materials were beginning to prove scare as the war took hold. Spalding at the time issued notice that the only golf balls that would be made available are remoulds. In fact the UK’s Board of trade had issued an order prohibiting the manufacture of nearly all sporting goods from 1 August 1942. Early accounts suggest he was successful in his quest and secured a major contract for their production but with prohibition and later the end of the war there was no indication that the new ball went into commercial production as materials needed for production of the rubber cored golf ball were no longer an issue.

Golf clubs
Golf clubs provide a parallel to the golf ball in that they were mainly mass produced and while local professionals would represent themselves as club makers they were more like skilled craftsmen who crafted wooden clubs and shafts from seasoned blocks of wood into a finished product.

In the case of irons most would have been imported with the stamp of the local professional but would also contain the original makers cleekmark and this practice was prevalent throughout the U.K. and Ireland so while there were a few genuine Irish manufacturers of irons many would contain professionals names e.g. J. McKenna and B.Snowball (Portmarnock), J. Martin (Milltown), W.MacNamara (Lahinch), Barlow (Knock), T.Walker (Greystones), Fred Smyth, Alec Robertson (Royal County Down).

Fred Smyth retired in 1940 (and passed away in Spring of 1947) as a professional and clubmaker at the Royal Dublin Golf Club passing on his legacy and the world renowed Fred Smyth stamp to his son Bertie. No less a person than George Duncan the winner of the first Irish Open in 1927 and 1920 British Open championship considered him the best clubmaker in the “British Isles”. At the 1936 Irish Open Championship Bert Gadd had to borrow clubs from Fred Smyth and liked them so much (after a seventh place finish) he took them away with him – a tribute to the Royal Dublin clubmaker. The following year Bert Gadd won the Irish Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

The exceptions to the above would, as with the golf ball, prove very collectible. John Aitken who was accredited with responsibility for the broad-headed driver (a.k.a. the “Bap”), Braddell & Son who would be responsible for a number of patented golf clubs that would fetch good prices at auction and Butchart manufactured clubs out of the Royal County Down golf club but few have appeared at auction despite a large number having been exported abroad. W. Rea from the Shanes Park GC (Antrim) would also be considered one of the earlier makers of golf clubs from the 1890s. W. Rea & Sons of the Shane’s Park GC offered Butt wood drivers which included the “Bap”. A butt wood driver was made from the wood three feet above the root which was the toughest part of the tree and closer to the grain, both May Hezlet and Miss Pascoe the British Ladies Amateur Champions were known to have used their clubs. W. Rea made their clubs from beech trees which were considered a high quality material and reckoned to improve distances. Tom Hood, the professional at the Royal Dublin Golf Club was known to supply persimmon, dogwood and hickory drivers and brassies. The era of the hickory shafted golf clubs ended in the mid to late 1920s.

Later during the 1930s’ a number of the Irish professionals began to take advantage of their reputations to assist the sale of golf clubs. Elvery’s would have sold autographed clubs by P J Mahon (Drivers, Brassies, Spoons, Baffy, and wooden cleeks) and Willie Nolan. Spalding Bros. the Belfast based sportsshop was selling Michael Bingham, the one time world’s longest hitter and native of tralee who designed the “Clinger irons” and the “Flail-swinging” woods. At the same time Elvery’s were also selling their own branded clubs including the “Troon”, “Rhythm”, “King-pin”, “Phantom”, “Craftsman”, “Glendale” and “Autograph” in order of cost ranging from 11/6 to 22/6 with PJ Mahon clubs being the most expensive at 25/-.
By the 1930s most clubs were available in Ireland, many promoted by well know names including Henry Cotton and Walter Hagen but every golfer who made a name for themselves would likely receive a deal from the club manufacturers as had Fred Daly and Christy O’Connor. John Letters produced the Fred Daly “Masters Model” with reference to Open and Match Play champion stamped on the back and also Philomena Garvey’s endorsed, Shot Master.

Golf medals and trophies
In July 1995 Sotheby’s listed Max Faulkner’s 1951 Open Championship medal for sale but it was withdrawn with a Guide Price of EUR30,000-EUR45,000. When Bobby Locke’s collection was sold off by Christies in 1993 one of the lots contained his 1938 Irish Open Championship medal which eventually sold for EUR3,000. The silver golf trophy from the same year inscribed “Course Record 69 Portmarnock Golf Club A.D.Locke Irish Open Champion 21.7.1938″ which fetched EUR450. A silver salver belonging to Bobby Locke won for the best amateur at the 1936 Irish Open Championship sold for EUR1,500.

Willie Nolan’s (Portmarnock) 1934 Irish Professional golfer’s medal was sold for EUR350. It was played at the Dun Laoghaire (formerly Kingstown) Golf Club. Sotheby’s in 1988 auctioned a Golfing Union of Ireland hallmarked 15ct. golf and enameled brooch medallion, the enameled shield depicting a golfer in action, the reverse engraved Inter Club Competitions 1900, Won by H.Dodd, D.U.G.C.” Guide Price EUR 375-450. Sotheby’s also auctioned a set of Irish Golf Union medals one hallmarked 15ct gold, Chester 1909 and the other hallmarked Birmingham 1910 these were eventually sold for EUR1,500. An early 1890 Silver Golf Medal for the Dublin Scottish Golf Club, First Annual Handicap Medal won by John M Fisher was sold for EUR470.

A silver golf trophy for the Irish Amateur Championship 1935, 15in high on ebonised plinth (Christies 1992) sold for EUR1,550. Naturally most of the early golf medals/trophies are heirlooms or are displayed by golf clubs. The earliest medals would be those of the Highland Light Infantry and the Blackwatch officers stationed at the Curragh.

Golf stamps and First Day Covers [FDC]
The main postage related collectibles here are the 1975 European Amateur Championship 6p and 9p stamps and the Eric Patton designed 1991 commemorative stamps and maxi cards for the Walker Cup and GUI centenary. Another issue of Irish significance would be from Tadjikistan that has Darren Clarke on the face of the stamp. Many of the Irish Opens in the 1980s have first day covers (FDC), these are envelopes stamped with the Irish Open, the venue and the year. Also included in this would be the commemorative FDC for the 1995 Ryder Cup to mark the Concorde flight from Rochester to Dublin, this would likely have even more significance now given the demise of supersonic travel. These are relatively inexpensive with the Ryder cup FDC being difficult to source.

A new issue commemorating the Irish participation in the Ryder Cup was issued in September 2005 and is made up of four stamps denoting the K Club 2006 venue for the Ryder Cup and the Irish players in the past who contributed to winning or retaining the Ryder Cup. These together with an FDC (6,000 issued) depicting Des Smyth one of the 2006 Ryder cup vice captains and a prestige booklet (10,000 issued) also containing all four stamps. A further issue was released in August/September just before the event itself.

Golf art
This encompasses all aspects of golf art including prints, posters and original art. Golf Art is also much sought after and early pictures of Irish golf courses and golfers are no less treasured.
Harry Rowntree’s classic pictures of Portmarnock, Dollymount, Newcastle and Portrush are included in Darwin’s Golf Courses of the British Isles 1910.

James Michael Brown (1853-1947), whose passion for golf was reflected in his art. His original artwork for the Life Association of Scotland calendars depicted the Links at Royal County Down and included Mr. Lionel C Munn (North-West GC) and Harold Reade (Royal Belfast) driving with the town of Newcastle and the Mourne Mountains in the background and one which Rhona Adair is playing at the Ladies Championship in 1901.These were also issued in print form.

Art was used to reflect events in the news magazines of the day e.g. Illustrated London News and Graphic. Other artists have painted the Irish links (mainly Killarney and the Royal County Down courses) and these would include Joseph William Carey, R.U.A. (1859-1937), Sean O’Connor, J.R. Thomas and Sir Robert Ponsonby Staples.
The widely acclaimed portrait artist Sir William Orpen from Blackrock, Dublin did a commissioned portrait of The Prince of Wales to commemorate his captaincy of the R&A and Norman Wilkinson’s classic painting of the 8th at Portrush used to promote the LMS railway line.

The contemporary painters would include William Grandison, Peter Munro, Philip Gray and John McNulty and Graham Baxter most have produced limited edition prints of the Irish courses and the latter commemorated Christy O’Connor jnr’s two iron approach shot to the final hole at the Belfry to clinch the Ryder Cup. Ray Ellis also produced a compilation of his work in the John Degarmo’s The Road to Ballybunion and the Spirit of golf.

An original Guinness poster depicting a golfing scene illustrated by H.M Bateman, e.g. “What should I take here, Caddy,” “I should take a Guinness, Sir!”

Golf photographs
Photographs like postcards depend on age and the importance of the subject matter and no rule of thumb can assist you. Usually the item will have some significance to the buyer. Few early examples of Irish photographs have come to the market over recent years.

Golf curios
There are unusual items of ephemera that just don’t fit into the other categories. Percy French’s sheet music “No more o’yer Golfin for me” or a menu from the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast signed by Walter Hagen, Joe Kirkwood and Walter Smith (Hagen’s caddie) sold for EUR115 at auction in 2000. A Portmarnock sterling silver golf spoon sold at auction for EUR375. Christy O’Connor bag tag for the 1963 Ryder Cup was auctioned off for EUR120.

Other curiosities would include autographs, golf markers and cigarette cards. Irish autographs generally don’t achieve good prices at auction, they usually appear on the on-line auction sites and their authenticity is sometimes difficult to ascertain. The Irish autographs that might make it to the big auction houses are May Hezlet, Rhona Adair, Fred Daly and Jimmy Bruen.
A scrapbook recording the career of the distinguished Irish International golfer A.W. Briscoe of Loughrea, Co. Galway Golf Club with mostly 1920’s & 30’s, news cuttings, original photographs etc. A.W. Briscoe played for Ireland between 1928 & 1938 and was leading amateur in the 1928 Irish Open. He also won the West of Ireland Championship on two occasions 1928 and 1931. This item sold for EUR 575.

A 1904 members book belonging to T. H. Mayes who three years later must have witnessed champion golfers Harry Vardon and James Braid played an exhibition match at Malone Golf Club (Ireland) commemorating the laying out of its new course, sold for EUR2,000, it was signed by Harry Vardon and James Braid. Golf markers do have a large following amongst collectors and don’t under-estimate the price that some can achieve just bear it in mind if you have a marker commemorating a significant event, it may be worth something. A golf marker from the 1947 British Open sold recently for EUR150 while one for the 1951 British Open sold for EUR40. A 1960 Canada Cup entry ticket could expect to fetch EUR15-EUR35.

Conclusion
This article has tried to outline the collectibles/memorabilia that are being traded, prices are indicative only. It is by no means an exhaustive list as there are many other items that have probably not yet been chronicled or are in the hands of private collectors, golf clubs or museums. As items appear infrequently they may not be representative of the prices that will be achieved at future auctions. Generalisations have been made in order to encapsulate whole categories, if you have items to buy or sell you should check with a reputable source to determine authenticity and to ensure you can achieve a maximum return on your purchase or sale. Most auctions houses have a golf representative well versed in the value of golf memorabilia.
If you do decide to start collecting golf memorabilia you should decide on the area to focus on, as the range is vast and obviously not just restricted to Irish golf.

Just bear in mind nearly everything has a value in the world of golf memorabilia and collectibles sometimes feel like calories much easier to put on than to take off. Whether it is a photograph, marker, badge, scorecard, just think twice about discarding it as it might pay part of your next green fee or all of your next holiday. If collecting golf memorabilia, beware, while golf players may be considered gentlemen and voluntarily call penalties on themselves on the golf course, the purveyor of memorabilia maybe a little less scrupulous so view everything with skepticism and do your homework beforehand.

Over the past ten years the market for golf memorabilia has “softened” and the aforementioned prices achieved below may no longer be a good indicator of what you can expect today especially for the more common items.

Before buying anything at auction you must factor in many things into the cost of the item as it doesn’t end with the auction price, obviously there will be the commission fees but the shipping costs can add substantially to the overall price as many auction houses outsource their shipping to specific companies which can sometimes quote exhorbitant rates and many multiples of the cost of a normal parcel posting service.

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