The Octagon in the Valderrama Golf Club housed an exclusive private collection of golfing artefacts tracing the early history of golf through its rarest antiquities. Jaime Ortiz- Patino, the grandson of Bolivian tin magnate, tried “surreptitiously”, with the aid of his friend and fine art expert Titus Kendall, to assemble the finest pieces of golfiana that came on the market over the last quarter of a century. This no-expense-spared collection is, for whatever reason, now in the hands of Christie’s auction house for their sale on 30 May 2012.
Golf clubs, balls, art and literature are the main objects of just under three hundred and fifty lots seeking suitors with deep pockets and an abiding love of the royal and ancient game. Firstly the old Dutch tiles depicting the game of Kolf and implements used for playing the Belgian game of Chole and the French pastime of Jeu de Mall. The auction then progresses to the early literature with a first edition of Thomas Mathison, The Goff , the first ever book devoted entirely to golf and references to the game in the fifteenth century when most of the establishment’s energies seemed to be channelled into banning the game.
The next course, excuse the pun, serves up the late seventeenth to early eighteenth century golf clubs forged by blacksmiths for the most part with the piece de resistance being the Patino Square Toe-Iron which broke records when it was last sold and no doubt many golf featheries when it was last used. The Royal Perth putter had the distinction of being the most expensive club sold at auction when in 1998 the hammer fell at £95,000. Throw in a few long nosed clubs from the 1700s and you’re probably looking at a sizeable percentage of the clubs that still exist from that era when golf was still a four letter word albeit spelt differently.
The Henry Rifled Ball also joined the record books when the 1903 specimen sold for £26,000 and valued for its rarity as few were made when it was realised it was not totally fit for purpose. As is often the case as in the world of golf memorabilia a rare variant of an object, in this case a dysfunctional golf ball, proved a more prized possession than the far older and more exquisite featherie golf ball. Alas Christie’s have measured the pulse of the market and feel the then bidder for the Henry Rifled Ball had a rush of blood to the head and have scaled back their expectations. The Douglas McEwan featherie from 1836 is the prized possession in this genre again for the variation of it having a McEwan marking which makes it extremely rare. The D. Marshall featherie follows closely in its wake, this ball had also broke records when in 1996 it sold for £17,000 to Valderrama as their stealth-like bidding was falling at the first hurdle when even the dogs in the street could see who was bidding for it. The discovery of Allan Robertson gutta-percha from 1849 is the historical equivalent of finding the chairman of the temperance movement knocking back a naggin of whisky. The gutta-percha was not much more than a year old and its most vociferous opponent was none other than Mr Robertson the greatest professional of his time. It is said that the British Open was inaugurated after his death in 1859 as, with him shuffling of his mortal coil, there was now a question mark over who was the champion golfer.
Other oddities include the one-of-a-kind Rules of the Perth Golfing Society from 1825 which Valderrama purchased for £38,000 back in 1998 from Christie’s. Within a decade it had become the first club to be conferred with royal status by King William IV but the history of golf in the area goes way back to 1503 when James IV bought a set of golf clubs from a bowmaker in Perth. The Qing dynasty or Qianlong (late eighteenth century) porcelain punch bowl with the letterhead from the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers will set you back a small fortune. Other Scottish dynasties are also well represented with Hugh Philp, craftsman and clubmaker to the kings, and his Morris putter will definitely put a price on his artistry. Robertson, Forgan as well as the McEwan, Gourlay, Morris, Dunn and Park families are well represented including clubs, balls and ball marking machines (Dunn’s may well be the earliest gutty ball marking machine in existence) in fact the collection is notable for how little of the twentieth century makes an appearance and what does takes pride of place.
As if this wasn’t sufficient to whet your appetite then works of art begin with Thomas Hodge and Major Shortspoon with the ante being raised with Sir Francis Grant and James Michael Brown and then trumped with the appearance of a finished sketch for Charles Lees’ The Golfers. It’s left to Sir John Lavery, the Belfast born painter, to steal the show with two twentieth-century paintings depicting the North Berwick Golf Links each of which will range for between £150,000 and £300,000. However all of this pales into insignificance when you consider that Edvard Munch’s painting of a person who looked like they had just missed a two foot putt sold for over £69 million
So if you travel to Christie’s on 30 May 2012 bring deep pockets, the kind of pockets that James Cameron would happily launch a submersible to explore for this must be the finest collection of golf memorabilia ever assembled and while it is scattered to the four corners of the earth the catalogue will itself become a collectible and as close as some will get to the real thing. This is more than just an auction it’s time travel for golfers.
Christie's - Origins of Golf - The Jaime Ortiz-Patino Collection <click here>
Christie's ecatalogue < click here>
Jaime Ortiz-Patino – Valderrama – The First Ten Years 1985-1995