On the afternoon of Friday 24 April, a day described by ABC TV weather presenter Jenny Woodward as ‘postcard weather’, thirteen Australian Golf Heritage Society members assembled for a nine hole stableford competition over the front nine at Royal Queensland Golf Club.
The event was won by AGHS Secretary Ross Haslam with 20 stableford points off a handicap of 11. Runner-up with 15 points off a handicap of 1 was Chris Cooper, on a countback from Ross Bishop with 15 points off a handicap of 10.
For this event, Ross Haslam kindly provided a selection of left and right-handed pre-1900 long nosed wooden clubs and replica gutta percha balls for our fraternity to test. This was a wonderful opportunity to experience the feeling of golf as it was played in the half century following 1849 when the ‘guttie’ was introduced. Ross suggested we use a short- to medium-length par three for this experience, because most players can’t hit such a ball much farther than 100 metres with these clubs.
RQGC kindly prepared the spare par three on the east side of its course (Hole 4A) for our exclusive use to run a nearest-the-pin event using Ross’ age-old equipment. This event was won by Vince Creagh with a majestic stroke using a genuine 1890s semi-long nosed brassie.
Vince’s prize comprised a pair of replica balls: the first a pre-1900 ‘line-cut gutta percha’ ball and the other a ‘mesh-patterned’ ball as used between 1905 and the 1930s.
The earlier of these balls, traces its history to 1849 when a student of the University of St. Andrews, Rev. Dr. Robert Adams Paterson, melted some discarded gutta percha packaging and formed it into a golf ball. Gutta percha is the milky sap of various Malaysian trees of the sapodilla family (genera Payena and Palaquium). Being more resilient than the ‘feathery’ ball it replaced, the surface of a ‘guttie’ could be scored to make it fly farther and truer. It was also significantly cheaper to produce and was a key reason for the explosion of golf as a popular sport around the turn of the twentieth century. The mesh pattern of the latter ball was made possible by the improved processes forced upon manufacturers as a result of the game’s increased popularity around that time.
A wonderful afternoon was had by all and a unanimous expression of thanks was voiced to Ross Haslam for the loan of the oldest and most precious items from his extensive collection of early golfing equipment.
– Andrew Baker