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Harleston Green Painted, 1786

The first American golf club, the South Carolina Golf Club, was formed in 1786 and played on the Harleton Green. Local South Carolina low country resident Barbara Shipman was commissioned to paint the scene [in the style of the period]. This can be seen on flyleaf cover of the book Golf Charms of Charleston by Joel Zuckerman.

The First Golf Clubs in America: 1760s golf club

multiple images of 1760s lefty iron golf club

This is a golf club dated to the 1760s based on New Zealand technology [or lab work] testing the metal. The note on the “precise” date of 1760s has a margin of error +/- 40 years, which means the club could range from 1720 t0 1800.

Though there is such a large margin of error in the exact dating, this particular club (listed for bid starting over USD $1,000) does give an interesting footnote on the clubs of the era of the first golf in America:
1743 – the first shipment of golf clubs came over to America via Charleston, SC
1786 – the first golf club in America was formed, the South Carolina Golf Club, who played on Harleston Green

So, this club is an example piece of the irons used in that time. The clubs in that day were generally set as wooden-headed clubs as well as one or two irons being cast-iron-headed clubs. The use of these iron clubs was for the modern typical 5 iron to 9 iron, depending on the player’s prescribed make for the blacksmithy or cobbler or the like that fashioned the shafts and heads for the gentlemen players.

This particular iron looks rather poorly fashioned given the long metal support piece at the joint of the head and shaft, whereas the normal iron club making consisted of inserting the shaft end into the hollow of the iron head and cooling the iron in a pale of water which caused the iron to rather neatly and permanently shrink around the wooden end-piece. The shaft woods were generally ash (or apple, pear, hazel) until hickory became the new technological advance by the mid 19th century. [Related to this is that the golf club heads were either of the same/similar wood material as the shaft only out of a single block, or as was more predominantly the case, made from blackthorn, beech, or such until persimmon and even sometimes dogwood became the new technology.]

Irons were not really the most common club, though the putter was often a iron-headed club. The predominance of wooden-headed clubs of course makes sense in thinking about the origination of the game of golf from shepherds’ crooks, wooden walking sticks. But it also follows the logic of the ease-difficulty of manufacturing abilities of the time: dealing with multiple media (iron and wood) would have been a much more difficult work. Also, who wants to carry around a heavy iron club, even if you’re only playing Leith Links, which was only 5 holes?


The First Golf Clubs in America: a full set of golf clubs from 1840s

A full set: only 8 clubs!?

This is a typical looking of a full set of golf clubs from as early as in the 1700s and on through the 1800s. 5 or 8, or so, of these would be loosely carried in the arm or by a caddie. This particular set is dated to the 1840s, but the “long-nose” clubs and a couple irons are the typical make for a long time in the history and play of golf.
The “technology” for the craftsmenship of these early clubs was developed from archery equipment making and blacksmithing. It is interesting to note that these craftsmen would have been making a lot of equipments for military use, and thus the earliest documentation of golfing [in Edinburgh, Scotland] was the forbidding of golf play and football play on the archery military practice range.

The first set of clubs shipped over to the Americas in 1743 that arrived in Charleston, SC, would have looked very similar.