This Robert Kirk Sr. putter with its broad head (5 ½” long and 2 1/6" wide ), thin neck, 1” face depth, and relatively flat crown, clearly dates to the 1850s if not a little before. It is consistent in shape and style with other putters made late in the featherball era. The first picture shows just how graceful this club is.
Born in 1810, Kirk was listed in a July 1855 newspaper as a Ballmaker in St. Andrews. He was again listed in Westwood’s St. Andrews directory as a ballmaker in 1862 and 1866. He was listed as one of three ballmakers in St. Andrews in an 1863 newspaper. As reported in newspapers of the time, he won or finished high in various golf competitions during the 1850s. He was well known and respected. Born in 1810, Kirk was captain of the St. Andrews Operative Golf Club in 1855.
While Kirk was listed as a ballmaker, there is little doubt that he was versed in clubmaking and made the odd club or two. Kirk’s ability to do both was not an isolated case. G.D. Brown was also described in an 1856 and 1863 newspaper as a ballmaker, but a few long nose clubs stamped “G.D. Brown” are known. Willie and Jamie Dunn are described as ballmakers in an 1849 newspaper, but they are better known for being clubmakers, examples of their clubs also remaining.
Artisans able to make both clubs and balls was relatively common during the middle and late 1800s. Not all clubmakers were ballmakers, and visa versa, but a number of each were known to do both, including Tom Morris, Robert Forgan, Alex Patrick, Robert Ferguson, and others in addition to Brown, the Dunns, and Kirk Sr. Furthermore it was Allan Roberson, the famous ballmaker and employer of Tom Morris who, according to Morris himself, taught Morris how to make both clubs and balls. Back on May 6, 1722, John Dickson, who is consistently referred to as a ballmaker, wrote a letter to the Marquis of Annandale wherein he states that he worked night and day making both clubs and balls to fill the Marquis' order.
Born in 1845, Robert Kirk Jr. learned from his father and became the professional and clubmaker at Blackheath in 1864. Bob Jr. also became an even better player than his father, finishing runner up in the 1869, ’70, & ’78 Open. Bob Kirk and his Bob Jr. were close associates of Tom Morris and Tom Jr. Again, in my opinion, I do not believe Kirk Jr. made this club. The lines and characteristics of this club as listed above are clearly c1850.
Clubs made by Kirk Jr. are scarce, as few remain. Clubs made by Kirk Sr. are extremely difficult to find. In writing both editions of The Clubmaker’s Art, the auctioneer was looking for but unable to procure a decent club made by either one. The example offered here is a very good one all things considered. The neck whipping appears to be the original whipping only it was never coated with tar pitch as was virtually always done. The rigid greenhart shaft and sheepskin grip are original. The finish looks original but with an extra coat of varnish or shellac applied at some point, so the "R. Kirk" name stamp is not easy to read, but it is there (see closeup image). If you like to collect long nose clubs, this one is worth great consideration.