March 26 Update in yellow below.
Looking for an exceptionally important golf club in the history of the game? This is it. This Tom Morris play club is not only the oldest known club that does not use a wood shaft, it is also the oldest known club that uses tubular steel down the entire length of its shaft. In short, the early 1880s shaft in this club is the oldest known iteration of what now numbers well over a billion tubular metal
golf shafts that would not begin to take over the game until approximately 50 years
after this club was constructed.
The tubular steel core in this Tom Morris play club is surrounded by 12 lengths of bamboo (a tree-like grass) glued together and bound with whipping, much of which still remains. These 12 lengths consist of six that make up the exterior of the six-sided shaft and six more that make up the interior of the shaft except for the steel core. The ends of all 12 pieces of cane and the end of the steel core are visible at the butt of the shaft—see the accompanying image. To reconfirm that the steel core runs the full length of the shaft, the auctioneer had a dentist x-ray segments of the shaft across its entire length. The third image of this lot shows the dentist's computer screen with all the x-rays on it. The top left-hand image on the dentist computer screen is the clubhead - no steel in it of course. The image directly under it shows where the steel ends in the tip of the shaft (the clubhead is positioned in such a way for this x-ray that it looks like the steel runs into the head, but it does not.)
Built in the early 1880s, this 43-inch-long play club measures 5 1/2" in head length, 1 7/8" in head width, and 1 1/8" in face depth. The head of this club was crafted by Tom Morris, the British Open champ in 1861, 1862, 1864, and 1867. The "T. Morris" stamp on the crown is clear and strong.
It is highly unlikely that Morris made this shaft. It was most likely made by one of two British fishing rod makers (Hardy Brothers or Fosters of Ashbourne) that were making steel core cane rods by 1880 (See TCA2 V2 p. 651). In a letter the auctioneer received in 1994 from James Hardy of the Hardy Brothers company, Hardy recounted how "at the Great Fisheries Exhibition in London in 1883 Hardy Brothers was awarded the only Gold Medal for the 'best collection' of Trout Rods, which comprised Split-bamboo with, and without, steel centres . . . Hardy's must have started to use steel centres circa 1880." [When writing this paragraph, the auctioneer mistakenly wrote 1893 when the correct date was 1883, as the above paragraph now shows. This is the same as it shows in TCA2 V2 p. 651]
Also in his letter Hardy included a copy of an 1888 Hardy Brother's catalog that described their hardened "Spring-Steel Center Rods" as practically indestructible, "making splendid Salmon and Mahseer Rods," and how the rod runs from one end to the other, and much more.
The neck whipping is original, and the blonde finish on the head matches that of the finish on the tip of the shaft that extends out below the whipping on the back of the neck.
Both the shaft and neck whipping are coated in what looks like orange shellac. The face appears to have been lightly sanded at some point in the club's history, but lightly and not altering any of the lines of the head. The leading edge of the horn adjacent to the face has not been sanded and is entirely original to the club. This small bit of touch up was likely done to smooth out any roughness on the face, such as the raised edge of a small dent or light weathering.
In the history of the game there have been some gigantic watershed moments, such as the gutta-percha ball replacing the feather ball and then the rubber-core ball replacing the gutty ball. In the world of golf clubs, the change from wood to steel was a tectonic shift. To date, this club represents ground zero for the idea and reality of using steel to make a golf shaft.
One other point, this shaft represents the first departure from wood as a shaft material. As detailed earlier, cane, which is what forms the shaft around the steel core, is actually a wood-like grass. Golf shaft exploration moved from cane to graphite, etc. in less than 100 years. Leave it to the likes of Tom Morris to be involved in such early innovative efforts.
The auctioneer first saw this club over 25 years ago. It is pictured and described in TCA2. A signed copy of the page will accompany this club to its new owner. For more information about this club and early cane and steel shaft, see TCA2 v2 p651
Below are two recent online articles about this Morris Club.