What You Need To Know About Collecting Golf Memorabilia

What you should know before collecting golf memorabilia, be it hickory-shafted clubs or a framed photo and ball autographed by your favorite golfer.

Golf memorabilia falls into two broad categories. The first category includes items that were not created with collecting in mind, but were made to play the game, support the game, or reflect the game. Golf clubs, balls, bags, tees, and scorecards fall into this category. So can glassware and ashtrays, course maps and tournament programs.

The second category of memorabilia includes objects created or obtained expressly to sell to collectors or fans. Golf cards (comparable to baseball cards) and items such as photos or balls that have been autographed by famous golfers fit into this group.

Before acquiring any kind of golf collectible, you need to know your own mind. Do you want to decorate a room? Buy a few things to put on a desk? Collect antique clubs from Scotland or logo balls from the Fortune 500? Focus on getting everything Tiger Woods? Obtain all you can get your hands on related to the Masters tournament and the course at Augusta National? Knowing your purpose is the foundation of making the right purchase.

Once you've decided what kind of collection you want, you need to do your homework. What you need to study depends on the golf memorabilia category that interests you. If you are going to collect older objects made to play the game, your homework will involve learning the history of the game and its equipment. You need to develop your ability to identify and date things. If you are going after the newer made-to-collect-or-display memorabilia, your homework will be a study of the business of sports. You need to focus on object authentication.

The game of golf has been around since at least the 15th century when it was first played in Scotland. The fundamentals of the game remain the same, but the equipment used to play the game has changed. When collecting older objects, it's wise to learn the timeline for the evolution of club and ball design.

The game is believed to have been played originally with balls made from wood. These were followed by balls known as "featheries" made from leather and stuffed with feathers. Next came "gutties" made from gutta-percha, then rubber cored balls and today's composite balls. There are balls with no dimples, square dimples, and round dimples. Knowing when each design was introduced will help you date the balls.

Golf clubs have gone through a similar evolution. The earliest clubs had wooden heads and shafts, making them prone to breakage. Metal heads were introduced to solve part of the breakage problem, followed many years later by metal shafts. Early metal club heads were smooth, with dot and groove patterns coming along later as the physics of ball flight became better understood. Early clubs were not numbered as they are today, but had names like mashie, brassie, and niblick.

The most valuable equipment memorabilia date from prior to 1930, before metal-shafted clubs became standard. That doesn't mean that every hickory-shafted club found at a yard sale is worth a lot. Even in the early twentieth century, golf clubs were manufactured by the millions. To know which clubs have the most value, you need to learn club shapes and markings. Putters and woods are generally more highly valued than irons.

Golf clubs and balls have been reproduced both as legitimate replicas and as fakes with the intent to deceive collectors. Experience gained from seeing and handling many clubs and balls is your best defense against forgery.

Fraud is a much larger problem if you choose to collect in the second category of golf memorabilia, the newer made-to-collect items. Virtually anyone can take a photo or get a golf ball or golf cap and fake a player's autograph on the item. Anyone can make a claim that a particular ball was used by a certain player at a specific tournament. Anyone can create a "certificate of authenticity" to provide with an object. In addition to outright fraud, there are autographed items offered for sale as authentic which were actually signed by autopen, a mechanical device than can reproduce a signature.

While it might seem that going to tournaments and collecting your own signatures would be a way to avoid fraud, that's expensive and not necessarily productive. If you do manage to get some signed items, they can be thrilling for you. That doesn't make them a good investment if that was your objective. If you try to sell them later, you'll have the burden of proving their authenticity to potential buyers.

These days golfers routinely get paid to sign things. They have business relationships with specific firms who are authorized to sell their memorabilia. If you are going to buy autographed merchandise, find out which company a golfer is affiliated with.

The larger companies have processes for ensuring that their objects are authentic. They may use matching holograms on an object and an accompanying certificate. They may provide documentation on the procedure they use to control and publish the limit on any "limited edition" collectible. Ask questions any time you're considering purchase of an autographed item. If you're not certain that you know exactly what you're getting and how it was created or acquired by the seller, move on.

If your collecting interests lean toward old copies of "Sports Illustrated" with golfers on the cover, golf-influenced salt and pepper shakers or cuff links, or old golf equipment catalogs, you don't need to be as concerned about fraudulent items. The relatively low value of this kind of memorabilia doesn't make it worth reproducing.

Finally, remember this. Buy what you love. An object can turn out to be worth less than you paid for it, or a reproduction when you thought it was an original, or undesirable on the resale market when you thought you were making a good investment. If you buy things that appeal to your aesthetic sense or your love of the game and its history or your admiration for a player, you still have that intrinsic value even if an item doesn't hold its monetary value.

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