Now that you have found the confidence or, perhaps, ambition to perform your own club restoration, let us return to the initial stage of the process and point your hickory ship in the right direction.
Whether it is via eBay, a garage sale, a trade show or grandpa’s attic, you find yourself examining a club with the notion of returning it to its original splendor. You must first examine the club from toe to butt to determine if the purchase will be worthwhile and to avoid the consequence of a wasted investment. We will cover what you may find, what you should look for and what you should run away from when confronted with the option of a club purchase.
THE HEAD – IRON CLUBS
The head of the club is the purchase in a nutshell. The shaft, the grip and the whipping can all be replaced. However, if the head is in a sad and sorry state the decision to proceed should come to a grinding halt. Let’s discuss irons first. We’ll look into the woods in a separate article.
Irons are subject to rust. The extent of the rust will dictate whether or not the club can or should be salvaged. As the end of the hickory era drew to a close, plating irons with chrome became more prevalent. While these clubs may appear quite attractive, pitting will present itself as rusty little patches that, despite the elbow grease used, will always return and become permanent scars.
Another process that provided a “rustless” finish was the use of Monel, a copper-nickel alloy that had a high tensile strength and was impervious to rust and decay. Should you have the choice of Monel or chrome plating, choose Monel every time.
The other rust resistant metal used in club production was gunmetal. Gunmetal was a form of bronze, incorporating zinc, that was utilized in the production of cannons. This is another “green light” offering, and will most commonly be found in putters.
The final, and most prevalent metal used in the production of irons is steel. Steel is an alloy of iron incorporating the use of carbon, which makes the steel less brittle and allows the head to be forged without cracking.
The very nature of steel is that it oxidizes. Iron oxide, more commonly known as rust, is inevitable. Caddies, since the late 1860s, carried emery cloth, which they used to both remove rust and curtail its return. Rust is not a deterrent to the purchase of a club. Pitting, however, which is a deep and destructive rust, will result in a rough surface once the visible rust is removed.
When a club has a smooth but caramel-brown surface, this is simple rust. When flaking or a scaly surface is present, the buyer should know that only the use of a grinding wheel or bastard file will return the club to its original finish. Such grinding and filing will remove some of the iron from the head and result in a lower swing weight.
Clubs with pitting damage are still functional. It is more an aesthetic defect, which should be overlooked if the swing weight, loft and pedigree are present.
Dings, nicks and scratches that are signs of use, rather than neglect, give the club a bit of character. Most minor evidence of use can be sanded or filed away if the user is critical about its existence. The area around the hosel pin should be round and free of any evidence that it has been over-hammered.
In most cases, the hosel pin should be removed, the shaft removed, the head re-secured and the pin replaced. Bear in mind that if the pin and surrounding areas have been damaged, the removal and replacement of the pin will only result in further damage. Avoid hosel damage all together.
Occasionally you may find someone offering the heads of irons for sale without the shafts. Since a shaft and grip can always be added, and since this process frightens some novice restorers, you may be able to purchase the makings of a great addition to your bag for much less than the assembled product.
Now, if all of the above have been examined and the head passed the test, it is worthy of purchase. We will cover the different aspects of repair in another section.
For the collector, an original and unblemished shaft is an aspect of the club that adds value and provenance to the club. For the restorer, who will be using the club or selling it to another enthusiast, the condition of the shaft can be viewed in two ways.
First, if the shaft is straight, free from cracks or blemishes, and the proper length, the restoration process has just become that much easier. Stripping, sanding, staining, and finishing will still be required, but the shaft will not have to be straightened, repaired, or replaced. Should the shaft be cracked, curved, or even missing this only means that the purchase of a new shaft (around $20) will be necessary. The process of tapering, installing, and pinning the shaft will be discussed at a later time.
(Shaft condition is considered at some length, too, in “Playing Hickory Golf”, by Randy Jensen, and in the Spring 2010 issue of the “Wee Nip”. – Ed.)
Again, for the collector, the condition and originality of the grip and whipping will add value to the purchase. The restorer will most likely add a new grip to any purchased club to enhance both the playing experience and utility of the club.
The process of gripping (Autumn 2013 Wee Nip and on the SoHG website under “Hickory Golf Workshop”) and whipping will be discussed in other articles.
Most sellers will provide pictures and descriptions of their clubs so that the buyer can assess the quality and rarity of the club. Take the time to consider what is not clearly evident in the presentation.
Sellers on eBay, for example, are rated by buyers according to their experience with transactions. If a buyer feels he got less than he bargained for, a poor rating of the seller may result. Honest sellers will indicate the defects or shortcomings of any item for sale and allow the marketplace to dictate the price.
The savvy seller may not point out any problems, but rather indicate that the buyer should examine the photos carefully before bidding. Look for photos that may be blurry, not show every aspect of the club, or be accompanied by text that translates to “let the buyer beware.”
Should you have the opportunity to deal with a seller, collector, or trade show vendor you should incorporate the above guidelines and, if possible, establish a relationship that will allow you to buy with confidence. Most people in the business of hickory golf clubs are good-natured individuals who are selling to lighten their inventory, keep their wives from coming unglued, or to make room for their own upcoming purchase.
The more exposure you have to the market, the more experienced and informed a buyer you will become. Take the opportunity to ask for assistance from a more experienced buyer or restorer but be careful you are not bidding against him.
Good luck and happy hickories.