The simple treasures of the game
By Lee Pace
“Collecting — I think it’s in your blood, or it’s not. Either you have it or you don’t.”
Mike Daniels certainly does. The native of Albany, New York, and avid, lifelong golfer started a business in the early 1990s selling premium golf tournament gifts beyond what he called the standard “bowling trophies.” That led him into the rich and deep world of golf collectibles — feathery balls, hickory-shafted clubs, paintings, books, pottery, scorecards and more.
“Golf has been my whole life. Really, I don’t know what I would have done without it,” he says. “The world of golf collecting reflects the depth of the game in my mind. In baseball, you collect a signed ball or bat, but that’s about it. There are so many categories within golf collecting. Some guys just collect pencils or scorecards from courses they’ve played. We all have this common interest in the history of the game.”
Bob Hansen shares that passion. He grew up in New Jersey playing at Manasquan River Golf Club and remembers at 6 years of age being captivated by the old Scottish golf artifacts displayed in the golf shop by the club’s early Scottish born pros, George Low and Jack Beckett. His father loved wooden ducks and hunting artifacts, and Hansen watched in wonder the artistry of the woodworkers.
“It was fascinating seeing them hold a piece of wood in their hands and work a tool and shape this bird that is going to come to life,” he says. “I found the same appeal with the old clubmakers. I was a pretty good player as a kid and young man, but eventually a bad back killed my golf game. I really wanted to stay in golf. So I started collecting rare golf memorabilia and studying the history of golf — like a maniac, I might add.”
And Tom Stewart goes deep in the world of golf collecting as well. He grew up in Northern Michigan, caddying as a 10-year-old at Petoskey-Bayview Country Club and then working nights watering the course at Walloon Lake Country Club. Walter Hagen was the first golf pro at Walloon Lake, and the golf shop was decorated with photos of golfers like Hagen, Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen playing there during the summer tourist season. Stewart was soon imbued with the history of the game, and later, as a professional at clubs such as the exclusive Adios Golf Club in Coconut Creek, Florida, began decorating his golf shop with hickory clubs and antique Sunday bags — long before it was fashionable to do so.
“I spent $20 for an Alister MacKenzie architecture book in the 1970s; now it’s worth $1,500,” Stewart says. “I’m lucky I never sold it. I’ve got 3,500 books and thousands of old wooden clubs. I love this stuff. I’m not particularly eager to part with any of it. But there are lots of people who want these things as well.”
Daniels, Hansen and Stewart all are purveyors of fine golf art and memorabilia in two different shops in the village of Pinehurst. Daniels and Hansen are partners in The Old Golf Shop, which opened in June 2014, just days before the U.S. Open, and Stewart has owned and operated Old Sport & Gallery since 1997.
And all three are longtime members of a group originally named the Golf Collectors Society that is now known as the Golf Heritage Society. The Society turns 50 this year, with Hansen and Stewart among the early members in the 1970s and Daniels following in the late 1980s.
“They changed the name trying to be more inclusive and include people that play hickory golf, trying to broaden the scope of the organization,” Daniels says. “When it first got started, it was a handful of guys meeting in Dayton or Cincinnati or wherever, trading stuff out of the trunk of their cars.”
To mark and help celebrate its anniversary, the Golf Heritage Society is reducing its annual dues to $25 a year from its standard $50 as a means to attract more golfers to this fraternity built around the study of the game’s history, and trading and collecting memorabilia (simply visit its website, GolfHeritage.org, to find out more).
“The Golf Heritage Society has evolved so much over the years,” Hansen says. “I remember in the early days guys were trading stuff you can find at a flea market. What I’m really appreciating now is the Society has gotten to the point that the collectors want to know things and not just own stuff. The stuff is evidence of history. But if you don’t know the history, it’s just stuff. That’s what’s important — the history.”
The Society conducts an annual general meeting and trade show (though 2020’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic), operates various tournaments through the Society of Hickory Golfers, and publishes The Golf, a quarterly journal. The GHS also operates a classified advertising board on its website where members can survey all manner of golf memorabilia available on any given day — perhaps a collection of 24 vintage Golfiana magazines or an antique solid maple clubmaker’s vise from the MacGregor Co., to cite a random day in September.
But that experience pales in comparison to rummaging around either the Old Pro Shop or Old Sport & Gallery in Pinehurst. You can find original art or copies of famous paintings like Charles Lees’ The Golfers set on an Edinburgh course in 1849, rare books, prints and all manner of artifacts.
“I never knew about the Golf Collectors until I saw an article in a magazine, made a phone call and started attending shows,” Daniels says. “It had been going 20 years before I got involved. It opened up a new world for me. I’ve made so many friends and had so many wonderful experiences.”
“Our collections had gotten so big individually, and we reached our 60s and said, ‘We’re too old to be schlepping this stuff around the country to trade shows. Why not put it under one roof?’” Hansen adds.
The sport of golf has thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic (the National Golf Foundation reports the game lost 20 million rounds initially during the spring shutdown but has bounced back with 14 and 20 percent monthly year-over-year increases in rounds played in June and July). And the Pinehurst golf art and collectibles shops have ridden those coattails to brisk business as well.
“This business is actually doing better right now than it’s done in two years,” Hansen says. “I’m amazed. It’s interesting to watch the attitude and the people coming back that haven’t been in here for years. I think there are people who are looking at the world very differently today and they’re saying, ‘You know what, I know I shouldn’t have it, but if I want something, I’m going to get it.’”
“It’s energizing. It keeps me engaged,” Stewart says of his dual vocation and avocation of golf collecting. “A lot of my buddies are retired, but I like what I do. Why quit?”
Why quit indeed for those with collecting and golf history in their blood? PS
Longtime PineStraw golf columnist Lee Pace admits to having his eye on the massive and beautiful Golf Through The Ages volume but will have to sell a lot of articles to pay for it.