The history of golf equipment – The Haskell onwards

The next golf revolution – the Haskell rubber ball

It was the arrival of rubber ball, invented by Coburn Haskell in 1898, which was set to trigger the next revolution in the development of golf. 

The Gutty had remained the ball of choice for around 50 years, until the arrival of the rubber ball.

These first rubber balls were made by winding rubber thread under tension around an inner core and then coating with Gutta-percha as the outer cover.

Within two years these balls were being mass produced.

Only fit for hackers!

The great Harry Vardon, six times Open Champion and twice US Open Champion dubbed the Haskell only fit for hackers, largely because its emergence in 1901 threatened the launch of the Vardon Flyer, a Gutty ball that he had launched the year before via a mammoth US promotional tour.

Harry Vardon, who initially dubbed the Haskell ball “Only fit for hackers”

Photograph from his own book, The Complete Golfer, 1905

At the 1902 Open Championship golfers were shown what an improvement it made when Sandy Herd won with a four round total of 307 to beat Vardon and James Braid by a single shot. Herd used the same ball for the entire 72 holes and it was a Haskell. He was the only man in the field to play with one.

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The Haskell had well and truly arrived

Their use inevitably took off especially when golfers found that the Haskell ball meant they were able to hit the ball at least 20 yards further

Caricature of famous golfers at the turn of the century, comparing the virtues of the rubber golf ball with the gutty.

This depicts Duncan, Taylor, Braid and Vardon

From Horace Hutchinson’s book “Fifty Years of Golf”, published in 1919

The resultant boom in golf

It followed that the ability to mass produce the rubber ball made the game affordable to a much larger proportion of the population on both sides of the Atlantic, and which indirectly led to the boom in golf as a participation sport. 

During the early part of the 20th century, the design of the ball was further enhanced by recognition that it was possible to mould new patterns on the surface of the ball, which directly led to improved flight characteristics.

In 1905 William Taylor patented the Dympl ball. The “Dimple” ball was a major step forward in ball design and since it was patented no other company could copy it. Taylor sold the rights to Spalding who therefore had sole rights to produce dimple balls for seven years. 

The basic design of the Haskell ball then remained in force until 1972 when Spalding introduced the first two –piece ball.

Golf balls, showing the progression from featheries, to the hand hammerred gutty and then the machine moulded gutty

Photograph from Horace Huthinson’s book “Fifty Years of Golf”, published in 1919

A Haskell golf ball, made in 1899

The final evolutionary step – the rubber cored golf ball

How was the Haskell ball invented?

The story goes that Coburn Haskell had arranged to play golf with his friend, Bertram Work, who was the Superintendant at the B.F.Goodrich Company, who were, at the time, a young company specialising in rubber and tyre manufacturer, then based in Akron, Ohio (They would eventually merge with Uniroyal and be later sold to Michelin).

Elastic rubber thread

It is said that whiilst waiting for Bertram, Coburn was idly winding rubber elastic thread, and when he had built up a small ball of rubber, he bounced the ball and was immediately impressed with the way it bounced.

When Bertram turned up, he showed him what he had created and demonstrated how it bounced. Bertram Work at once suggested they test it by putting a covering on it to see if it could be used for playing golf with.

From that moment on the rubber cored golf ball was invented.

Coburn Haskell subsequently established the Haskell Golf Ball Company in 1901. Haskell took out a patent on the design of the new golf ball, and, consequently, his company was the only company in the world legally permitted to manufacture the rubber-cored ball, making Haskell a very wealthy man.

In 1917, he sold the Haskell Golf Ball Company and his patent to Spalding, who until then had not been able to compete with the “Haskell” and had therefore still been producing gutty derived golf balls.

Advert for Haskell balls in 1906 (B F Goodrich Co.)

Published in Collected Short Stories, Vol. IV (Feb 1905 to Oct 1907, by Fred White and therein reproduced from The Australian Town And Country Journal, 3 Jan 1906

The Battle between Haskell and Spalding

Spalding, who up to this point had been the largest producer of Gutty balls, found themselves wrong-footed by the immergence of the Haskell ball.

This resulted in a huge marketing battle, from the turn of the century, between Haskell, who were pushing their new ball, and Spalding, who did not have the legitimate authority to manufacture the new ball, given that Haskell owned the patent.

This continued until Spalding bought Haskell’s company and patent in 1917.

So, in 1901, Spalding were still pushing the Gutty ball, including the “Vardon Flyer”.

Advert for Spalding Gutty golf balls

From Spalding’s Official Golf Guide, 1901

Advert for the Vardon Flyer

From Spalding’s Official Golf Guide, 1901

Amateur Championship, St. Andrews, 1901, with J.L. Low (driving) and H.H. Hilton.

One wonders how many of the competitors were using the new Haskell ball and how many were still using the Gutty

Photograph from Horace Hutchinson’s book “Fifty Years of Golf”, published in 1919

The golf ball today

There are many different types of ball now available to golfers of all abilities. 

Some balls, usually the most expensive, offer the better golfer optimum spin, ball flight and control. Others are less expensive and offer more distance at the expense of control. These are more likely to be used by mid and high handicap golfers. There also less expensive basic balls for use by beginners and juniors.

There is a huge market in all things to do with antique golf equipment. If you happen to come across an antique Gutty in good condition it might be worth several hundred pounds. If you find a feathery it will be worth much more. Even a Haskell will be quite valuable.

Nowadays golf club technology has advanced so that the heads of “woods” are mostly made of metal, designed and fashioned by computer design engineers taking into account such things as aeronautical factors, shaft flex-point, optimal club-head speed and ball spin calculations. There are carbon and metal shafts with many different flex and compression qualities, made to suit all types of golfers – and their pockets! 

The advance in technology, coupled with players becoming better coached and physically honed,  will lead to the ball being hit further and further. There are interesting and exciting times ahead.

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Putter development

Following the advent of the Haskell rubber ball, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of different types of putters. 

The early putters resembled the long-nosed wooden clubs and were not only used for putting on the green, but for other shots such as long shots under the wind (a bit like todays “Texas wedge” and with a bit more loft for chipping and running. 

Wooden headed putters were replaced by iron putters after 1900, with infinite numbers of designs. There were all kinds of designs, just like today – round, square, mallet, hammer, pointed. It is almost certain that even then there were impatient golfers who changed their putter every few weeks, just as some golfers do today.   

Tee pegs

t would be remiss not to conclude this dissertation on the history of golf without a mention of the humble tee peg.

The only place that a tee peg can be used in a game of golf is on the teeing ground of each hole. 

In the early days of golf the players used to make a little mound of sand on which they placed their ball before hitting it from the teeing ground. 

George Franklin Grant

In 1899 George Franklin Grant, a US dentist, was awarded a patent for “an improved golf tee” from the United States Patent Office. This was simply for a wooden peg that the golfer pushed into the ground, and on which he placed his golf ball. 

However ten years earlier another patent was issued by the British Patent Office to two Scotsmen, William Blossom and Arthur Douglas also for an artificial tee. 

Neither of these patents resulted in golfers using their tee designs, but in 1991, the USGA recognised Grant as the inventor of the modern tee peg, largely because it was the closest to the modern design. 

In fact there were artificial tees in use long before either patent, but there are no records or artifacts surviving. Consequently no one will ever know who invented the first man made golf tee. 

British Patent for tee peg, 1890

Rule 11 of The Rules of Golf now state: –

A tee is a device designed to raise the ball off the ground. A tee must not:

  • be longer than 4 inches (101.6 mm);
  • be designed or manufactured in such a way that it could indicate line of play;
  • unduly influence the movement of the ball; or
  • otherwise assist the player in making a stroke or in his play.

Next – see a golf timeline of all of the major milestones in the history of golf.

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