Have you ever wondered what golf was like 100 years ago? What sort of equipment and clothing were customary on the fairways in Australia in the 1910s and 20s?
Try taking a wooden stick and whacking a wound rubber-centred dimpled ball covered with a case of gutta percha. Not so easy to put the ball on the green with that equipment is it? Golf as a sport has come a long way since the turn of the twentieth century, mainly thanks to technological innovation and mass production. To think that the first golf balls used were made out of leather stuffed with feathers!
Wentworth Falls Country Club was founded in 1913 after the land, 45 acres initially, was purchased for around 2000 pounds or the equivalent of approximately AUD 250,000 today. These were the original 9 holes and what currently includes holes 2 to 9. Back in the 1910s there were only a few dozen golf clubs in NSW and Wentworth Falls soon became one of the finest club houses in the State. Sydneysiders would enjoy a weekend in the Blue Mountains to take advantage of the pristine air quality and indulge in a weekend of golfing and social activities. Should you be interested in further information, Dorothea Moore is currently writing a book on the evolution of the WFCC Club throughout the years and it will be available for purchase in April 2013.
The fascinating evolution of the game of golf holds many surprises and turning points. However, it would be interesting to briefly review the 1910s and 1920s and focus on three general areas: the equipment, the attire and the ‘customs and regulations’ of the game.
The common golf club of the 1910s was the hickory golf club. These clubs were originally made out of hickory wood which is extremely hard, heavy, strong, and elastic. It was a preferred wood for golf clubs as it would offer strength and resilience. Recently manufacturers have started using materials such as carbon fiber, titanium or scandium. Even though most ‘woods’ are made from different metals, they are still called ‘woods’ to denote the general shape and their intended use on the golf course. Most woods made today have a graphite shaft and a titanium, composite, or steel head.
Between 1900 and 1930 many innovations were implemented in the design of golf clubs. Some of the most remarkable attempts to change the design of the clubs were Walter Hagen’s concave face sand iron or the adjustable club allowing you to change the loft on it. However, one of the most bizarre ones was the 15cm face ‘giant niblick’ that was developed in the 1920s.
Probably one of the most important changes in club design that followed the introduction of the modern day golf ball around the turn of the twentieth century was the introduction of grooves on club faces. The designers came to the realization that the grooves (as opposed to a smooth surface) on clubs would allow not only a greater backspin effect on the ball but also greater distance.
Another fun fact was the replacement of the names of clubs with numbers. This came about in the United States in the 1920s changing names such as cleek, mid-iron, mashie, jigger and niblick into the number coding we use today. Together with the introduction of numbers, the loft and shaft length was standardised in an attempt to offer a more level playing field for competitions.
By the time the 1920s came around, the game of golf had been played for centuries. Golf fashion however came into vogue in that period as players not only wanted to perform well but also wanted to appear dashing and stylish.
The fashionable golfer of the 1920s wore plus fours with argyle knee socks and a pullover sweater. (Argyle is a traditional knitted pattern with large interlocking diamonds in various colors that gave a flashy look to the sportsman.)
But what were plus fours? Plus fours were a variation on the traditional knee pants called knickers, which had been worn by men, boys, and, occasionally, women, since the late 1800s. The reason they were called plus fours was because they were made four inches longer than ordinary knickers. While they still fastened with a tight band at the knee, the extra fabric of the plus four bloused over the band, giving a relaxed, baggy look. Plus fours were an extravagant, careless style that fit right in with the looser fashions and lifestyles of the 1920s. They also offered more freedom of movement than previous knickers, which made them extremely popular with sportsmen, especially golfers.
But what about the women? The early ’20s saw women playing golf in two-piece dresses. These were usually plain or pleated skirts topped with a sweater or vest, over patterned stockings and rubber-soled shoes. Halfway through the decade, New York’s Best & Company introduced the “shirtmaker,” a one-piece dress more appropriate for sports. Women golfers continued to wear the shirtmaker while playing golf for another 30 years.
3) Customs, rules and regulations
The history of the rules and regulations of golf and golfing equipment is quite intricate and complex. The interesting aspect of it however is how the golfing authorities analysed innovations and modifications. The US Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews would gauge whether the improvements would provide an unfair advantage and if so they would either control them or veto them. An example of this is the width and depth of the club face grooves. Many modifications mentioned above, including the adjustable loft club, were ruled out in an attempt to create a level playing field for all.
In terms of customs, it is fascinating to highlight a few facts about Sydney golfing back in the 1910s and 1920s. Firstly, golf in Sydney did not have the egalitarian association that was typical in Scotland. The British perception of the game was adopted in Australia whereby golf was considered an elitist sport often synonymous with good birth, respectability and honour.
Also, the number of golf courses in NSW was limited and clubs therefore had caps on memberships making them more exclusive than they are today. Golf clubs also defined certain social hierarchies in accepting or refusing entrance to their premises, especially in smaller suburbs surrounding the city. Sporting excellence and talent did not however mean that you were accepted socially. Racial, ethnic and class exclusions were overt and condoned. This naturally drove away many people who might have developed a strong interest in golfing at the time.
Lastly, Wentworth Falls was considered quite a long way away from the city of Sydney and long weekends were often in order when needing to get away from the hustle and bustle of the urban environment. Many people visited the Blue Mountains for health reasons as the air was cleaner (and still is!) and the setting lent itself to a relaxing experience. Also, the Club allowed for overnight stay that translated into social soirees and events attracting many gentry of Sydney as well as of the local and surrounding areas.
All in all, the game of golf has come a long way since 1913. Whether the game is more or less enjoyable with the new technological advances and regulations is up for debate although the Wentworth Falls Country Club still remains one of the most beautiful golf clubs in New South Wales.
We encourage everyone to join us on the WFCC Centenary festivities that will take place in April for a week starting on the 5th. Please contact management on firstname.lastname@example.org or check our website on www.wfcc.com.au/whats-on/100-years for further details.