Love: Some fond memories of 1970s golf gear
Having golfed locally for nearly four decades, it’s interesting to reflect on the changes I’ve witnessed since first picking up a club in the mid-1970s.
While there are many innovations in golf that I’d never think of giving up, I still have fond memories of the way golf was played when I first started.
Wooden clubs: As a young teenager, the only woods I knew were actually made of wood. Persimmon was the material preferred by the best players. This southern hardwood was used to carve clubheads used in making the finest clubs of the day. But most wooden clubs – like the ones I owned – were made of laminated layers of wood, glued together, and were much less expensive than their persimmon counter parts.
Another interesting thing about wooden clubs was the fact that they were almost always sold in sets – not like today when drivers, fairway woods and utility clubs are sold individually. Matched sets were the norm back then, typically sold as a 1-wood, 3-wood, 5-wood combination.
Irons: My first set of irons was a Christmas present received as a 13-year-old beginner. Again, they were Wilson Staff or MacGregors, not among the premium sets of the day, but I loved them just the same.
My Lee Trevino Faultless Irons were a typically matched set of the day – 3-iron through pitching wedge. Sand wedges were purchased separately, and there were no such things as gap wedges or lob wedges back then. If you carried an extra iron, it was usually a 1-iron or 2-iron. I carried a 1-iron because my childhood hero, Jack Nicklaus, had one, even though I didn’t have the talent to hit it correctly.
Balls: Hardly any piece of golfing equipment has changed more dramatically over the years than the golf ball. When I first began playing, the Wilson ProStaff was my ball. It was fairly inexpensive and had a hard cover that didn’t cut like a Titleist. Only good golfers played Titleist balata balls – which allowed for greater spin rates. They were very expensive, though, and were much less durable, with covers that cut easily.
My best memories involving Titleist balata balls included the act of disassembling them. If I happened to find a stray Titleist, it was fun to peel the cover off, exposing the rubber-banded inner core. Once opened, the tightly-wound bands would seemingly explode, spinning and bouncing until all the bands unwound into what looked like a plate of spaghetti.
Today’s modern two-piece ball is so much superior to any golf ball of the 1970s. Titleist’s Pro V1, introduced in 2000, travels significantly further and straighter than previous models. In addition, durability has also increased dramatically with the introduction of the new synthetic urethane covers.
Clothing: Another big change, over the years, concerns what golfers wear. When I was young, the best golf shirts were all made of cotton. Anything made with polyester was typically stiff and uncomfortable.
Today, major improvements in the manufacture of synthetic fabrics have led to new micro-fibers that are lighter and more flexible, creating materials with significant moisture-wicking capabilities and allowing for the production of ultra-comfortable apparel.
Golf shoes have also witnessed a significant evolution. For many years, I wore shoes with metal spikes. It wasn’t until 1993 that soft spikes were introduced, eliminating the aggravating spike marks caused by steel cleats.
Another unusual, accessory to the golf shoe was the kiltie – a bell-shaped piece of leather used to cover up a shoe’s laces. I can still remember how proud I was to sport my first pair of brand-new Foot Joys, which included a set of black kilties.
For some reason, kilties fell out of favor in the early 1980s and haven’t been seen on a golf course since. I know that I wouldn’t be caught in a pair today.
Miscellaneous: There are a few other odd changes that I remember over the years. One actually involves a golf rule that defines how to drop a ball. Most golfers today know that a legal drop involves extending your arm at shoulder-height while dropping. However, before 1984 golfers were required to stand erect while facing the flagstick, and dropping the ball behind them, over their shoulder.
Also, while there were obviously no range-finders back then, 150-yard markers (stakes or bushes) were just becoming common. Other simple ideas, like the use of red, white and blue flags to designate the green-depth of flagsticks, were years away.
While pondering every-day life centuries ago, Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only thing that is constant is change.”
The same can said about golf. When I first began golfing years ago, I enjoyed hearing from oldtimers about how the game had changed from men like Squire Shaw, Wes Lingenfelter and Ron White.
I now find myself in that same role – an old-timer, happily sharing my memories of bygone times and hopefully able to do so for years to come.
Ken Love’s golf column runs on Friday.