Inside a $1m club collection

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How much would you pay for a golf club? Today’s top drivers are nudging £500, or you can get a three-year-old one secondhand for less than £200. But that’s small change to the avid collectors who are about to bid $1 million doe one of the best collections of early clubs ever seen. 

The Roberto Family Trust Golf Collection, made up of more than 130 clubs that span the history of clubmaking from spur irons of the 17th century to spoons and playclubs of the late 19th century, is going under the hammer at Bonhams in LA.

Will Roberto started collecting golf memorabilia in the 1960s and over the past 50 years, he has gradually refined the collection to concentrate on his passion for early golf clubs. In his native USA, and during his many trips to Scotland and England, he hunted down rarities by a combination of detective work and simply knocking on people’s doors.

Among the treasures up for aution is a left-handed, child’s or light spur toe iron, circa 1690-1700, one of the oldest and rarest clubs in the world.

Estimated at $75,000-100,000, it is one of only eight such clubs known to exist, most of which are in musuems. Missing a shaft, now replaced, the iron lay overlooked in a box of tools for 50 years. 

Other clubs that are getting collectors excited include: 

A Bowmaker’s long nose play club circa 1750-1780 Estimated at $40,000-60,000, the club is one of the oldest of its type known, where bowmakers were commissioned to craft wooden headed clubs.

The Duke of Atholl’s Heavy Iron, circa 1780 This blacksmith made club, which carries an estimate of $20,000-25,000, weighs 24.1 ounces. It has an exceptionally large face and imposing hosel, and the original sheepskin grip is inscribed in ink, ‘Heavy iron’.  

Willie Dunn’s long nose putter by Hugh Philip, circa 1830 Estimated at $ 25,000-40,000. An attached typed brown paper label states: ‘This club was used by old Willie Dunn in 1859 when Willie Park, sen., beat Willie Dunn at Prestwick for £100.0.0.’ As Will Roberto has pointed out: “This club comes directly from the Dunn family and it is very seldom to get such strong written provenance…” 

A long nose wooden headed putter circa by John Dicksonm 1780 Dickson from Leith in Edinburgh, is one of the earliest recorded club makers. One of only three known Dickson clubs from the late 18th century, the club was re-gripped and re-shafted in the 1889s by the same firm.  It is estimated at $12,000-18,000.

Bonhams Golf Specialist, Kevin McGimpsey said: “The Roberto Family Trust’s outstanding collection of early golf clubs and other golf memorabilia ranks among the top five in the world. It represents a lifetime of enthusiasm and connoisseurship and provides an unrivalled opportunity to acquire pieces of great historical significance and rarity.”

Will Roberto said: “Putting together this collection has been a wonderful, absorbing hobby which has given me decades of pleasure. The time has now come for a new generation of collectors to enjoy these fascinating objects.”