The basic design element of a hickory era “crosshead” putter has the greatest length of the head extending back directly behind the ball; this experimental model was duplicated by master professionals and home-based amateur clubmakers alike following it’s invention in 1897 by Francis Brewster. Often known as a “Simplex” putter, this idea was used to manufacture entire playsets in very limited numbers prior to the mass-production era at the turn of the century.
This replica putter came up for auction on eBay, from the Louisville Golf Company, in 2012, and I was the winning bidder at $62.41. As it happened, I was living in Louisville at the time and had the opportunity on many occasions to join Louisville Golf’s Mike Just and his trusty sidekick, Joshua Fischer, for practice rounds at SoHG events. Naturally, I was impressed with Mike; his demeanor, his warmth, his family’s devotion to the company and his impeccable, syrupy golf swing that always seemed to put him in the center of every fairway without a care in the world. But in addition to this, I was also indelibly impressed with Josh Fischer and his elevated vocabulary and penchant for literature. This was, in my experience, an exceptionally rare trait found on golf courses in Kentucky!
The first time I played with Josh, he used a phrase which struck my ear and has forever embedded itself in my memory…”emotional larceny.” Surely we were joking around about past relationships, or some such folly, and this phrase was uttered. It startled me in its simplicity and inventiveness. (I later came to learn that Josh was an avid fan of the works of John Milton, Dante Alighieri, and Herman Melville.)
Having won the auction for the unusual putter, I asked Josh to engrave it before I collected it, and put together a simple design to immortalize his turn of phrase. I put this putter into play in 2015 with friends in NWHP and putted as well with it as my original Gassiat. It seems hard to take the club offline, and distance control was fairly effortless in spite of the unusual clubhead shape.
The original Simplex inventor, Francis Brewster, played in the 1899 Open Championship under the name “Mr. Crosshead”. He withdrew after a first round score of 111! Despite his clubs meeting little success, he formed the Simplex Golf Association and School of Golf to provide instruction, both of which were short-lived. There are examples of his work in the British Golf Museum dating from 1897.
Traditional crosshead putters have clean lines and commonly were made with a higher degree of face loft than traditional putters of the time.
Louisville Golf’s replica crosshead putter has six degrees of loft, with a brass back and face to add weight to the putter, and a larger brass piece in the back to stabilize the putter throughout the putting stroke.
Brewster’s original objective was to make a set of wooden clubs, driver to putter that would dispense with the need of iron clubs. According to his first patent (No. 9,514 dated 14 April 1897) he wanted to build golf clubs that would hit the ball further and straighter. Not only was the club head distinctive in shape, the sole of the club was designed so that it cambered from heel to toe as well as from front to back in an attempt to make the club more effective. The joint that attached the shaft to the middle of the head was done in such a way to ensure there was no turning or ‘torsional movement’.
Jeffery Ellis notes in The Clubmaker’s Art that “Brewster’s Simplex clubs…are not readily available. Because they were never accepted or produced in quantity and because they are loaded with character, Simplex clubs are considered prize collectibles.”
Francis Brewster wrote the following (emphasis added) in his 1897 patent application:
This invention relates to those clubs used in playing the game of golf which serve for driving or making the long strokes and are technically known as “drivers,” “spoons,” “cleeks,” “pitchers,” and “lofters,” these clubs being alike in requiring to be swung through the air to deliver their strokes, and differing merely in the varied inclinations given to the acting face of the club-head to allow of driving the ball ahead or of more or less lofting it according to its environment in the position in which it may have fallen and from which it has to be struck and in the varied lengths given to the club-shaft to allow of the player getting more or less near to or over the ball to play it to the best advantage, the main objects of the invention being to cause the forces involved in such a stroke as is given by the player to the club and in such a blow as is given by the club to the ball in the game of golf to be more practically applied than is the case in existing golf-clubs, and to produce a golf-club of more effective driving power and having a less tendency to torsional movement in the handling thereof while being swung through the air and to cause the club to deliver a truer and more effective blow.
[It is designed] with its length in the direction of the stroke and blow, whereby the weight and the energy of the stroke are concentrated in the plane of the arc of the swing of the club and behind the proper point of impact of the clubhead with the ball.
— Robert Birman
Other examples of crosshead clubs: