Here are two glorious matched playclubs from the early 1880s, in original condition, and with attendant spring and whip in the shafts – pure elegance. I have not yet hit these, but to swing them is to be immediately transported in time to a high point in the development of clubmaking in Scotland.
The firm of David Anderson & Sons was formed in 1893 by David Jr, the son of ‘Old Da’ who himself had served time as keeper of St Andrews green, and who sold ginger beer at the fourth green at St Andrews. Young David began the business with his younger brother Willie, before bringing in his sons in 1893. There were five of them and the company produced prodigious amounts of clubs and balls over the next 30 years. They perhaps suffered from being in the same town as the Morrises and Forgans, otherwise their star would have burned more brightly for their work is extremely accomplished. Trade flourished with the States, and their best known ball, the ‘St Andrews’, sold many tens of thousands. David’s brother Jamie won the Open on three successive occasions but they never worked together.
Despite the familial connections with golf through his father, Auld Da and brother Jamie, this was clearly not David Anderson’s first choice of career. He is described on the birth certificate of his early children as a plasterer. It is only with the birth of Margaret in 1876 that he is described as a clubmaker and, on the records for James and Andrew in 1878 and 1879, as a journeyman clubmaker, suggesting he began an apprenticeship around 1876 when he was already in his mid-30s. Given the fact that both his brothers worked there, it is likely his skills were learned once again in the Forgan workshop. As there are clubs marked “D Anderson” from the 1880s, we assume he made at least some on his own account at this time. The first record of him going into business was a partnership with brother Willie in 1888, as D & W Anderson. Willie may have returned to work at Forgans and, from 1893, Slaters directory shows entries for the new firm of D Anderson & Sons.
Much is made of the fact that David Anderson had five sons to go into the business but, in its heyday, around the turn of the twentieth century, the youngest, John, was still at school. The 1901 census shows the four older boys working with father in the business as clubmakers and his eldest daughter, Margaret, employed as a clerk there. A piece in Golf Illustrated in February 1904 records twelve clubmakers. David’s eldest son, another David, was foreman of the works and was an excellent golfer too. He tied for second in the 1888 Open at St Andrews when, infamously, Jack Burns was declared the winner after it was found the total of his rounds – all two of them – had been added incorrectly.
Their original premises were at 5 Ellice Place, now the cigar store with the cigar store Indian outside but, for a time, they occupied the black railway sheds which gave the line to the 17th, the Road Hole, on the Old Course. The sheds were demolished when the Old Course Hotel was built but replicas are now in place to recreate the blind drive.
The firm was not particularly groundbreaking in terms of club technology. Indeed, probably their most famous ‘innovation’ was a step back in time. By the end of the 1890s hickory had been the favored wood for shafts for almost one hundred years. At this time, David Anderson re-introduced ash as a shaft wood under the brand name Texa ash, the significance of the name and the supposed benefits of the material both being unclear. Unclear is perhaps too kind. The Courier of November 23, 1897 reported, “A Manchester golfer submitted his texa to a well-known clubmaker. That worthy, after a close inspection, declared it to be “naething but guid auld Scotch ash” and said the extra price charged was a “blanketty blank swindle.”
The Triumph putter, however, was an influential design with its offset blade and peak. Most also had an ovoid hosel. The Excelsior putter, a heavy head with a concentric back also seems to have originated from David Anderson. As neither model was patented, these forms can also be found from other makers. The Glory series of irons and putters used the contemporary popular ‘diamond back’ form, which was intended to increase the weight behind the sweetspot.
Another Golf Illustrated article (in 1903) stresses the importance of the export trade to the firm. Clubs such as the one illustrated for Calcutta would be sent out to Fifers and Dundonians running the jute trade in India and there was also a healthy export business to the United States. In London, as the advertisement shows, John Wisden, who stocked only the best-made clubs, served as their agents.
And, if they were not particularly innovative in club design, they were in mechanisation. Plans were approved at the Dean of Guild Court in July 1907 for a workshop and mill to accommodate five electrically-driven machines which the local press, with more than a touch of hyperbole claimed, ‘would convert the rough tree into the finished article’.
The firm survived David senior’s death in 1912 and the First World War. Perhaps there were problems with the next succession. After all, the three oldest sons would all have been in their 70s in the 1930s. Perhaps their traditions of craftsmanship (they made beautiful wooden putters in the late 1920s and early 1930s) held them back in the metal-shafted era. I have not yet managed to establish the precise date the firm went out of business (Henderson and Stirk say ‘start of WWI’ [a new firm was created after David’s death but this was a legal nicety only] and Olman says 1926 both of which are wrong) but Peter Georgiady’s ‘beginning of WWII’ seems right. Once a more precise date is established, it may be possible to determine the reasons for the business’s demise. The premises at 5 Ellice Place were advertised for sale as a clubmaker’s business with stock and plant, ‘due to the death of the owner’ in February 1945.