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The timing of these auctions is as traditional as a drink at the 19th but this year’s round of sales was joined by a new player – Bob Gowland who led Phillips into this market in the early 1980s, and recently decided to go it alone. He held his first sale, in Miami of all places, in March this year where he established a record for a golf ‘wood’ at auction by selling a mid-18th century play club for $132,000 (£94,285).

There was nothing of equivalent rarity at either of these sales in July, nor indeed at the London sales held by Sotheby’s and Christie’s South Kensington at the same time.

“For some reason the quality wasn’t so great this year,” said Manfred Schotten, a specialist dealer from Oxfordshire, “and estimates seemed to be high on the average material, and that stopped people even starting to bid.”

So far, so like other areas of the antiques market. Indeed, golfing paintings seemed buoyant at all the sales, and Mr Schotten reported an excellent response to his own exhibition of golfing art and memorabilia, it was just the middle-range clubs, balls and ephemera which seemed to struggle.

However, for the very rarest items at both these sales there was a strong response, with Jaimie Patino, owner of Valderrama Golf Club, maintaining his status as the John Paul Getty of this collecting market.

He topped Gowland’s sale, bidding £22,000 on a rare wooden gutty ball cutter stamped W.Park (believed to be young Willie) although, as the third such cutter to have appeared in the past decade, it was also the cheapest. Even so, prices for the more common metal gutty cutters and related tools pale by comparison, as witnessed by the cast iron gutty press by John White at Phillips Chester, which sold at £2800.

Phillips’ great rarity was a ‘feathery’ ball by David Marshall, c.1830, with an ink written weight. These are the earliest professionally made golf balls, stuffed with goose feathers and bound with cowhide, and their friable nature meant that few would have survived even a single round, hence their rarity.

Despite this, and because there is an unknown quantity yet to be dug out of old courses, the market has learnt to discriminate between featheries on grounds of age, maker, appearance and condition, thus keeping prices stable. Thus, a relatively late feathery, c.1840, of average shape by Allan Robertson only fetched £6000 at Sotheby’s London on July 11, whereas this earlier Marshall ball in finer condition fetched £23,000. This compares with the Robertson feathery in fine condition and dated 1824, which brought £24,000 at Christie’s South Kensington last year and the last occasion that Phillips offered a Marshall feathery, in July 1995, when the price was £17,000.

There was resistance to a Gourlay feathery in poor condition – the estimate of £4000-6000 was too high, while a quartet of commoner Forgan-style gutty balls carrying the same expectations also failed to sell.

Bob Gowland’s small offering of 20th century balls failed to impress, although there were good responses to early patterned and dimpled balls.

A hacked Durable with Crescent Colonel marking, together with a split and chipped Star Challenger made £400 (estimate £150-180), a Royal and Ancient Challenger in the rectangular box pattern and a Capon Heaton star in a circle pattern, both with hacks and split equators, fetched £380, and a hacked Burbank swirl recess pattern Streamline PGA Championship ball, and a Joyce indented three-leaf clover ball in a circle pattern with 30 per cent of the paint missing, sold at £340. It is worth remembering these names, for the balls can be picked up in a junk fair or deep rough for nothing.

The best of the named woods and irons were generally selling at bottom or below estimate at both sales. Bob Gowland offered a baffing spoon with golden beech head and stout hickory shaft, 3ft (91.5cm) long, which went at £2800 (estimate £3000-5000) and a more common long-nosed play club in golden beech by Edinburgh makers Anderson & Sons (also known for their fishing rods) featuring a beechwood ‘sleeve’ self grip, made £1200.

A spalding giant niblick was the best of the patent irons, bringing £800, while a rare Simpson Carnoustie hollow iron-headed transitional putter made £500.

At Phillips there was more material to choose from, and speculation that Willie Park Junior had owned a Henry’s Centro iron certainly encouraged bidding on the rare patent club.

The five dots on either side of the smooth faced head corresponds to the markings on the great ball maker’s personal clubs, according to author Alex Watt, and bidding on this c.1904 iron was taken above estimate to £3200 as a consequence.

The woods at Phillips were graced by the presence of a long-nose grassed driver by Hugh Philp, c.1830, which scraped bottom estimate at £5000, although more valuable examples by the maker failed to sell.

Pick of the ephemera was a rare booklet of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club rules for 1842 offered by Bob Gowland. Believed to be the first set of R&A rules published in booklet form, the eight pages bound in cerise cloth sold to a collector at £8000.

Phillips, Chester, July 16
Number of lots offered: 511
Number of lots sold: 381
Sale total: £154,765
Buyer’s premium: 15/10 per cent

Bob Gowland International Golf Auctions, Chester, July 15
Number of lots offered: 234
Number of lots sold: 162
Sale total: n/a
Buyer’s premium: 15 per cent inc .VAT