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Antique Golf Clubs from Scotland
Scottish Golf History

Clubmakers

Robert Forgan and Son
(Source: © 1999 - 2013, Douglas MacKenzie)

Robert Forgan, began making clubs, as a joiner, in St Andrews in 1852 in Hugh Philp's shop, at that time, the only such shop in St Andrews. Philp had begun the business around the start of the century as, previously, St Andrews only access to clubs was from the visits to the town of the Musselburgh clubmakers Peter McEwan and Simon Cossar. Some early clubs are marked "Philp Forgan". He succeeded Philp in 1856 and started trading under his own name. At this time there were two clubmakers in St Andrews, James Wilson, who left Philp's employ when Forgan joined, to set up on his own took on Andrew Strath as his assistant. At the same time Forgan recruited Jamie Anderson. Forgan's obituary notes that the two clubmakers were very friendly: they bought their wood together, divided it into two tranches outside their shops and drew lots to determine who should take possession of which pile.

In 1863 he was asked to make a set of clubs for the Prince of Wales, on the occasion of HRH becoming Captain of the R&A. The heads of these nine clubs were of apple, the shafts hickory and the heads were stamped with the prince's crown and the initials 'A E'; with the maker's name on the lower side of the head. This later allowed Forgan to use the Prince of Wales' ostrich plumes device as his cleekmark. This changed to a crown on the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.

In 1887 he bought the Links Coffeehouse at public auction for £500.

He did not begin making his own iron heads until the 1890s, earlier ones having been bought from Robert White and Tom Stewart. During his time with Philp he was one of the earliest advocates of hickory shafts and with Tom Morris, was credited with the bulk-buying of the wood allowing lower prices for clubs.

He is credited, by some at least, with the innovation of fixing the ram's horn edge guard (the "slip" or "bone") to the sole with angled hickory pegs. Other innovative technology from him included Forganite, a wood treatment applied to a bulldog driver both to make it weatherproof and to remove the need for any additional weighting. He also introduced a 'drainpipe' putter where the head was a right-angled extension of the socket designed for putting on fast greens. The assymetric angle shaft is another of his contributions.

His youngest son, Thomas, joined the business in 1881 when it became R Forgan and Son. The firm was the largest producer of golf clubs in the 1890s and, in the same period, its ball production was almost as great. In 1920 it was reconstituted as a limited company with a share capital of £10,000. It continued operation, for a time under the control of Spalding, until the 1960s. Robert Forgan died on 15 December 1900; Thomas Berwick Forgan on 20 December 1906.

So many famous clubmakers learned their trade at the Forgan factory but it can't all have been sweetness and light as the clubmakers went on strike in 1911 because of the time they lost in marking their card at the clock and returned on the conditions that 'there shall be no lying time, that no marking takes place when the men are leaving work at five o'clock, except when they are working overtime'. They were clearly a special breed, the manager during the First World War, Alexander Brown, was exempted from military service at the same tribunal which ordered Spence & Gourlay's top two cleekmakers to sign up.

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