Golf equipment has continually evolved through the years. By 1930 the PGA Tour players were playing with steel shafted clubs. The 1930s were known as the steel age of golf.
This revolutionary new shaft material had been in the experimental stage for decades.
According to Herbert C. Lagerblade, the first production of steel shafts known as “Bristol” occurred during the summer of 1921. The USGA temporarily banned the use of steel in early 1923, only to reverse their stance and fully approve steel shafts the following year.
Lagerblade was the first player to hit a metal shafted driver at the U S Open.
He recalled, “When I hit my first drive in the championship I felt as though the whole future of the steel shaft depended on that shot. I still have a nervous memory of my knees knocking together and barely being able to see the ball. I said a little prayer and lo and behold, the ball went out straight and far.”
In the mid-1920s the Union Hardware Company of Torrington, Connecticut began manufacturing a seamless shaft composed of carbon steel that was heat-treated and tempered. Union imported the steel from Sweden. In 1928 the American Fork and Hoe Co. produced the all-steel True Temper shaft.
During this time the numbering of individual clubs was adopted as well. No longer were the names of mashie, niblicks and others used. Clubs were assigned a specific number. The numerical sequence of the woods and irons reflected the loft of each club.
In addition, complete numbered sets of clubs were being offered. Now players could get an entire set of clubs that matched. Most club heads were chrome plated to prevent rust. Each club had lined-scored faces.
Golf manufacturing companies continued to innovate. During the early 1930s Wilson Staff introduced the OGG-mented irons. These new innovative irons changed the way clubmakers balanced the weight.
Wilson moved the weight of the club from the heel to the ball-striking face of the sweet spot. They were on the right course anticipating the future design of “perimeter weighing.”
During that same time Wilson premiered Gene Sarazen’s experimental club, the sand wedge, known as the R-90. The club was a tremendous hit selling 50,000 clubs during its first year debut.
Also in the 1930s, the A. G. Spalding Company introduced a process known as drop forging. This new method was an early form of casting where modern metal is poured into a mold. Now clubheads could be mass-produced with identical specifications. This change in club making also reduced the price of each club.
Spalding recognized that women required a shorter, lighter version club of what the men were swinging and began mass producing sets of clubs for women. In 1930 Spalding developed the first liquid center golf ball known as the Kros-Flite. This new ball was a major technological advancement in the manufacturing of golf balls.
Meanwhile in the 1930s, the MacGregor company began manufacturing golf club grips made of rubber and cord. This “All Weather” grip surpassed the previous leather grips. They quickly became popular with pros and amateurs alike. Shortly after they developed an even better grip called the “Tri-Tac.”
All of these club improvements led to a more consistent swing, as each club in the set mimicked the other. These changes ushered in a new scoring revolution.
Course management was vastly improved as well. Mowing equipment and agronomy methods were upgraded. The greenskeeper position was evolving too. Turf management, machine maintenance and budget controls began to play a role in day-to-day operations.
The stimpmeter was developed in the mid-1930s by Eddie Stimpson, to determine the speed of the green. The speed test took place on a flat area of the green. A ball is rolled down a 36-inch-long strip of metal with a notch cut on the end to allow the ball to release on the green surface. The distance the ball rolls, measured in feet, is its stimpmeter reading.
The golf ball size and weight also continued to evolve. By 1931 the PGA Tour adopted a ball weighing 1.55 ounces with a diameter of 1.68 inches. This ball was referred to as the “balloon ball.”
No other player on the PGA Tour benefited more from the balloon ball than former Oak Hill pro Ed Dudley. Playing with the new ball, Dudley won the Los Angeles Open and the Western Open. He also won the scoring title for the year with an average of 71.39 strokes for the 30 tournaments he entered. At the time these golf balls were being sold for $2 a dozen.
According to Will Grimsley in his book Golf Its History, People and Events he quotes the USGA initially responding favorably to the balloon ball stating, “The average golfer has discovered he can make shots with the new ball which were beyond his control with the old. He has found no loss of distance — he is continually playing from better lies, and is amazed to find scores averaging lower. Women golfers are playing better with the new ball.”
In a short time afterward, the USGA dramatically repositioned their view finding multiple issues with the new ball. “The first balls on the market were oversized and substantially underweight which, combined with generally unfavorable weather, brought a storm of protest.
“Complaints against the “balloon ball” were enumerated: (1) it did not have sufficient weight to hold the course or bore into the wind; (2) on the putting green, it was easily diverted by the irregularities of the surface when its power is spent.”
On the last day in January of 1932, the USGA decided on a definite ball weight and size. The new ball rules stated that no ball could weigh more than 1.62 ounces and measure no less than 1.68 inches in diameter.
Even during the Great Depression, 1930 golf merchandise was expensive. During this time The Joplin Globe ran continuous advertisements. Montgomery Wards at 5th & Joplin was selling canvas bags for $7.98, trimmed in leather.
Straightaway balls per dozen guaranteed for 50 holes sold for $3.50 and Reddy-built tees were 18 count for 10 cents. The Joplin Hardware Store at 628 Main sold D & M Golf Balls three for $1, Kroydon Golf Clubs priced at $8 and up, and D & M golf bags for $3.
Even Crown Drug Co. at 510 Main was selling golf equipment. Spalding steel shaft irons were $4.50, Spalding steel shaft woods sold from $5 to $10, and an array of golf balls which included both Kro-Flite balls and Spalding blue or red dot balls for 75 cents.
However, Newman’s had the most interesting ad, “Even a Civil War Golfer out in 61 and back in 65 should be up-to-the-minute in his golf attire.” The popular department store offered sweaters and par-fours.
Burke irons and woods were $1.45 each, MacGregor “Edgemont” irons and woods each at $3, MacGregor, Noe and Burke golf bags from $1.95 to $5, and Burke “Falcon” counter-balanced woods at $12.50 apiece.