Huggins, who retired from MacGregor several years ago and now is a member of the custom golf-club advisory staff at Titleist, is as amazed as anyone at the thriving classic-club market. He acknowledges, though, that the irons he made for the stars were special. For example, whenever he made clubs for Nicklaus, he always had to grind the nine-iron out of an eight-iron forging because Nicklaus didn't like the neck of the nine-iron forging. And when he did make clubs for Hogan, he bent them a special way.
The market in classic clubs is so hot, and the expertise on the equipment so thin, that counterfeiters have sprung up. Last year Huggins visited a driving range in Los Angeles where the owner was selling old woods at inflated prices. He asked Huggins what he thought of them. "They're not bad...for copies," said Huggins.
Caveat emptor. Playing investment golf can be profitable, but there are penalties involved for those who don't know the rules.
Classic clubs aren't the only items of golf paraphernalia that can reap rewards for those who mine their attics or garages. Mort Olman owns the Old Golf Shop in Cincinnati and deals in golf antiques and memorabilia: artwork, silver, pottery, clubs and books. His customers include Barbara Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, the PGA and the USGA.
Olman's store is filled with forgotten treasures culled from houses in Scotland. His most prized find is an early 19th-century golf ball known as a feathery. It has a leather cover and is stuffed with feathers. Olman figures he can get about $1,500 for it.
The antique golf business—as opposed to the classic-club market—rarely trifles with usable clubs, points out Olman, who is the largest golf-memorabilia dealer in the world. He recently bid on an unsigned 16th-century oil painting of a child holding a club and ball that eventually sold for more than $17,000. Last month Sotheby's of London auctioned off two wooden-shafted irons, circa 1750, for $1,700 and $1,540, respectively.
"Most people, if they have something from the '20s, think it's really something special," says Olman. "But we often deal in things that are more than a century, maybe two centuries, old. Most of it is found overseas, but there is some here, too, because all of the early professionals in America came over from Scotland."
Tommy Armour was one of those Scottish pros. After he retired from tournament golf, he was the teaching pro at the Winged Foot Country Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. He'd sit in a folding chair near his pupil, a glass of Scotch beside him, and critique the swing. Little did he know that in the future he wouldn't be as renowned for his 1927 U.S. Open title as for the golf clubs that subsequently were manufactured under his name. Armour was called the Silver Scot during his playing days. Now his name is golden—when it appears on the back of a golf club.