Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods set to drive golf memorabilia market values up

As Rory McIlroy scores a record opening round of 66 at the British Open, an estimated 2.5 million UK golf enthusiasts will tune in to this weekend's conclusion of the tournament. While fans get the chance to see the likes of Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington compete for the £850,000 prize, one or two may just be considering an investment in the growing market of memorabilia associated with the game.

After all, recent years have seen an increasing amount of valuable golfing collectibles come up for auction. What's more, the value of these collectible are underpinned by some 30 million amateur players and countless fans around the world, with some rare pieces fetching five figure sums.

At the lower end of the market, unique memorabilia from the early part of the 20th century has proved popular to collectors at auction. A 1910 edition of Golfing mascot "the Silver King" is one of the most sought after pieces, with only fifteen thought to be in existence. In July this year an edition of the figure sold for £6,000 ($9,000) at Mullock's in Scotland.

Royal & Ancient Golf rare book

For fans of the game's history, early golf literature has fetched impressive auction prices. A PBA Galleries sale in San Francisco saw the sale of a rare 1912 "large paper" edition of Harold H Hilton and Garden G Smith's "The Royal & Ancient Game of Golf," described by expert Joseph Murdock as "one of the most magnificent books in the entire library of golf." It sold for £10,000 ($15,000). 

Items connected to modern stars of golf have also soared in price. A Jack Nicklaus golf bag, from the highly successful 1970s era of his career sold for £7,000 ($10,157), at an online auction in 2007. While a single autographed Tiger Woods tournament worn cap fetched £6,400 ($9,560) in October last year.

According to the PFC40 autograph index, which details the 2000 - 2010 price performance of 40 of the most sought after celebrity autographs, in 1998 a signed photograph of Tiger Woods was worth £750 ($1,150) while today this photograph would fetch £1,750 ($2,680), a total increase of 133.3%.

The value of 19th century clubs and balls has seen the biggest increases in the past twenty years.

In 1990, at a U.S. auction in Cincinnati, one collector paid the then world-record price of £7,550 ($11,550) for a 150-year-old "feathery" golf ball, made by ball designer, Allan Robertson in Scotland.

Since then, the demand for clubs and balls has increased; highlighted in a 2004 Christie's sale of an 1840 Hugh Philp designed "Scared Head Long Nosed Putter". Philp was the first designer to focus on slim, curved wooden designed clubs and they remain some of the most sought after collectibles on the market, with this rare putter selling for £23,900 ($44,260).

Photographs and artwork also dominate the high end of the collectibles market. One 1930 photograph, depicting golfer Bobby Jones, with his four major tournament titles won during that "grand slam" year, sold for £8,800 ($13,145).

Tiger Woods by Craig Campbell
Tiger Woods by Craig Campbell

Paintings by Scottish artist Craig Campbell also offer artistic and financial rewards to collectors. Campbell's famous portrait of Jack Nicklaus fetched £18,000 ($27,000) at a 2006 Bonhams auction, while a 2007 picture of Tiger Woods sold for £12,500 ($19,000).

Art related to the game has also continued to prove in demand, with artist Stephen Shankland recently commissioned to paint a portrait of Arnold Palmer.

Memorabilia relating to post war tournaments currently leads the market in terms of prices at auction.  

A signed photo dating back to the 1949 Masters Series came up for auction in April this year. The photograph essentially represented a get well card made out to golfer Ben Hogan, who had been involved in a car accident prior to the start of the competition.

It featured the 97 signatures of every participant in the 1949 tournament, including eleven masters winners and sold for £20,050 ($31,070).

Prices in the market are also being driven up by interest from institutions like St Andrews' British golf museum and the National Sports Collectors Convention in Anaheim. However, the last decade has also seen the continuing emergence of golf in China, with 1 million currently playing the game, and more from the population of nearly 1.3 billion sure to follow.

The country did not have its first golf course until 1984, and introduced its first teaching golf professional ten years later. Today according to the Senior VP of Sports event giant IMG, Mark Adams "China is the biggest market for golf course development" and with 200 courses open and a further 100 under construction he's not far wrong.

Financial experts Capgemini have projected increasing global economic affluence to come to China, meaning increasing levels of disposable income. The developing interest in golf and its professional history in China have also been encouraged by the emergence of professionals like China's Zhang Lianwei and the growth of Asian tournaments on the PGA Tour.

All of which points to huge potential for the growth of golf in China over the next twenty years, with memorabilia also expected to gain popularity as recognition of the sport continues to develop.

And it's never too late to invest, with memorabilia relating to stars like Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods, available today.

Furthermore, with increased involvement from Chinese fans, museums and institutions alike, sales of Golfing, could prove hugely popular, for fans of history, artistry and most importantly golf. One day, there may even be Rory McIlroy memorabilia for sale.


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