the annals of modern club making, the maker who is subject to the greatest
inverse proportion of clubs produced to public acclaim must certainly be
George Nicoll. Located in the
site of the historic Lundin Links course, his firm produced many fine iron
club heads for over one hundred years before withdrawing from the
business. Still, very little
is known today about the history of the firm that occupied the Fife Iron
The Nicoll firm was started in 1881 by
a young blacksmith who managed to sell iron golf heads despite competition
from his already famous neighbor James Anderson.
The quality of Nicoll's workmanship was evident and within ten
years his business became quite brisk.
He had a number of name stamps in
different configurations for the smooth faced clubs he made during the
first 17 years of his trade. It
is difficult to positively date many of these clubs by their workmanship
alone although most of them date in the 1890-1895 timeframe with earlier
models being very scarce.
used the cleek mark of a hand up until the end of the company and in the
first version stamp the hand was very small.
The hand mark was introduced just before the turn of the century
but it was a full 24 years later that his son Robert sought to protect the
mark with trade mark status, claiming continuous usage back to 1898.
In all, a dozen different hand marks can be found on Nicoll clubs
and the serious student can reasonably date most models by recognizing the
different mark versions.
Joining the patent band wagon in the
1890s, Nicoll produced one of the classic patent clubs of the decade which
is highly prized by collectors today.
The patent leather faced cleek was introduced in 1892 featuring a
very short bladed head, revolutionary for its day, with a hollowed out
section in the face filled with hard leather.
It preceded the development of the more famous Spalding Cran cleek
by some six years and was followed shortly by a similar Nicoll model with
gutta percha face.
Nicoll clubs that deserve some mention are his Tait cleeks modeled after
the one used by Freddie Tait,
the Whippet putter, the swan-nek putter and somewhat later, the copy of
Park patent putter curiously marked
"Park's original bent neck putter."
The installation of George's son Robert
as head of the firm in the early 1900s helped the transition from a hand
crafting shop to a real manufacturing business.
By 1910, the company followed
the lead of the American giants
Spalding and MacGregor producing many lines of irons differentiated by
model names. The most common
of those lines were the popular Zenith clubs which were available in both
waverly iron, a high nickel content steel that rusted a unique bright
red-orange color, and rustless steel.
Other lines that sold well included the Recorder, Viking,
Clinker, Able, Gray, and Compaction
Blade model series. Another
interesting set, the "Mac Smith Duplicates" were exact copies of
the Nicoll irons used by the Scottish champion Macdonald Smith.
Many Nicoll brand iron heads were
in the 1920s and shafted by the Burke Golf Company,
Most of these were simply marked with the George Nicoll signature.
In 1926 Nicoll introduced the set that created a breakthrough for the firm
and golf producers elsewhere. Their
new Indicator clubs were introduced as a complete set of matched irons
"indicator" showing the
yardage range for each club in the set. This set was produced by carefully
matching the wood shafts to provide a continuous flow in feeling from club
to club. The Indicators are
acknowledged as the first modern matched set of clubs.
One interesting sidelight is that the Nicoll golf firm also undertook the
manufacture of bicycles, which was not inconsistent since making the two
products each required metal working skills.
The George Nicoll firm continued to make sets of clubs, including woods, after
World War II before finally closing its doors in 1983.