Club Maker

George Nicoll

In 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 Fife town of Leven , 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 Works.   

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.  

Nicoll 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.  

Other 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 the Willie

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 imported to America in the 1920s and shafted by the Burke Golf Company, Newark , Ohio .  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 with the

"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, afte
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d War II before finally closing its doors in 1983.