Steel Shaft History Told by First to Play Steel in Open
By HERBERT C. LAGERBLADE– Probably most of the records concerningthe development of that revolutionary development in golf club construction, the steel shaft, have been lost or destroyed. More of the history of the steel shaft may get lost as many who were active in the earlier stages of the shaft have passed on or have retired from the golf business.
I call on my memory for some of the high points in the steel shaft’s first chapters as the only material historical item I have convenient is an old newspaper clipping. Who wrote the story and where it apeared I don’t know. The newspaper piece tells of the sand wedge being under question by the USGA, then refers to the Schenectady putter, and finally to the steel shaft. The writer comments:
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kG04xEBMthc” width=”360″ height=”240″]”I was just crawling out of bed in a room at the Oakland Hills Country Club, the first day of the National Open championship of 1924, when I heard the starter chanting:” ‘Herbert Lagerblade, using the first steel-shafted club ever swung in the National Open championship.’ ”
With that reference and my long as- sociation with the Horton Mfg. Co. among my credentials, I’ll testify. The shaft originally was patented in 1910 by Arthur F. (Bill) Knight, a Gen- eral Electric Engineer who also invented the Schenectady putter which Walter J. Travis used in winning the 1904 British Amateur. Why a man named “Arthur F.” was called Bill is still a mystery to me. In 1920 the Horton Mfg. Co. bought the patent on a royalty basis when the patent had seven more years to run. Knight had been unsuccessful in trying to make the shaft. Up to that time no thin wall tub- ing of the required strength and lightness had been made in this country.
First Shafts Were Brazed
I knew Mr. Knight and some other of- ficers of G. E. and C. E. Treadway of Bristol, so in 1921 was asked to join the Horton company in the development and promotion of the shaft—the “Bristol” we called it. 52 The first of our shafts were made of thin strip steel folded into a tapered tube and hydrogen brazed by a new method General Electric had perfected. Horton paid two royalties for a number of years; one to Knight and another to G. E. for use of the brazing process.
The first production shafts were made about June of 1921 after hundreds of experiments. Everything about the braz- ing as well as the heat treating, size of shaft, weight determination, etc., was new. Crawford, MacGregor & Candy Co., was our first customer. Then very soon came Wilson and Hillerich and Bradsby, after them was Spalding who had been experi- menting with Allen E. Lard of Washing- ton on a steel shaft with torsion but could not get the idea into a shaft.
Barred in 1923
Sales of the steel shaft began in earnest in 1922 and we thought we had the world by the tail when wham!, the USGA early in 1923 barred the shaft from official play on the basis that it might be a mechanical aid. Until proved otherwise the shaft could not be used in USGA champion- ships. Through the cooperation of Joe Graffis we immediately got in touch with the Western Golf Assn., and Albert W. Gates, president; and “Gus” Allen, secretary, of the Western arranged for tests to be made at the Edgewater Golf Club in Chicago. I’ll never forget the great help Chick Evans and Bob MacDonald gave us at that time. The friendliness they and the Western Golf Assn. officials showed us and their attitude of research to help the game was most heartening.
Many pros were a bit antagonistic to the steel shaft at first, being afraid it might cut into their club business but they soon learned that it helped business. There is no doubt the steel shaft was largely responsible for the introduction of matched sets as with hickory shafts matching sets of clubs was an extremely difficult problem. We advertised in the Saturday Evening Post that we would present a steel-shafted club to anyone making a hole-in-one if they would send us properly attested cards. This one ad brought us more than 700 attested cards. When the USGA barred the shaft we wrote to these golfers asking them to write the U S G A their opinion of the shaft as the governing body of U. S. golf had announced it would seek the opinions of golfers on the steel shaft.
An amazing response was accorded our letter. My recollection is that more than 600 complied with our request. The as- sociation wrote us asking what influence we had exerted to produce so many favor- able letters. Then, early in 1924 the USGA approved the steel shaft and I had the happy experience of being announced as the first user of steel shafts in a major championship. In that event which Cyril Walker won, I must have proved that the steel shaft, if a mechanical aid, certainly didn’t aid my game enough to have me scoring among the leaders. As I recall “Wild Bill” Melhorn used steel shafts in his woods in that Open championship and Bill finished third; a stroke behind Bob Jones.
Shot Heard ‘Round the World
When I hit my first drive in that 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. So the business was saved. After the USGA approval the steel shaft rapidly displaced wood. It is a shock for a veteran to realize that golfers such as Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan probably