From his metal-headed driver with spring-loaded face to his long-nose short spoon, Jeffery B. Ellis may have the most wide-ranging collection of antique golf clubs in the world. And he's set to sell all 780 of them at a Sotheby's auction in September. Every. Last. One.
Ellis started collecting in 1974 when some hickories caught his eye at a Goodwill in Milwaukee. A few years later he went into business, buying and selling steel-shafted classic clubs while stockpiling antiques for himself.
Gathering, researching and writing about those antique clubs has been Ellis's life's work. The Clubmaker's Art (Zephyr Productions Inc., $275), featuring more than six hundred clubs and their individual histories, took ten years to complete. In January, after another decade's work, Ellis issued an expanded second edition. The two-volume set details his entire collection—every club from the first edition plus 220 new ones—illustrated in 1,250 pictures. "I don't play golf much anymore because I'm so busy with the clubs," says Ellis. "But I'm still immersed in golf all day long, and I don't make any double bogeys."
So why sell?Ellis says he's accomplished what he set out to do: write the best book possible about antique clubs. "I'm not going to die and take these things with me," he says. "I'm just a curator."
Sotheby's estimates the auction will bring in more than $4 million. Highlights include one of the oldest irons in existence (circa 1600), estimated to sell for between $150,000 and $250,000; a long-nose putter by Andrew Dickson (the first club maker to mark his work), valued at $200,000 to $300,000; and the oldest known duplex wood (a club with opposing faces), expected to go for $30,000 to $40,000. Over six hundred lots will go on the block, ranging in price from $200 to $300,000. "By selling the clubs at auction, I have the potential of six hundred new curators coming into the golf-collecting world. That's a good thing, in my book."
To make a bid
1334 York Avenue, New York, N.Y. Catalog available in August 2007; 212-606-7910, sothebys.com.
Exhibition On View: September 20-26
Auction: September 26-27