Tom Horsburgh at Baberton Golf Club

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This review of the life of Tom Horsburgh was supplied by Baberton Golf Club:

 

Thomas Horsburgh – The Man before his Time

The smith, a mighty man is he
with large and sinewy hands.
And muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

                                                                                [Longfellow]

Pre-eminent among our Founder Members was Thomas Horsburgh, a master-blacksmith with an inventive turn of mind.

In the Club’s founding year he forged a set of steel-shafted clubs, both woods and irons, at his Cockburn Smiddy. (The original building still stands at Glenbrook Road end, west of Balerno). He found them such an improvement that he took out a UK Patent No 8603, dated 1st May 1894. The patent “relates to the use of steel shafts for golf clubs for the purpose of giving strength and elasticity.” Included in his patent was a specified club which obviated the need to carry a set. It consisted of a single shaft and a number of club-heads each of which could be affixed by simply turning a screw. Some years ago an elderly member recalled: ” As a lad I used to caddy for Old Tom when he was a backmarker. He carried his single shaft and a canvas satchel containing club-heads of varied loft. If I handed him the wrong one I got a resounding thwack.”

An all-round sportsman Tom enjoyed an international reputation as a curler besides being a bowler of skill and a golfer of no mean repute. In his early days with a handicap then of plus 4,he won the scratch medal several times. In 1934, when aged 78, he went round the course in like number. James Graham, a contemporary of Tom when playing a needle game with him borrowed his new-fangled clubs to try them out and found them very powerful and superior in every way to his own hickory set. Other members believing that Tom commanded too great an advantage refused to take him on in competition.

Contemporary club makers, professional golfers and dealers were quite interested in these innovations but 35 years were to pass before the Royal & Ancient’ sanctified the shafting of clubs with steel in 1929. In the interval, James Beveridge of Milnathort, a director of Dandryan Iron Company, who supplied blacksmiths throughout Scotland, had represented Tom’s models in the USA before World War I. As the only source of hickory was virtually exhausted an American company adapted Tom’s revolutionary concept by designing hollow steel shafts, as opposed to Tom’s solid shafts. This led to the creation of the colossal world-wide market as we know today. The British Patent Office had warned Tom (and others) about safeguarding inventions in golf by taking out Foreign & Colonial Patents : “You are in a position to have any of these granted to you if the applications are made before the invention becomes publicly known. If you do not apply for these patents it is open for anyone else to do so” Alas the warnings were not heeded or otherwise the expense was found to be too great. In fact the original patent was allowed to lapse in the 1920s. In consequence Tom probably missed a fortune while his direct descendant, Nina Grieve, who joined Baberton Ladies Golf Club in 1969, never became a millionairess !

Tom Horsburgh was twice Captain of Baberton Golf Club, from 1914 to 1917, and again from 1929 to 1931. In 1942 Tom’s son-in-0law presented the original models to Baberton Golf Club under trust. They form the centrepiece of our enviable collection of golfing memorabilia displayed in the Clubhouse. In 1991 Nina Grieve put up for auction the original patent document along with other related letters. Thanks to the good offices of Mr David Kirkwood these were acquired by Baberton Golf Club for £ 300 – a matchless addition to the collection.

Baberton Golf Club takes justified pride in claiming Old Tom as a founder member together with his unique contribution to the advancement of the ancient game – A Man before his Time indeed.

Tom Horsburgh’s Patent Certificate