A veteran of golfing sales, Bob Gowland has been involved in this specialist field for the past 30 years. With stints at both Phillips and Bonhams under his belt, he has been acting independently for the past 18 months as Bob Gowland International Golf Auctions.
On July 14, days before the eyes of the world’s golfing fraternity turn to Muirfield in Edinburgh where the 131st Open Championship will be held from July 18-21, International Golf Auctions will hold a sale in Frodsham, Cheshire which will include, amongst others, two items of historic golfing silver.
A George III silver pair cased pocket watch, awarded c.1790 by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers to James Clark for the first recorded competition for long golfers, is thought to be the oldest awarded golfing prize.
Medals and the right to hang silver replica balls off silver clubs of the Honourable Company and the R&A were already in existence by 1790 but these prizes were played for and not awarded.
The watch case, by London maker John Day, was assayed in 1789 and engraved to the cover in an oval with the Honourable Company logo of a golfer in a tricorn hat about to drive surrounded by the words The Honourable Company of Golfers of Edinburgh (sic) and below presented by J. Balfour. The back of the case is engraved Prize medal for the longest stroke hit, 231 yds. gained by James Clark esq. and below playclub S. Cossar, feathery J. Robertson.
These latter terms refer to the makers of the club and ball used in the competition.
Significantly the date and time of the competition, which was held on Leith Links in the East of Edinburgh, were omited from the engraving.
All competitions on Leith Links at this time were held between the months of September and April when the grass was sufficiently short and patchy enough for balls not to be lost, and when Edinburgh gentlemen had returned to the city following summers spent at their ancestral seats.
“It is most likely the competition took place in the winter and the date was not recorded by the Honourable Company secretary because of the weather. If the weather was bad he may have thought the competition wouldn’t go ahead. The 231 yards hit by James Clark is remarkable for a feathery ball and indicates the conditions were frosty and the ground running,” explained Bob Gowland.
“The quirky thing about the watch,” continued Mr Gowland, “is that without the engraving and provenance the watch would only be worthy of scrap but with them it could make as much as £20,000.” From a deceased estate, the watch is estimated at £10,000-15,000.
Also sourced privately in the UK, a Victorian silver table snuffbox presented to four times Open Championship winner Willie Park (Snr.) for his 1866 win, is the earliest presentation item to relate to the Open bar the original Championship belt which, like boxing, was presented to the winner and kept by them for one year.
Pre-1864, the belt was the only prize given to the winner but Tom Morris, the 1864 champion, was the first to be awarded the princely sum of £6, an amount which pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of pounds awarded today to the likes of Tiger Woods.
Willie Park was the first golfer to earn a living from his sport and this snuffbox made by George Unite with shaped sides, cast scroll thumbpiece and gilt interior was awarded to him for his third Open win. Assayed in 1867, the year after the win, the box is engraved to an oval cartouche on the cover with the words, A gift to W. (Willie) Park on his achievement on winning the championship at the Prestwick Golf Club, presented by his friends and colleagues as a testimony of their esteem, 1867.
Measuring 4in (10cm) and weighing 5.5oz, it is expected to bring £6000-10,000.