Illegal Clubs 1920-1923 Ribbed, Slotted, Deep Grooved


Since it is the festive season, this article is generated from a note that appeared in the Vancouver Sun newspaper December 20th, 1922. Alex Duthie, the professional at the Jericho CC, received a special Christmas gift from his friend Jock Hutchinson. “Jock sends one of his famous special clubs, a back-spin mashie to Alex. The secretary Percy Taylor received a special mashie niblick from the British Open Champion.”  According to the Chicago Tribune Jock actually designed his own ribbed mashie and mashie niblick. There is no indication Jock patented his design. We have never seen a Jock Hutchinson ribbed club with the marking “own club”.

Cran iron

Spring Face The face plate was separated from the back of the iron by springs

Rake Iron

Except for one occasion, prior to 1920 the United States Golf Association (USGA) nor the Royal and Ancient (R&A) showed any interest in controlling the club designs. The ruling bodies allowed rake irons, wooden faced irons (Cran), and spring-faced irons. In 1903 when Walter Travis won the British Open using a new designed putter called the Schenectady to win the British Amateur Championship, the R&A banned all centre-shafted putters until 1953. The USGA did not follow their lead.  Also when the new wound Haskell ball appeared on the market around 1904 club manufacturers began marking the face of their irons with dots and slashes in various designs. The ruling bodies paid no attention to these changes in the face markings of the irons from the standard smooth face.  Because the new bounding Billy wound ball traveled much further than the old gutty, the manufacturers felt the golfer needed some assistance to control the flight.

Early markings on the face of the iron to assist the player to control the flight.

Ben Sayers ribbed or deep grooved iron

This article describes the short life span for a very interesting group of hickory-shafted golf clubs. Ben Sayers first invented the Backspin club in 1914. But during the War Years golfers had their minds on other more important problems. In 1920 the US Patent office issued two patents to William F. Reach. In the collecting world these clubs became known as the waterfall and half waterfall irons. Reach described the object of his invention as: “The object of this present invention is to provide a club which will be effective for imparting backward spin to the ball whether struck by the direct or cut shot.

Full waterfall iron

Half waterfall iron

His new face design for an iron opened the door for a wide variety of ribbed, slotted, deep grooved, and waffle face markings. Each intended to make it easier for the average golfer to impart backspin on his approach shot. After winning the 1920 PGA Championship using his self designed ribbed clubs, Jock wrote a series of articles that appeared in the prominent national newspapers. He argued one of the hardest shots in golf for the average amateur to execute was the pitch from fifty – one hundred yards with backspin. Using the new ribbed clubs made the shot much easier for the average amateur to execute.

Reach then assigned his patents to AG Spalding. In 1920 Spalding began manufacturing their waterfall, slotted, and ribbed golf clubs. Research indicates these specialty clubs were only manufactured with two lofts – mashie (modern day 5 iron) and a mashie niblick (7 iron). Once the Spalding clubs appeared on the market other manufacturers such as Macgregor, Burke, Sayers, Gibsons, Halley, and Stewart all began manufacturing clubs with similar face markings to provide backspin on the ball.

Ribbed or deep grooved

Slotted notice the flat area between the slots


Brick face iron

Waffle iron This club also came as a combination waffle on the bottom  and 3 slots on top

Of the entire top rated players at this time, Jock Hutchinson had the most success using these specialty clubs.  In 1920 he won the Western Open and the PGA championships. The following year on his home course, St Andrews, he won the British Open in a playoff against Roger Wethered. Because of Jock’s instant success every amateur golfer began carrying one or two of the back spin clubs in his bag. The backspin shot usually took several years for the average amateur to perfect. With the new invention and with a little practice the amateur could play his approach shot near the hole and have the ball stop dead or hit and come back towards the hole. The best players, such as Francis Ouimet 1923 US Open Champion, Walter Hagen, and Jim Barnes all advocated the USGA and the R&A should ban these new clubs.  Gibson’s, the largest golf manufacturing company in the world, nicknamed their rib club  “the Jerko” because the ball suddenly checked when striking the green giving the appearance of being jerked.

Gibsons’ ribbed Jerko iron

The manufacturers wanted players to use the new ribbed and slotted irons because the sharp edges removed a small portion of the ball on each impact.  After several strikes with the grooved clubs the ball must be discarded. The old British professionals who spent countless hours practicing to perfect the dead stop shot with the smooth face irons felt the new clubs negated all their dedication. The old professional who perfected the shot had an advantage because he could execute the stop shot when needed.

After his PGA, Western Open, and British Open victories Hutchinson became the advocate for the ribbed clubs. He and Jim Barnes promoted the use of these clubs on their North American exhibition tour in 1922. In Vancouver Hutchinson showed the local golfers how they could lower their handicaps by purchasing a ribbed mashie or mashie niblick to impart instant backspin to their approach shots.

After Hutchinson “ribbed his way around St. Andrews”, the R&A banned all ribbed, slotted, and deep grooved clubs from their competitions. Hutchinson’s display included a backspin hole in one. In 1923 the USGA followed with their ban. But the manufactures showed their ingenuity by developing a new club. Using a heavy machinists punch the companies produced a new “punch” iron. The heavy punch mark produced a rim around the hole in the face. These punch marks were about ¼ inch in diameter with a ridge around the perimeter of the hole. In 1924 both the R&A and the USGA banned these punch marked clubs.

During the height of the golf-collecting period from 1985 – 2000 these illegal clubs were in high demand. Because the manufactures produced mostly the “ribbed clubs” they were easily purchased. The slotted and the waffle iron designs were more difficult to find. Since the punched clubs were only manufactured for one year, this category of illegal clubs is still difficult to find.

The BC Golf Museum is constantly on the search for these illegal golf clubs especially the waterfall and punched irons.


Left Single Waterfall           Right Double Waterfall




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