Golf Memorabilia Madness!


It has been calculated that the sports memorabilia market is worth somewhere in the region of a billion dollars a year. Very often, there is some controversy regarding the authenticity of these items, because counterfeit operators have also taken advantage of this thriving business.   

When Steve Hodge, the former England midfielder, swapped jerseys with Diego Maradona after the quarterfinal match of the 1986 FIFA World Cup, he couldn’t have imagined that this sweaty shirt would one day break the record for the highest amount ever paid for an item of sports memorabilia – a staggering $ 9.28 million. The previous record for a match-worn jersey had been $5.64 million paid for Babe Ruth’s New York Yankees jersey worn during the years 1928 – 1930, auctioned in 2019. The same year, a record $8.8 million was paid for the original hand-drawn Olympic manifesto – then the most paid for any item of sports memorabilia.

It was in April of this year that record for any golf memorabilia was broken, when a well-heeled collector shelled out $5.156 million for a set of irons used by Tiger Woods. Not just any old set, these were reputed to be the irons that Woods used during his amazing run of three consecutive major victories during the 2000 season, and then used to win the US Masters in 2001. He then became the only player ever to hold all four major trophies at the same time. Prior to this auction, the highest price ever paid for any piece of golf memorabilia had been the green jacket Horton Smith was presented with after winning the inaugural Masters in 1934. That jacket went for $682,000 – a relative bargain in the light of Woods’ irons.

As with many of the high-end items sold on auctions, the buyers choose to remain anonymous, but whoever bought Woods’ “Tiger Slam” irons might have been a little concerned, because both Tiger Woods and his manager have maintained that these clubs are not authentic.

The history behind these clubs, manufactured by Titleist, involves the previous owner and seller Todd Brock, a Houston-based businessman who originally bought the clubs from ex-Titleist vice president of player promotions Steve Mata for $57,242 in 2010. Mata maintains that Woods gave him the clubs in 2001 when he delivered a replacement set to Woods. The irons appeared on eBay in 2010, and when Woods was then asked about these clubs, he said that although they may have once belonged to him, they were not the set with which he won the majors – that set he still had in his garage. The clubs were then taken off the eBay auction site, before Brock bought them. At the recent auction, held by the reputable company Golden Age Auctions, part of the provenance for these clubs was a signed affidavit from Mata (he was also subjected to a polygraph test), and the bidding frenzy ensued. The winning bid of five million and some change exceeded the top estimates – and the price does seem rather excessive considering that the original owner disputes the fact that these clubs are the ‘Real McCoy’.

LA dentist Ron Cherney has an admirable collection of golf memorabilia.

Occasionally golf’s major trophies come onto the market, and some of these have also been surrounded by some controversy. These trophies are always replicas that have been presented to the winners (the originals are kept by the governing bodies that present them), but the authenticity of these pricey pieces of silverware have also been disputed. For instance, John Daly’s replica of the 1995 Open Championship trophy was sold to collector about four years ago (for $66,000), and Daly immediately came out and said he had two replicas made (a player may have a maximum of three replicas made), and he was still in possession of these trophies.

More recently, a replica Open Championship trophy from Greg Norman’s 1986 win was sold for $61,000. According to the auction house that conducted the sale, the trophy was from the estate of collector, and one must wonder why Norman ever got rid of it. Perhaps it was originally sold at a charity auction, but we don’t know. What we do know is that in 2013 the estate of Sam Snead sold a collection of trophies he won, including a replica Open Claret Jug won in 1946. That one went for $262,900. The total purse for the Open that year was the princely sum of £ 1000.

The value of anything is obviously what someone is prepared to pay for it, and although particularly the golf memorabilia market has softened in recent years, there is still a brisk trade in autographed items. But buyers beware – the counterfeiters churn out very convincing replicas, particularly in the collectible golf club sector. Any number of rare items that have fooled experts have surfaced, and there’s no telling how many examples are in collections; highly prized by the owners but are in fact worthless.

I know of an amateur golfer who once had the privilege of playing a round of golf with Arnold Palmer. Friendly bets were struck prior to the round, and as it turned out, the amateur won his bet of $100 with Palmer. Palmer handed over the bill, and the fellow asked if great man would sign it, which he duly did. The $100 bill was framed and mounted in the amateur’s bar – a great memento of the day he beat the best player in the world. Some years later the amateur again met Palmer, reminding him of their game and telling him that he still had the signed $100 bill. “If I had known you were going to keep the money, I would have given you a cheque,” said Palmer. -IRC.

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