Ryan Carey was skeptical. When you’re in the business of tracking down rare golf finds as the founder of Golden Age Auctions, potential consignors will do whatever it takes to get you to take a look at their collection, especially in a red-hot market.
Carey’s auction house has been the epicenter for some of the biggest golf collectible sales in recent months. There’s the Woods-used “Tiger Slam” irons and wedges that sold for over $5.1 million, as well as a Tiger Scotty Cameron Newport 2 GSS backup putter that went for $393,000.
With collectors coming out of the woodwork to cash in on their golf collectibles, Carey has done his best to track down the rare one-of-a-kind items. That being said, not every item is easy to spot. When a collector from Chicago reached out boasting of a massive golf club collection that needed to be seen, Carey initially balked.
“We first heard from this collector over 2 years ago,” Carey told GOLF.com. “If I’m being honest, it’s not that we didn’t believe him, but there was no way to understand the scope of the collection because it was so big. When we asked feeler questions about the best item in the collection or the sheer size — questions that usually help us weed out good collections versus decent ones — and whether it was worth the time and money to fly out, his answer would always be, ‘I’ve got so much stuff, you just gotta come see it.’ He told me it was good, but it was beyond what I could have ever imagined.”
When Carey finally made the trek from Boston to Chicago to check out the collection in person, he was greeted by more golf clubs than he could count.
“It’s at least four times the size of the largest club lot I’ve ever seen,” Carey said. “We have no idea how many clubs were in there — and we still don’t have an accurate number. It would take a week or more to count them all. It’s thousands and thousands of clubs.”
Only this wasn’t just any old club hoard. It was thousands of clubs, many of them never used, spanning from the 1800s to bags full of Cleveland 588 wedges and hundreds of mid-90s Scotty Cameron putter releases with plastic still on the grips.
“Some of the Camerons he didn’t even think we’d be interested in,” Carey said. “He wasn’t collecting them for their eventual value; this guy just loved collecting clubs. Most collectors focus on a singular area, but this guy has clubs from the 1800s and everything in between. That’s highly unusual that someone will collect from every single era like that.
“There are even old Ping Redwood City putters that Karsten Solheim made in his garage when he was still in California. We found the headcovers secured by rubberbands — and even those had calcified to the cover, so we had to get scissors. No one had touched them in three decades.”
While most of the clubs were retail releases, the collection did include a one-of-a-kind copper Scotty Cameron X with an incredible backstory. According to Carey, all but one head from the batch was stolen at some point in the 90s. The lone head that remained sat atop putter designer Bob Bettinardi’s desk — Bettinardi machined putters for Cameron from 1993-1998 — until the Chicago collector bought the head and turned it into a putter.
“It’s the only one that exists,” Carey said. “The story is that the others that were stolen were melted down because of the price of copper.”
Instead of cherry-picking the best items for a future auction, the collector made it clear it was an all-or-nothing deal. In other words, Carey needed to leave with the entire club collection or go home empty-handed. After agreeing on a price, Carey hired two semitrailers to transport the clubs from Chicago to a warehouse in New York.
“For localized delivery at his house, the two big semis had to divide up into several smaller truckloads,” said Carey. “It took dozens of people to help move — and a month to get them all to the warehouse. We actually had to get a new warehouse to house them all.”
With the clubs now in place, Carey is ready to unveil the largest golf club-only auction on Golden Age’s website on Aug. 31. The auction will feature a little bit of everything, including an impressive number of Ping and Scotty Cameron putters.
“Some people think we’re releasing too many Scotty Cameron and Ping putters at one time, but we kind of think the market is ready for it,” Carey said. “We want to make a big splash and make people take notice of this auction, as opposed to letting it trickle out and selling a dozen at a time.”
As for the rest of the clubs that don’t make the auction cut, Carey confirmed they’ll likely be donated or moved in bulk at a later time.
“The cool part about this collection is we keep finding something interesting and different each time we go through the inventory,” he said. “There’s definitely something for everyone in here.”
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