What Was a Dreadnought Golf Club?

Dreadnought golf clubs were in use in golf in the early part of the 20th century. The dreadnought driver was the first club to have that name, and the dreadnought niblicks were among the last that were well-known by that name. What were they? Dreadnoughts were clubs that had larger-than-normal clubheads.

Dreadnoughts were the original jumbo, oversized golf clubs.

Ben Sayers Came Up With the Name

The first clubs to be christened "dreadnoughts" were oversized drivers that started being built in the first decade of the 1900s. In 1906, the first dreadnought battleship — a larger, more heavily armed type of war ship — took to the seas. Shortly thereafter, the term "dreadnought" started being applied to drivers that some clubmakers — perhaps most prominently, in the beginning, the Sayers family — had started making.

The first dreadnought drivers, in addition to their oversized clubheads, also had very whippy shafts. An edition of The American Golfer magazine from 1909 quoted a golfer describing a dreadnought driver as "a lump of wood attached to three and a half feet of seaweed."

Robert Maxwell, winner of the British Amateur in 1903 and 1909, was one of the first prominent golfers to play with a dreadnought driver. He, like many who used them, sought, and found, extra distance.

At the start, the clubs were more likely to be called jumbo drivers (just as the oversized metal drivers that came along nearly a century later were often called jumbo drivers). But Ben Sayers Sr. — whose eponymous U.K. golf club company is still in business today — looked out to sea off North Berwick, Scotland, one day and spotted several dreadnought battleships lying off the coast.

Sayers thought "dreadnought" was a catchier name, and that's the name that stuck.

'Dreadnought' Becomes Generalized, Then Disappears

The term dreadnought soon became much more general in use, however: It no longer applied to a specific type of driver (with the whippy shaft), but to any driver with a larger-than-usual clubhead. And before too long, the term expanded out from there, being applied as an adjective to any club with a larger-than-normal head.

Around 1920, in fact, the best-known dreadnought club was no longer the driver, but various niblicks. In fact, "dreadnought niblick" was even used as a brand name. The dreadnought pitching niblick had, of course, a larger clubhead, and was very lofted with a dotted face.

The dreadnought niblicks can be thought of as intermediary clubs in the evolution of old pitching niblicks (and even, going back farther, rut irons) into modern wedges. The modern sand wedge came along before too much longer, as did the numbered set of matched clubs. The old names for clubs died off, and the term "dreadnought" went with them.

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