The 'Lofter' or 'Lofting Iron' (Old Golf Club)

For a relatively brief period, from around the last couple decades of the 1800s to the first decade or so of the 1900s, a golf club known as a "lofter" or "lofting club" was part of the family of golf clubs. It was an ancestor of modern wedges, and was also something of a game-improvement club for its time.

You can probably guess from the name of the club what its use was: The lofter was a club intended for approaching greens, particularly for shots that needed to be lofted into the air steeply (so as to clear trees, for example) or that the golfer wished to descend steeply (to clear bunkers and then stop on the green, for example).

Lofting irons had larger iron clubfaces than many of the other irons of the time. They were smooth-faced (no grooves) and varying degrees of concave — their faces curved inward, so the club acted as something of a scoop. Lofters helped many golfers who struggled to get other clubs up in the air to do so, and provided less-skilled golfers with more stopping power on the greens.

Those are the elements that made lofters game-improvement clubs of their time ... and that drew the ire of the era's golf traditionalists.

For as long as there have been advances in golf equipment, there have been older golfers complaining about new equipment making the game easier. In his 1898 book How to Play Golf (affiliate links used in this post), author H.J. Whigham (winner of the U.S. Amateur) called lofting irons "an abomination of modern golf." Whigham wrote:

"You will generally find that the mashie, which is used by a good approacher, is a very different weapon from the shovel-faced lofter, which is generally put in the hands of a novice."
In Golf for the Beginner, a 1910 book by George Fitch, the author gave a comical description of the uses of each golf club, including describing the lofter as a club "which raises small chunks of sod over trees, bunkers and other obstructions."

In the 1902 book Hints to Golfers, the loft angle of the lofter was described as fitting in-between that of the mid-iron (lofter had more loft than a mid-iron) and mashie (lofter having less loft than the mashie).

Lofting irons were eventually replaced by pitching niblicks. But the lofter has a very important place in golf history: the first-ever patent issued for a golf iron was for a lofter. "Park's Patent Lofter," a lofting iron designed by British Open champ Willie Park Jr., was granted a British patent in 1889.

Despite some traditionalists pooh-poohing the lofter for helping less-skilled golfers, many very skilled golfers use this club, too. Park Jr. invented a version, after all, and used it in tournament play. David Brown, winner of the 1886 British Open, was also well-known for his skill with a lofting iron.

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