Ross Baker is an artist, he is also a craftsman, and sadly his craft is a dying art form. Ross Baker is the ONLY traditional golf club maker in Australia. Lovingly crafted from either wood, lead weight and ram’s horn or forged metals, these golf clubs are exquisite works of art.
Ross Baker: Traditions of Golf
Ross uses traditional techniques which date back to the 1800s, when golf balls were made of feathers encased in leather, known as featheries. Every club and putter he makes is unique, no two ever the same. Each club bears the maker’s name, date made, type of timber used and weight of club. These clubs make the ultimate golfer’s gift or trophy. Not only is Ross a traditional clubmaker, but he’s also a golf pro, teaches the sport of golf and a golf historian.
Lifelong Love Stemming from Childhood
We met up with Ross recently at Barnbougle Lost Farm. A warm character with a beautiful Aussie sense of humour, Ross was only too happy to tell us of his love of golf (amongst other things) and what led him in life to be where he is today. His love of golf began at about the age of 10, when he followed his father around the golf course as his father’s caddy. Ross began working in a Golf Course Pro Shop as a schoolboy, and after leaving school continued for a further three years as a trainee golf professional, during which time he learned and developed many of the skills of golf club making. At this stage of his life Ross wished to become involved in search and rescue, so his next step was to join the police force, a career that kept him involved for the next 17 years.
During this time Ross still held his passion close to his heart and in his spare time he continued with both his golf club making and golf teaching. Upon leaving the police force, Ross spent the next ten years as a manual labourer in forestry and working the land. Then in 2008 the opportunity to go back to working with his lifelong passion arose once more. This opportunity saw Ross leaving Victoria and moving to Tasmania, where he made his home at Bothwell whilst helping to re-vamp the Australasian Golf Museum in the restoration and re-interpreting of the golfing exhibits. Following this, Ross then took up employment at Ratho Farm Golf Links, as a golf course greenkeeper and curator of the onsite Australian Golf Museum. Today Ross has relocated, and now operates his own business, Ross Baker – Golf Club Maker out of Barnbougle Lost Farm Golf Links at Bridport. Here at Lost Farm everyone is welcome to stop by and see this man’s skill at work; one truly does not have to be a golfer to enjoy time spent here.
Golf Club Maker: Craftsmanship and Knowledge
In making his golf clubs, first Ross must find a billet (a short, thick piece of wood with a strong ‘bend’ suited to provide strength from head through to neck) suitable to the type of club he is making. Timber historically used for club making included apple, pear, hawthorn, blackthorn and persimmon. Ross uses mainly hawthorn, due to the fact it is plentiful here in Tasmania, and is strong with a beautiful grain. The billet is cut to desired shape, including a side cut to the face and a cut-out to the back, completely planed and sanded by hand. The cut-out to the face has a piece of ram’s horn attached, called a ram’s horn slip, this being placed on the leading edge of the club to prevent the club from sustaining damage when hitting the ball. (Ross assured me no rams are hurt for the making of his clubs, the horns he uses come from local farms when the rams have died of natural causes). The use of rams horn dates back to the beginnings of club making as far back as the 1500s and 1600s. The cut-out to the back is then filled with lead to form the back weight. The shaft of the club is also completely handmade, cut, planed and sanded. Ross uses the traditional hickory due to its strength in smaller diameter properties, and is now also using Swamp Gum (eucalyptus Regnans), a beautiful Tasmanian timber, and obtaining very good results. The head is then glued to the shaft, Ross uses the traditional old fashioned cabinet makers’ glue (as used in early days). A flax/linen thread is used to bind the joint & provide extra strength. This is then rubbed with Pitch to waterproof it. The grip Ross fashions from leather strips. In finishing the club, Ross uses the highly evolved and beautiful wood finishing process of French Polishing using 40 coats of shellac, achieving a finish which truly brings out the beauty of the timbers used in these truly unique golf clubs.
Collector of All Things Golf
Ross’ collection of golfing memorabilia can also be viewed at Barnbougle Lost Farm, a vast collection of Hickory and collectible golf clubs, books, golfing advertising memorabilia, balls and more. Ross’ personal collection contains over 3,000 items, including a wooden shafted “Rut Iron” and a wooden shafted Long Nose Putter, both circa 1880s. Truly worth a visit to see how much the game of golf has evolved over the years.
Putters Ross has made hang in many club houses of golf courses around Australia. Ross has travelled to most Australian Open Golf Championships since 2004, where he has put on a display of his skill over the four days to handcraft a putter or club. These clubs now hang proudly in the club houses of Royal Sydney Golf Club, the Australian Golf Club and the New South Wales Golf Club as testimony to this man’s skills. Kel Nagle, an Australian golfer who ranked in the top 10 Golfers worldwide received one of Ross’ hand made clubs when he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2007. Putters have also gone to many places worldwide, including USA, Great Britain, China and Japan. Every putter or club made by Ross Baker includes the following information to maintain its uniqueness.
- Type of Club
- Date of Manufacture
- Head Timber
- Shaft Timber
- Other Features
Golf Club Maker: Dying Breed
Like many new Taswegians, Ross already shows an obvious deep love for our island state, *laughing*, he even showed me up on a couple of history areas, though I’m sure Kev left Ross a little better educated on the art of trout fishing. Ross’ love of our unique wildlife also left quite an impression, and I was a little worried my ‘Eddie Vombatus’ may have thought he’d found his calling as ‘Apprentice to The Golf Club Maker’. Ross Baker is the last Australian Traditional Golf Club Maker, sadly mass production and new technology is taking over our world, but here in Tasmania lives a man who holds one tradition close to his heart, a tradition that will live on while ever this man breathes… Ross Baker – The Golf Club Maker.
All photos strictly ©Carol Haberle, H&H Photography. You can follow Carol on Facebook at Haberle Photo Cards. Carol writes feature articles for this website about all things Tasmanian. If you’d like Carol to visit you, please contact Think Tasmania.