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Tony Hoffman Is More Than A Collector, He’s A Curator Of Golf History

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The clock on my truck reads 8:55 a.m. The meeting with Tony Hoffman is five minutes away but there’s 10 minutes of traffic. My phone vibrates with a text at 9 a.m. “You able to find it okay?” Tony asks in reference to his house. Tony’s street is visible, but 50 cars away.

Pulling into the driveway, his home seems almost vacant from the outside if it weren’t for the manicured lawn and landscaping. It’s a beautiful gray, brick home with a two-car garage and a driveway that dips down and forces me to park my truck in a position where the driver’s door swings open as soon as the latch clicks. Tony meets me at the front door with a grand handshake and smile that could convince you to trade your house for a mashie niblick.

“Do you know the difference between a golf collector and a drug addict?” Hoffman asks me as we sit down. There were a couple answers running through my mind, but none seemed appropriate. “There are cures for drug addicts.” Tony chuckles. It’s a warm chuckle. He’s a man of a 78, tall and lanky, but he seems as if he were stout in his younger days.

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We’re sitting in Hoffman’s office, more a museum than an office. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Arnold Palmer’s office at Latrobe Country Club then you can imagine the room. He calls it his “I-love-me room.” The wall is littered with vintage putters, niblicks with hickory shafts, and a foray of pictures — some of golf clubs, some with caricatures of golfers from a foregone era. We’re here to talk about his addiction. It’s not an intervention, however; it’s quite the opposite. It would likely more resemble the mentorship session Bubbles gives his partner in the pilot of The Wire.

“I’ve been a member of the Golf Collector’s Society for over 20 years,” Hoffman says. “I think I joined in 1991 or ‘92. I got hooked. I found this old golf club.” He smiles as he tells his origin story. The addiction got him early and being around him would give anyone a contact high.

“After I bought it, I called around to see what they were worth. I found a man who was a distributor of old golf clubs, [his] name was Chuck Furjanic up in Dallas [Texas]. So I called and he said, ‘If you can find some old golf clubs, just give me a call and give me a description and I’ll tell you what it’s worth.’” Another grin appears on his face. “So I started just as a hobby. I’d go out to the antique stores or the flea markets and I’d find one here, one there, and I’d call him and he’d ask what I paid for it. I’d say $5 or whatever, and he’d say, ‘Well, send it to me and I’ll give you $15.’ That started it. And it’s contagious. You have to be careful.”

It’s a friendly warning, but for those of us who are gearheads, the abandoned clubs in our basement or garage are a testament to the truth he’s spitting.

I first met Tony almost a year ago now. I was interested in purchasing a set of hickory clubs that I could play with. A few years before that, I’d played in a 9-hole hickory scramble at my club. It was a blast and ignited this desire to find a set of my own. To make matters worse, I stumbled on a video promoting the U.S. Hickory Open. Yes, it’s a real thing. Players from all over the world play a 72-hole stroke play event with hickory clubs. Most are original clubs from the era, but some are exact replicas approved by the Hickory Association. When my initial search began, I reached out to a man named Max Hill. I would later learn he has what is likely the largest collection of hickory clubs in the world. After an email exchange with Max and a quote for a set of clubs north of $1,000, he connected with Tony Hoffman, who just happened to live in San Antonio, my new home. The first morning we met, I bought three clubs from him. Two weeks later, he gave me another for my birthday. He also beat me by four shots on my birthday, from the same tees, at age 78. He shot two better than his age and he was annoyed with himself. A friendship began that day.

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Tony sits at his desk and his chair squeaks as he leans back to look around the room, pointing at things without explanation. Then he sort of twirls his fingers and it seems to remind him to rewind and start from the beginning.

“Most of my collection focused on everything prior to 1930, and most of my good clubs were from the 1800s,” he says. He stands up and points to the circular rack standing next to my chair. It doubles as a lamp with a statue of a pre-war era golfer that could be anybody from Harry Vardon to Old Tom Morris. Behind the lamp he pulls up a spoon and tells me it’s from “1890 something.” It’s wooden head and shaft have darkened over the years, but the condition is nearly impeccable. He says he’s refinished many of his clubs, but this one is original. It looks more like a sawed off hockey stick than it does a golf club. What’s considered the hosel these days is thicker and makes a more gradual, more graceful, transition from the shaft to the head.

He hands me the club and I set it on the ground as if I’m going to address a ball. It’s a beautiful piece of equipment, resembling more a pretty vase on a shelf than a club. He grabs the spoon back and says that everything in the office he’s accumulated in the last three months.

“I’m going to give you a book when you leave to let you borrow, and you can look through and see what all is out there,” he says. “It was one of the few things I managed to keep when a collector friend of mine from Canada came and bought my whole collection. We loaded up an entire 8-foot by 12-foot U-Haul with the collection. He cleaned me out, so I basically started all over.”

It’s hard to fathom everything in this room has been accumulated in such a short time. There are 10 or 12 putters around the top of the wall encircling the office, 10 or so spoons and woods older than the U.S. Open Championship, a mint set of Wilson Staff Tour Blades, a mint set of Ping Eye 2 irons that includes the 2-iron, all the woods, and the vintage Ping staff bag. And then there’s a giant, exact replica Callaway Big Bertha Steelhead 5-iron that was a promotional product when Callaway launched its best-selling iron ever. On another rack in the corner, there are 10 or 12 Ping Anser putters. Tony is one of those Ping guys.

Tony gets up when a set of Wilson Staff Tour Blades is mentioned, and he walks me around the office. When we get to the Ping set, his eyes light up. He pulls an iron from the bag and says, “These are great, but if you ever find a set of the first ones he made, these are cast, but the first ones he made were called Dynamic, and there were forged cavity backs,” he says. “If you can find a set of those they’re worth about $9,000. The last set I saw was at a golf show, they were asking $7,500 and it was missing the 2-iron, and it sold! For $7,500!” The joy on his face is reminiscent of when my son sees a new WWE Wrestler at Wal-Mart that he doesn’t yet possess. If playing golf brings a man to his knees, collecting golf clubs turns him back into a boy again. It’s a childish glee Tony bears, and it rubs off on you. “Are you familiar with the Scottsdale, Redwood City differentiation with the Ping Anser putters?” he asks.

“No,” I tell him. He pulls one of his putters from the rack. It’s an old Anser, but it’s in good shape. Not mint, but good.

“You see how this one says ‘Scottsdale.’ Well, this one says ‘Phoenix’,” he says. “But if it says Scottsdale on it, in rough condition it’s worth about $125. In good condition, it depends, but could be much higher. Scottsdales are good, but if it says Redwood City, it’s real good.” He goes on to describe the ski slope differences among all the models of Ping Ansers. Some of the early Anser models had a steep slope instead of the gradual slope on the back of the putter between the sweet spot.

“If you see a putter with a steep slope, it’s worth anywhere from $125 to $150,” he says. “If you see one that has a gradual slope, it’s worth about $15.” He laughs. “If it says ‘Scottsdale’ and has a steep slope, it jumps up to about $600.”

“You’re kidding!” I say.

“No!” he says, “It’s collectors! It’s collectors! We’re crazy!” Hoffman laughs and replaces the putter.

“Something is worth what people will pay for it, I guess,” I tell him.

“Exactly! That’s exactly right,” he says.

We sit back down and he settles into his chair again. “The wooden clubs are starting to go away now,” he says. “People are just holding on to them or they’re getting lost in estate sales or whatever.”

Hoffman points to a picture on his wall; it’s the biggest picture in the room. The picture is of 20 different persimmon drivers, all with different designs on the face. Some of them have different color dots and a couple have a single design right in the center. One even has a cartoonish silhouette of a golfer. Tony is telling me another part of his origin story as he continues to point, and then he pivots to the picture and stands.

“You see these right here, these were called fancy faces,” he says. “They were all made in the early twenties. They made a billion of them, all with different faces. They were art deco and people wanted something different.” He sits back down and grins once again.

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“I ran across a retired Army sergeant, just when I first started, in a flea market,” he says. “He had a few of these [fancy faces] and I asked him how much he wanted for them. He said ‘Oh, $4 each,’ I said, OK. I asked him if he knew anybody who had more of them. He said, ‘Do I?’ Then he told me that he had a whole locker full of them. He said, ‘I was in the service for 25 years and this is what I collected. I can’t repair them or do anything with them.’ I asked him how big his foot locker was. He said, ‘No, not foot locker, storage locker.’ I bought about 500 of them from him for $2 a piece, and I sold them for $35 a piece. I had to clean them up and refinish them, but that was my hobby.” He laughs again.

“I had a Master’s fancy face that was worth about $150-$200, I sold it for $35,” he says. Hoffman buries his face in his hands with a chuckle. “I was warned one time, golf collectors are funny. You could have this five-karat diamond you’re asking $2,000 for, they’ll pick it up and say to you, ‘You realize this is worth more than $2,000?’ They won’t tell you it’s worth $50,000; they’ll just tell you it’s worth more than you’re asking. Again, you have to be careful.”

Collectors have always been the keepers of history, whether it’s golf clubs or Egyptian antiquities. As our conversation draws to a close, the question comes up, “Why do you collect and what do you think collectors contribute to the history of the game?”

“I collect for the satisfaction I get from looking at these old clubs, seeing where we were and now, where we are,” he says. “The fascination is the same as collecting old cars. You buy an old car and fix it up. I do the same thing with clubs. I find these clubs and they are beaten and battered, and I bring them back to life and put them back out there for someone else to discover. People look at them and say ‘Oh! This is really neat looking.’” He’s the most serious he’s been all morning. “Plus it’s just an addiction.” He pauses and takes a deep breath.

“The satisfaction comes from the addiction as much as anything. Just like Max [Hill], he started with five clubs and now he’s got 17,000. You start and you just have to have more.” When he pauses this time, it’s almost as if he knows he’s telling a cautionary tale. “It’s the satisfaction of walking into an antique store and not really knowing what you’re looking for, but knowing when you’ve found it. But yes, it is an addiction. I’ve thought many times through the years that I could give up golf if I had to, but I don’t think I could ever give up golf collecting.” He leans forward in his chair. “It’s like a constant mystery story. Every time you walk into a golf show or a flea market, you’re almost uncovering this hidden mystery that is begging you to solve it.”

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With that final word on his problem, feeling confident he’d admitted there was one, he asks me to join him in the garage. His tall, lanky gait heads down a short hallway and through his pristine kitchen.

“We have deer that come up in the back yard nearly every day,” he says. “My wife and I will be eating breakfast and look up and there’s a fawn staring in through the french doors. When we first moved here, it was sort of creepy. Now I just feed the damned things every day.”

He chuckles again and opens the garage door. He reaches down into a bag of cracked corn deer feed, fills an old whipped cream container, and walks out the back door of the garage into his yard. “Usually as soon as they hear the corn rattle they show up,” he says. He smiles at me again. This time in the antique store, he knows what he’s looking for. Tony rattles the bowl again. We look out into his yard that becomes woods about 30 yards behind his house. “Come on. This never fails,” he says. He rattles the bowl again. We wait a few seconds, maybe a minute. No deer. Tony reaches into the bowl and grabs a handful, then throws it out into the yard. Another minute. No deer. “Oh well. Figures they’d disappear today,” he says. He doesn’t say it, but it’s obvious he relates the feeling to hunting for golf clubs as well.

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Adam Crawford is a writer of many topics but golf has always been at the forefront. An avid player and student of the game, Adam seeks to understand both the analytical side of the game as well as the human aspect - which he finds the most important. You can find his books at his website, chandlercrawford.com, or on Amazon.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. John

    Jul 31, 2017 at 7:44 am

    Have large collection of classic clubs, cards, cards mags for sale!

  2. Ude

    Jul 30, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    historian (noun): an expert in or a student of history; a person who thinks backwards.

  3. JD

    Jul 29, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Incredibly well-written for a GOLFWRX article. You should be writing books. Enjoyed it, thanks.

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Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Task to target

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In this week’s episode: How having a target will improve your direction and contact you have with the ball.

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On Spec: Blades vs cavity backs | Classic gear vs. modern equipment

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In this episode, host Ryan talks about a recent experience of playing poor golf and what it took from an equipment perspective to get his game back on track.

The talk is wide-ranging and offers an inside look at what equipment tweaks or experiments might help you play better golf—or get you out of a rut.

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From the GolfWRX Vault: How far should you hit your golf clubs?

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Editor’s note: Jaacob Bowden‘s 2013 piece on how far a club “ought” to carry based on clubhead speed—i.e. how far you should hit your golf clubs–remains one of our most widely read pieces (thanks, Google search). And while seven years have passed since its publication, the data remains the same, and thus the piece remains just as relevant today. 

We’re happy to crack open the GolfWRX Vault for this excellent bit of writing. 


One of the nice things about having all this new fancy technological equipment like Trackman, Flightscope, ShotLink, etc., at various PGA Tour events is that distance data can be gathered for each of the players.

In case you haven’t come across it already, here are the approximate Trackman carry distance averages for men at the professional level.

Average PGA Tour Carry Distances (yards)

Club Carry
Driver (Total) 289
Driver (Carry) 269
3-Wood 243
5-Wood 230
Hybrid 225
3-Iron 212
4-Iron 203
5-Iron 194
6-Iron 183
7-Iron 172
8-Iron 160
9-Iron 148
PW 136

Pretty cool info. Perhaps they hit it farther than you might have thought…or maybe they hit less than you may have been lead to believe based on what you’ve seen on TV, read on the internet, etc.

Since I deal a lot with swing speed training and helping people in general hit the ball farther, a relatively common question I get is, “How far should I hit my clubs for my swing speed?”

Well, since we also know that the average driver swing speed on Tour typically runs around 112 to 113 mph, using a bit of algebra and the above distances we can approximate a guide for how far you could expect to hit the ball (assuming fairly consistent and solid contact) given your personal driver swing speed.

Here are those carry distances.

Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

 Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

I took the ranges down to 60 and 70 mph because those are swing speeds I’ll encounter when working with some amateur women and seniors. I also went up to 140 mph because numerous long drivers I’ve trained can get their drivers up that high (RE/MAX World Long Drive champions like Joe Miller, Jamie Sadlowski and Ryan Winther can actually reach over 150 mph).

Aside from using the chart as a general reference point, here are a few other things that I think are worth pointing out:

First, these numbers are based off how the average Tour player strikes the ball. Although Tour players are overall good ball strikers with all their clubs, most of them are actually not as efficient (the Tour average is about 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed) as they can be when it comes to distance with their drivers because on average they hit drives that launch too low and with too much spin.

LGPA Tour players (2.65 yards/mph of swing speed) and Professional Long Drivers are actually more distance efficient with their drivers…but that’s a topic for another article. The good news for you is that greater carry and total-driving distances can be achieved at all the range of swing speeds shown above if you are a more efficient driver than the average male tour player at 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed.

With a 2-degree change in driver loft and some minor adjustments made to his swing path, angle of attack, etc, one of my amateur students went from being an already above-average efficient driver at 2.61 yards/mph to an extremely efficient one at 2.75 yards/mph. So with no change to his 102 mph swing speed, he increased his driving distance average from 266 to 280. Then after some swing speed training, he got up to 112 mph and can now hit drives around 307 yards with that same efficiency of 2.75 yards/mph. That’s 41 more yards!

Second, the club distances are based on the driver swing speeds that you would get from a system like FlightScope and Trackman. So if at all possible, get yourself checked on one of those. Otherwise, if you measure with something like a Speed Stik (which measure higher in my experience), you could get a false sense of how far you might expect to hit the ball.

As another example, Sports Sensors Swing Speed Radars (SSR) also read faster. It should be pointed out that SSRs are still a great personal training aid, and because of their accuracy and relative affordability and portability, they are actually the radar I recommend in my swing speed training programs.

However, the Doppler radar in an SSR measures the fastest moving part of the club head (typically the toe) versus a Trackman or FlightScope, which each have proprietary algorithms to calculate the speed at the center of the club face. For this reason, SSRs will read about 5 to 12 percent faster, depending on how you as an individual move the driver through impact. If you have an SSR, just hit 5 to 10 balls with it and a Trackman or FlightScope at the same time and you’ll find out your personal difference for sake of comparison.

Third, the above numbers can be useful for a good general reference, but like I mentioned in my article about understand distance variance, recognize that carry distances can vary a lot depending on conditions. Slopes, wind, temperature, altitude, etc., are all things that can affect how far the ball flies, so remember to factor that in.

Fourth, keep in mind potential loft differences between your clubs and the ones here. As a general rule of thumb, club manufacturers have made their club lofts (especially in the irons) continually stronger over the years as a way of marketing and selling consumers the new clubs.

Many top Tour players are being paid to play the latest clubs, which could mean they might also be playing irons with stronger lofts than the set you are playing. This isn’t always the case, however, but it’s another thing to be aware of.

Last, once you start approaching less than 80 mph with the driver, notice how the distances start bunching up between clubs.  At this point, you start getting to an area where you really don’t need a full set of 14 clubs. If this is you, perhaps you might also find that you hit a 3-wood or 5-wood further than a normal driver.

My wife is very strong and athletic, however, as a beginner who doesn’t play or practice very much, she hasn’t developed much swing speed. For that reason, we got her fitted for a 9-club set of Wishon 730CLs, a set that is designed specifically for men and women with less than 80 mph of club head speed.

The shafts are very light, the driver is 16 degrees and only 42 inches, the fairway woods are 20 and 26 degrees (versus the commonly used 15- and 19-degree fairway woods), and the remaining hybrids/irons are gapped out in 6-degree loft increments (compared to the normal 3- or 4-degree). Also, since many beginners, lesser skilled players and those with slower swing speeds can struggle with really high lofted wedges, the highest lofted wedge in the set is 54 degrees.

All of these things combine to provide a driver that can actually be hit in the air for distance, clubs that have substantial distance gapping, plus it’s just less clubs in general to lug around and choose from.

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