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The King of Clubs

Shaun Tolson

Dick Estey dominated amateur golf tournaments until he had to quit playing. But that did not stop him from dominating the game. 

About 20 years ago, Dick Estey’s life was destined to change. At the time, he was living like a PGA tour pro, although without a tour card or, for that matter, the professional status. Still, he was competing in—and winning—senior amateur tournaments and championships around the world. By the early 1990s, Estey had accrued almost a dozen national and international titles: He won the Northwest Senior Amateur Championship and the Mexican Senior Amateur Championship multiple times, as well as the 1989 Canadian Senior Amateur Championship, among other accomplishments. All signs pointed to a prosperous future and a long reign over the senior amateur circuit—except that Estey’s lower back had taken all that it could. “Golf has been a major part of my life for a long, long time,” he says. “It’s just a bitch getting old.”

He recalls lying on his bathroom floor in his early 60s, writhing in pain from a lower-spine injury and thinking he had swung a club for the final time. Surgery was planned, but there was no guarantee that it would restore his health to a point where he could tee it up again. The prospect of a life devoid of golf was something Estey could not fathom; he had grown up playing the game, after all. So he turned his attention from dominating modern amateur championships to becoming the world’s foremost collector of vintage-era equipment. He started by visiting antique shops near his home in Portland, Ore., looking for an “old club.” When he finally found one—an undistinguished wooden-shafted example that cost $100—the acquisition became the first step down a new fairway.

Since then, Estey has amassed a private collection of vintage golf equipment and artifacts that rivals that of any public museum, including the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., with many of his pieces documented in Jeff Ellis’s The Clubmaker’s Art, the definitive tome on vintage clubs. It is a treasury that tells the history of the game as it was played centuries ago, and as guests to Estey’s private museum in Portland can attest, it dispels many of the misconceptions surrounding the game and its early beginnings.

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