Peter Bige may know antiques, but he admits he didn’t know how to answer customers who visited his Issaquah antique store a few years ago and asked for golf clubs.
The question was so out-of-place, “I thought they were asking where the country club was,” the Hungarian-born antique dealer says.
Looking back on it, the co-owner of Ye Old St. Anthony’s Golf Shop across the street from Greenlake says he understood what his customers were saying, he just couldn’t figure out why anyone would want a golf-related item from an antique store.
“After all, who cares about golfing antiques?” he says.
In the years since the incident, Bige has discovered that more and more people not only care about golf antiques, collectibles, and mementos, they are buying them up as quickly as they can get their hands on them.
In fact, so many golfers are taking their love of the game with them when they leave the links and are buying golfing-related souvenirs and doodads that Bige’s partner, David Olds, says, “Good golfing antiques are becoming impossible to find.”
One of the main reasons good collectibles are scarce is that the market is supporting three kinds of buyers: collectors, golf lovers who want something nice for their den or office, and people who purchase the items for resale.
The Antiques Fall into One of Three Categories
They include old clubs with wooden shafts, books, and souvenirs that run the range from golf club bookends to golf balls decorated with pictures of Mickey Mouse.
Although the two men specialize in selling wood clubs, they also sell a few books and collectibles out of their combination furniture/antique/golf store. Prices start at $2 for the aforementioned Mickey Mouse ball and go all the way to $2,000 for a sterling silver box with golfers on it.
The golf clubs are so popular that they draw in passersby who want to know about the store’s prices.
Despite the popularity of the old equipment, Olds hasn’t sold many clubs because he hasn’t had a chance to put price tags on them since the store opened three months ago.
Bige and Olds aren’t the only local entrepreneurs to cash in on the increasing popularity of the sport and the growing demand for items that are related to the game.
At least two other businessmen have started their own golf-related enterprises and their businesses are meeting with varying degrees of success.
A Pioneer Square art gallery specializing in golf art, for example, has had only about 100 visitors and sold about $500 worth of paintings, prints, posters and sculptures every month.
Although $500 wouldn’t be enough to keep most galleries open, McKinley isn’t worried because the third-floor showroom — called the Golfing Gallery — doubles as an office for his other businesses, including a marketing consulting firm and a company that sells a computer database listing the names and titles of executives.
While McKinley doesn’t make a lot of money from the gallery, he doesn’t lose much either because he pays for the artwork with proceeds from his position as head of the Golfing Gourmet, a membership organization that holds tournaments at golf courses throughout the Northwest.
Whenever he sells a painting, the money goes to pay rent.
The Passion for Art and The Love for Golf
McKinley opened the gallery for the same reason many people would buy what the Golfing Gallery sells: It combines his passion for art with his love of golf.
Besides, he says, “If you have a passion for anything, your passions will pretty well drive you after logic fails.”
Like Olds, McKinley has already noticed some distinctive buying patterns among his customers.
Some prefer pictures of golfers in action while others opt for golf scenery, including pretty holes and drawings showing collections of equipment. The gallery caters to both groups.
The most popular items in the gallery are $30 posters that show collections of equipment surrounding an empty scorecard. Golfers who have highly memorable games often buy the posters, fill out the card to show their scores and then frame the posters, he says.
The gallery’s selection includes paintings, prints and small sculptures of golf-related subject matter and photos of well-known golf courses.
John Johnson’s love of golf also helps him make a living but, unlike the others, he is the only one to rely on the sport as his sole means of support. That’s because he runs a business that specializes in golf photography.
Another major difference between Johnson Design Photography and the other firms is that he gets more of his work and sales from other businesses in the industry than he does from the general golfing public.
His biggest clients are golf club managers, the people who design and build golf courses, and golf publications.
Managers like Chuck King, the resident professional at Glen Acres Golf Club, hire Johnson to take pictures of the course when they want to promote the club, Johnson says.
King says he plans to use Johnson’s photos on the front and back of the club’s scorecard and as part of a framed prize given to club members who make a hole in one.
The framed photos are far more popular with golfers than trophies are because they can hang the award on the wall in an office or den while trophies just gather dust, King says.
“I have to put an ad in our membership newsletter every year telling members, ‘Please come and get your trophies,” King says.
Developers and architects use the pictures to show examples of their work when they are bidding on other jobs. Publications use the photos to illustrate stories and in advertisements for golf courses.
Johnson may soon rely more on the general golfing public for sales if two of his latest projects succeed.
He and McKinley are joining forces to publish a Port Ludlow poster for tourists seeking a nice souvenir. He also plans to take pictures for a book on golf.