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Contemporary featherie ball-makers

Updated: Jan 12

In the last 50 years, there have been a surprising number of people who have undertaken the curious challenge of making featherie golf balls. It’s no small undertaking: any “recipes” left in golf literature from around the feather-ball era are woefully lacking in detail, suggest a top hat as a unit of measure, or (we suspect) are purposely misleading or vague to protect the trade secrets of each maker.

 

This means that each contemporary ball-maker is largely starting from scratch. Each has had to figure out which leather, feather, thread, water, temperatures, patterns, and tools to use.

 

Since we’ve started making balls, we’ve heard anecdotal accounts of golf history enthusiasts who have made one or two feather balls, just for the experience or to use as a collection piece. There are also written accounts: for instance, in his book, Golf History and Tradition (1998), David Stirk writes about making feather balls. He produced a few that he felt “...in appearance, looked quite good” (page 109). Stirk did not take a full shot with these balls, but reports that "...the balls behaved reasonably during some chipping and putting."

 

But if you want a playable feather ball, the proof is in the putting and driving. The rest of this article will focus on makers who have produced balls that are intended to be used to play featherie golf.

 

NOTE: Where data are available, we have provided the diameter measurement of each ball in millimeters and the weight of each in grams. Please note that not all feather balls are completely round, nor are all balls from a specific maker the same size/weight. For comparison purposes, a modern golf ball in 2024 has a 42.67 mm diameter and weighs no more than 45.93 grams.

 

Bengt Thermaenius

The October 1982 issue of Golf World mentions a feather ball-maker from Sweden named Bengt Thermaenius. The article notes that his design was made of four pieces of leather—two end caps and possibly a two-piece strip—rather than the customary three, and that he experienced the very common plight of feather ball-makers of producing underweight balls. Bengt said that the balls could be hit about 80 meters (about 87 yards), but when he could make a ball that could be driven 100 meters (109 yards), he would begin to sell them more widely.


Bengt's son Pehr is a Swedish Hickory Championship winner, as is his wife and one of their children (you can learn more about Pehr at https://www.hickorygolfers.com/pdf/member_profiles/pehr_thermaenius.pdf ). Pehr says his father made feather balls and replica clubs to bridge himself through long winters when the golf course was covered by snow (for more on Bengt's replicas, including some fascinating miniatures, see https://bit.ly/3u0FuqW.)


"As far as I am aware, his ball-making never made it as a business. He never could make the balls good enough to sell on a commercial scale. He probably sold a few, but most of his balls likely went as presents to golfing friends," says Pehr.


Bengt experimented with different patterns, including a "lemon-peel" design used for other sport balls in the 19th century. Pehr did not know what sort of feathers or leather his father used.




Three feather balls made by Bengt Thermaenius. The ball at left, sewn in the fashion of a "lemon-peel" ball used in other 19th-century sports, carries his trademark, copied from the ”Gloucester Golfer” in Gloucester Cathedral. It weighs 28 grams and has a 45 mm diameter. The ball at center weighs 21 grams and has a 38 mm diameter. The ball at right weighs 24 grams and has a 44 mm diameter.


 

Barry Kerr

The January 6, 1994, issue of the Courier and Advertiser newspaper, St. Andrews, Scotland, carried an article about Barry Kerr, also of St. Andrews, who was making playable feather balls at that time. His company, listed in the article as Hickory Sticks Golf Co., also employed other craftsmen who made "a variety of woods," using ash, hazel, rosewood, lancewood, lemon wood, and greenheart for shafts, and beech, hornbeam and persimmon for club heads.


(Photo from the Courier and Advertiser, St. Andrews.)


Kerr is a third-generation clubmaker and began making long-nosed clubs in St. Andrews in 1958. A photo from the article shows Kerr at work (above). The shot is a bit dark, but you can still see a pile of dry feathers to his left (although feathers are generally wet when stuffed inside the ball form). The leather strips and circles necessary to make the ball forms are in front of him; they appear to be white (compared to the feathers that we know are white), so they are probably made of a tawed leather. Several finished balls can be made out in the foreground: they look quite large, but that is probably due to the perspective of the photo.


Kerr was also the owner of Heritage Golf St. Andrews Ltd., which was founded in the early 1990s. Both Hickory Sticks and Heritage Golf made clubs as well as featheries and gutties (smooth, hand-hammered, mould-made, and machine-made). Heritage Golf acquired Swilken Golf in 1995 and eventually became the St. Andrews Golf Company.


(Thank you to hickory enthusiast and budding club- and ball-maker Nicholas Chmielewski for his research and contributions to the Barry Kerr article.)



Phillip Mason

Phillip Mason got started making featheries in the 1990s for friends in the Golf Collectors Society, and in his words, things “just took off from there.” At that time, he lived in Kentucky, but at the time of this writing, he was residing in Idaho but is no longer making balls.  His featheries were very popular: in 2000, he had the opportunity to make 50 to 60 balls for a President’s Council meeting at Pinehurst where participants each got to hit a feather ball with a long-nosed club. He also made 100 balls for a Shivas Irons Society tournament at Pebble Beach.

 

In his book, “The Story of the Golf Ball,” Kevin McGimpsey writes about the value of Mason’s feather balls. “Today [2004], they have become a collectable in their own right. I remember that he sold them for $36 and today they sell for between $150 and $200,” the author relates.


Three views of the same ball from The Golf Auction site (https://www.thegolfauction.com/lot-87828.aspx). The auction for the ball ended on 4/11/2022, with a minimum bid of $150. It is unknown if the ball sold or to whom. The description of how the ball was made as well as well as the origin dates (1920–1940) are incorrect, but these photos are informative. Many featheries, like this one, were/are egg-shaped. This is a result of a thinner center strip and larger end caps. The ball is numbered—577—which suggests Mr. Mason made a lot of golf balls. The close on this ball is invisible, but it could possibly be stitched shut across the belly.


Mr. Mason generously shared his maker experience with us. “I think that a ‘leather-covered ball stuffed with feathers’ is a big misnomer. Actually, they are rawhide-covered balls stuffed with down. Those ingredients are what make for a nice, tight, bouncy ball,” he says.

 

“[The] rawhide and down are used wet. Balls are sewn inside-out, then a loose area is left to turn the ball right side out and ready for stuffing with wet down. When it all dries, the rawhide shrinks and the down expands, making a tight and bouncy ball. The old-timers used 3 to 4 balls per round and took care to orient the ball for best results before striking it,” he continues.



Two views of the same ball half, with feathers removed, show the thickness of the rawhide and thread. Mason appears to use butt-stitching. (Photos provided by Phillip Mason.)


Mason used rawhide from Tandy Leather, always asking for the thinnest sheets possible. You don’t want the thick stuff, he notes. “However, I used to shave down stuff with a belt sander to get it right. Always sand the skin side, not the meat side. The meat side should be the inside of the ball. I used waxed linen thread, also from Tandy,” he says. 


 A Phillip Mason ball owned by Elmer Nahum. (Photo provided by the owner.)


The belly stitches on a Phillip Mason ball. (Photo provided by Elmer Nahum.)


We don’t have any first-hand reports on how the balls performed when new. In 2023, @practicalclubmaker Elmer Nahum dropped both a 20-year-old Mason ball (made with rawhide) and a new Lane ball (made with tawed leather) on a hard floor, and the Mason ball bounced about four times higher—so it is indeed a very hard ball.

 

Elmer measured the Mason ball he owns: it is 37 grams and 44 mm on the short axis and 47 mm on the long axis (the ball is not perfectly round).

 

An aside: We have also heard about a “make-your-own-featherie” boxed kit that was available in the 1990s, also from Kentucky. Geographically, it would make sense that this may also have been a Phil Mason product, but we have been unable to confirm this.

 

 

Gary Moody

The late Gary Moody, of Muscatine, Iowa, made feather balls in the early 2000s. According to his obituary, he delivered featheries to players at The Masters, to at least three American presidents (George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton), and to other celebrities.

 

Two views of the same Gary Moody ball (back side at left and belly side at right.

It has a thicker layer of paint and is closed with stitching across the belly. (Photos by Andy Grow.)



Two views of the same unpainted Moody ball. These photos are informative. First, it appears that Moody is using a tanned leather, not rawhide or alum-tawed bulls- or cowhide. Second, the wavy pattern in some of the seams shows that the leather was very wet when the parts were sewn together with tight stitches. Finally, the closing on the ball is extremely evident: it may use thicker thread than the body stitching or could be double- or triple-stitching. (Photos by Andy Grow.)


A letter sent to a recipient (hickory golfer @hickories.and.links Andy Grow’s father) gives a few details about his process. “They are made of 8–10 ounce leather with about a 3-lb. [coffee] can of feathers stuffed into them.... I have hit them about 100 yards. If I hit them with woods, they tend to go to the left since they stay on the club face too long.


 

Featherie Golfe Company Ltd.

In the early 2000s and perhaps the mid- to late-1990s, the Featherie Golfe Company Ltd. of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, sold feather balls that were made in Guadalajara, Mexico, and distributed through a few vendors in Europe (and perhaps other areas as well, but we were unable to confirm this). The balls are marked with the script word Featherie and packaged in a small, printed cardboard box.

 

A feather ball made by the Featherie Golfe Company Ltd., also known as the Canadian ball,

the Guadalajara ball, the Mexico ball, or the British ball. (Photo provided by John Lavendowski.)


This confusing provenance has led to a variety of names for this modern feather ball: some call it the Canadian ball, some call it the Guadalajara ball or the Mexico ball, and still others refer to it as the British ball. The ball’s box shares some details, but no dates. Research has shown that the St. Andrews Golf Company in Scotland was selling these balls as early as the 1990s. Canadian government records show that the company was dissolved on February 5, 2007, but had not been active since October 28, 2006.


Three sides of the Featherie Golfe Company Ltd. ball box. (Photos provided by Dan Norstedt.)


These balls appear to be pretty durable as there are still a number of them still around, and some owners do play with them. This is a hard-surfaced, good-looking ball with a burnished surface. The balls we have been able to track down range from approximately 44–46 mm and weigh around 30 to 31 grams.


Featherie Golfe Company Ltd. balls owned by Dan Norstedt. The photo at right shows that

these balls are sewn shut across the belly.


Two more Featherie Golfe Company Ltd. balls, owned by John Lavendowski. Note the thin coating of paint.



STAG ball

After the Featherie Golfe Company Ltd. feather ball mentioned directly above became unavailable around 2006, the St. Andrews Golf Company in Scotland no longer had source of quality feather balls to sell, despite thoroughly researching new suppliers. As a stopgap, the company created the STAG ball, which is more of a replica than it is a real featherie. It looks somewhat like a real feather ball, but it has a rubber core. Notched leather or pleather is glued onto its surface in the familiar two-circle, one-strip pattern. It is playable.



 At this writing, the STAG ball is listed on the company’s website as out of stock.

 

 

Gavin Bottrell

Gavin Bottrell is the owner of Time Warp Golf (hickorygolf.co.uk). He is extremely knowledgeable about the history and provenance of hickory clubs as well as featherie and gutty balls. Of all of the contemporary makers, he has perhaps been at it the longest: his first video showing him driving his own creations was posted on YouTube in 2007, and he continues to perfect and explore. He also has a Gourlay feather ball in his collection, which has to provide some amount of inspiration.



A screen grab from a YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMOV9iFDV9Q&t=2s) that shows a Gavin Bottrell feather ball at right and a gutty ball at left.

 

His video from 2007 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xG0s7d6K-l0) shows him sending one ball 95 yards and another 125 yards, both hits producing a pronounced “click,” indicating that the balls are indeed crisp and hard. The most recent distance report we have from Gavin is an admirable drive of 167 yards. His latest balls average 43 mm in diameter and weigh on average 42 grams.

 

 

Unknown maker

In 2023, hickory golf enthusiast Sean McCarron purchased (from a house-clearance service in Scotland) a bag of 10 balls that appear to be featheries. There is no writing or any other marks on the balls. With the exception of the close, they are somewhat similar in appearance and size to the Moody ball that Andy Grow shared above, but Andy compared photos with his original and confirms they are not made by Moody. At this writing, we don't know when the balls were made and by whom.


One of the balls Sean McCarron purchased from a Scottish house-clearing service.

At the time of this writing, the maker is unknown.

 

Sean generously loaned one of the balls to Time Warp Golf owner and hickory golfer Gavin Bottrell, who hit one of the balls three times, with a maximum distance of 75 yards. Gavin's general observations: “Nicely stitched. Probably made in the last 20 years. [Likely] feather-filled.” He also pointed out that because there were so many found together, they were likely being made for sale.

 

One ball was measured and weighed from the group. Its diameter was 49.88mm, and it weighed 46 grams.

 

Authentic Feathery Golf Ball Company LION ball

Hickory enthusiast Richard Jones followed his love of golf history until it led to making and selling feather golf balls in Australia starting about 2019. Jones’ website (authenticfeatherygolfballs.com) shares plenty of information about his craft and how to order. His feather balls are 40–45 mm in diameter, and they weigh 32–43 grams. They have a very hard and shiny surface and are marked with the LION name.

 


Photos of Authentic Featherie Golf Ball Company balls from the company's website.

Painted and stamped balls are shown at left, and unpainted, unclosed balls are shown at right.


This is a playable ball. Indeed, it was one of the two feather ball brands allowed at the National Hickory Championship in 2022 and 2023.

 

 

Hickory Lane Featherie

And now for our own venture: Denny and Cathy Lane of East Peoria, Illinois (USA), founders of Hickory Lane Featherie, started making experimental feather balls in about 2016. They made models for participants to literally test drive (and putt) at Honorable Company of Hickory Golfer events, with mixed results. Over time, and with plenty of feedback from fellow hickory golfers, historians, and makers, they have developed a ball that is completely playable and durable. In fact, it has been sold to golfers and collectors in 36 states and seven countries. It was one of the two feather ball brands allowed at the National Hickory Championship in 2023,


Hickory Lane Featheries


Hickory Lane balls are 46-49 mm in diameter and weigh 34–40 grams. They are painted with white boiled linseed paint, which gives the balls a dull, natural surface.


If you have information about other contemporary makers who are making playable feather balls or additional information about the makers mentioned here, please contact Cathy Lane at cathylane1118@gmail.com. We consider this a living document, and updates will be added as necessary.

 

 

 

 

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