What Was the Mashie Club in Golf?

Bobby Jones playing golf in Bermuda, hitting a shot with a mashie.
Bobby Jones plays a mashie shot in 1932.

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Before the invention of matched, numbered sets of irons in the first half of the 20th century, golfers assembled club sets piece by piece, buying them from clubmakers or making the clubs themselves. The mashie was one of those old golf clubs, coming into the game as a wooden-shafted, iron-headed club in the second half of the 1800s.

What was the mashie used for? The answer to that question depends on the time period under discussion. When the club was first introduced, it was a highly lofted club intended to impart backspin for short approach shots. It was kind of like a pitching wedge, in other words.

As time advanced, so did the uses and design of the mashie. By the time the 1900s dawned, the mashie had lost a little loft and was used for a wider array of approach shots. By the 1920s, the mashie was more akin to a modern mid-iron (5- through 7-irons).

Eventually, the mashie disappeared after matched sets of numbered irons began replacing the old, named clubs beginning mostly in the 1930s. But in the many decades since, the mashie has come to be thought of as the equivalent to a modern 5-iron, if not in appearance then in its use and the way it fit within those pre-1930s golf bags.

The term "mashie" can also be applied to a family of irons used for approach purposes that eventually developed during the named-clubs era. Those clubs included the mid-mashie (roughly equivalent to a modern 3-iron), the mashie iron (approximated a 4-iron), spade mashie (6-iron) and mashie-niblick (7-iron).

For those born after 1940, golf clubs have always been identified as a number, but before the craft of making clubs was revolutionized and standardized in the 1930s, golf clubs were each known by a uniquely different name.

Since the early days of golf in the late 19th century, names like mashies, niblicks, cleeks, jiggers, baffies, spoons and others were used to identify the clubs, and, though they served similar functions to their modern counterparts, were often vastly different in design and difficulty of use.

Origins of the Name 'Mashie'

A common theory on the origin of the name "mashie" is that it derives from the French word massue, meaning mace. If you've seen any medieval-set movies with battle scenes, you probably know what a mace was: a heavy club, often with a heavy metal head studded with spikes. It was a weapon of war.

Another theory is presented in The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms. Its author postulates "mashie" is a derivative of "mash," which was used by Scots for a sledgehammer. However, that dictionary also states that mashie was "perhaps suggested by the contemporary billiards term massé." A massé shot in billiards is one in which the cue is used in such a way as to impart maximum backspin on the billiard ball. This idea makes sense given that the mashie golf club originally entered the game for its higher loft (relative to other clubs of its time), giving golfers the ability to impart more backspin.