What Was a 'Cleek' Golf Club?

Cleek golf club preparing to play a shot
MacMillan Co./Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr Commons

The cleek is an archaic golf club, now seen only in sales of antique golf equipment, that had a narrow iron clubhead with little loft. It is most closely associated, in form and function, with modern 1-irons or 2-irons: Golfers in the 1800s and into the early 1900s used the cleek most often from the teeing ground or for playing long, low shots into the green.

Another way to think of the old cleek: It was equivalent to a driving iron.

Like other antique golf clubs, cleeks had wooden (usually hickory) shafts. The term "cleek" began disappearing from golf when the numbered, matched set — 3-iron, 4-iron, 5-iron and so on — arrived on the scene in the 1930s.

Some golfers might still throw the term out, however, to show off their knowledge of golf history. And occasionally, a golf manufacturer will use "cleek" in the name of a modern club as a nod to golf history.

Other Forms of Cleeks Also Existed

There were other versions of antique clubs that included "cleek" in their names, too, most notably these two:

  • The "wooden cleek," a club also of little loft but with a wooden head and probably most closely resembling a modern 4-wood in purpose.
  • The "putting cleek," again a narrow, flat or very low-lofted clubface used for putting.

Putting cleeks were the most-used equivalent of putters in the 1800s. Before putter design exploded in a million different directions and styles, most putters had thin blades that were more reminiscent of a 1-iron than what we picture when we think of modern putters.

The farther back you go in golf history, the more varied the descriptions of cleeks become, so much so that it often seems as if in the early 1800s the work "cleek" was applied to any iron club that had a thin, lightweight blade, regardless of loft or the club's use.

Also note that in the early 1800s the term "click" was often used interchangeably with "cleek." The word "cleek" derives from a Scottish word that meant hook, crook or walking stick, according to The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms.

The Replacements of Cleeks are Now Obsolete, Too

By the late 1800s the meaning of cleek had settled on the long-iron and putting equivalents: a thin, (relatively) flat blade. When numbered sets began appearing the 1900s, cleeks were replaced by 1-irons and 2-irons. But those clubs are now going the way of their cleek predecessors.

One-irons were once common in the bags of golfers, but they have all but disappeared from golf. No golf company makes 1-irons today for sale to the general golfing public. And 2-irons are heading in that direction, too, becoming rarer on the market with each passing year.