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King of Swing

This Collector Always Has a Few Irons in the Fire

August 29, 2004|MICHAEL T. JARVIS

When Claude Coker's golf clubs were stolen 15 years ago, he didn't go out and buy replacements. He just assembled a complete set from the more than 500 clubs that pack his La Palma home. "I don't remember buying a driver since I got out of college in 1953," says Coker, 74.

Coker, who won many of his putters and drivers as prizes from tournaments dating back to 1955, is a scratch golfer with a three handicap and winner of the 1962 Anaheim City Championship. He also collects antique clubs, mostly putters, some more than 100 years old. It takes two dining room tables placed end-to-end to display his favorite 50 clubs, all in pristine condition. Coker owns a 1923 Bobby Jones brand driver with an inlaid wood head and a rare 1930s wood-shafted sand wedge. There's also a 104-year-old putter from Scotland with a corrugated bottom. "Those grooves will supposedly help you go through the grass," he says. "They don't. That's all PR stuff."

There are designs endorsed by such golf notables as Byron Nelson and Walter Hagen. His most unique pieces feature unusual art or logos for brands such as Lady Luck, Coca-Cola, Lynx and Yamaha, and major events such as the Ryder Cup and Augusta's Masters tournament. There's also the "One Horn" putter that features a bulky cattle horn as a counterweight.

The collection, which Coker values at $15,000, features 100 putters, including an original Ping that the collector believes is probably worth as much as $7,000. One golfer has hounded Coker for 30 years trying to buy his two original Arnold Palmer putters from 1961 and 1962. He also gets input from his colleagues in the La Palma Kiwanis Club. "Some friends say, 'What do you do with all that junk?' " says Coker, who picks up many of his antique pieces at yard sales. "I just like the look of them."

Golf has consumed Coker's life since he retired as a marketing manager eight years ago. He plays four times a week and instructs kids at a par-three course in Long Beach as a volunteer. He stopped chipping from his frontyard after an errant shot went into a neighbor's garage, but Coker insists he's never broken anything inside his own house: "Just my wife's heart. My wife, Marynell, asks, 'Why do you have all these clubs?' She's a very patient person. We've been married 53 years." But Coker is still swinging. "I just won a set of Wilson irons."

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