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“The Golf Club Trick”

For the first time in a long time, I have a juggling trick to work on.

It seems to be known as “The Golf Club Trick” and dates back at least as far as the 1950s.  There are several variations on the theme, but the main idea is that you arrange a set of golf clubs (and optionally some golf balls) in an improbable arrangement, and then balance the whole lot on your head.

If it’s not immediately clear what I mean, don’t worry – there are photos and videos further down!

I’ve spent a lot of time working on it over the last week or so, and I’m making a fair amount of progress.  I’m probably now at the point where I could get it (or rather, one of the more straight forward variations) on video without too much effort, although I’ve not managed to get my camera out and make that happen yet.  Perhaps if the weather is nice tomorrow…

By way of inspiration, I’ve been rummaging around in various archives looking for past/present performers of the trick to see how they set it up, what their variations are, and how they fit it into their act.

It’s mostly presented as a routine on it’s own, and not part of a golf themed act (The exception apparently being Robin Gunney) and the setup is fairly straight. The tear down finish appears to be largely the same as well.

Joe Marsh
A number of sources claim that Joe Marsh invented the trick, although don’t provide dates. Joe was actively performing at least as early as the 1940s/1950s – but it’s unclear when he added The Golf Club Trick to his act.

I’ve not yet found any video of Joe Marsh performing this trick, or any promotional material from him. The closest I get is this photo from Paul Bachman’s book “Jugglers Galore” (Page 131) which is attributed to “Joe Marks” – which may be a misreading of his signature:

Joe_Marks-JugglersGalore-p131

It seems likely that this is Joe Marsh, as I can’t find any further information about a juggler by the name of Joe Marks – I would be happy to be proved wrong either way!

Frankie Ferrer
This undated promotional photograph of Frankie appears in 4000 Years of Juggling, Volume 2, Page 248:

Frankie_Ferrer-4000Years-v2-p248

Nicky Viva performs all Frankie Ferrers material today, and inherited the routines directly from Frankie Ferrer. Nicky claims that Frankie was the originator of this trick.

This video of Frankie Ferrer appears to be from the 1970s:

He doesn’t look old enough in that video to be a contemporary of Joe Marsh, although it’s likely there was some overlap in their performance careers, but without any information dating the first performance of the trick by either performer, it’s not really possible to say who performed it first.

Similar tricks were performed as far back as 1901 (Some of Adolph Salerno’s publicity material depicts similar balances, 4000 Years, Volume 2 Page 61) and there is a variation with billiard cues which was popular. So extending the idea to golf clubs may have been a logical enough progression that it could be independently developed by both jugglers.

Jon Anton
Jon Anton learnt the trick from his uncle, Joe Marsh. I haven’t managed to find any video of him performing this feat, although there is a photo here: http://www.antons-show.co.uk/the_fabulous_antons_large16.htm

Given that he learnt it from Joe Marsh, the routine (and configuration of props) will be the same, although it’s not clear at this stage if Joe also span rings on his arms like Jon does.

Rob Murray
I believe Rob Murrays version of the routine to be the same as the original Joe Marsh routine:

Steve Rawlings
Steve Rawlings performs the most straight forward variation of the trick (with no golf balls) and this version is currently what I’m able to replicate.

Dan Holzman – Raspini Brothers
Dan Holzman performs a version of the trick with two golf clubs and a golf ball.

Steve Langley
Another variation on the theme by Steve Langley. As well as the version done by Dan Holzman, he has a version with 3 clubs at the top of the balance. If I end up with a surplus of clubs I might give that a go at some point.

Uno Lanka
Uno Lanka performed what is probably the ultimate version of the feat. I can’t work out how to embed a starting offset on juggling.tv videos, but it’s a cracking routine so you may as well watch all of it!

3 golf clubs, 2 golf balls, and then he plays the flute at the same time.

Uno LankaWatch on JTV for iOS playback

Ty Tojo
Ty is probably the youngest person to have performed this trick, his variation is rumoured to include a golf tee although I haven’t found anything which shows this particularly clearly.

If he does use a golf tee, it makes his approach slightly different to the Joe Marsh version (although the configuration of props is similar) I may go down this avenue as I think it’s probably a slightly easier “sell”

My contemporaries
Kevin Fletcher (Topper) has worked on this trick. He’s been incredibly helpful, has done his own research into Joe Marsh/Jon Anton and has very generously shared a couple of key bits of information about how to learn it.

Robin Gunney has also worked on this trick, and has one or two nice variations on it (eg an extra golf ball on the end of the handle of the top club) – I’ve had a lot of conversation with him about it over the last week or so, and he’s been incredibly helpful as well.

Further research required:
If anyone has any footage of Joe Marsh or Jon Anton performing this feat, I’d really love to see it! Likewise if you have any footage of any other early performances of it.

If you have any biographical details of Joe Marsh/Frankie Ferrer which would clear up who got to the trick first I’d love to see that as well.

Updates: 2014-04-22
David Cain has confirmed that the photo of “Joe Marks” is indeed Joe Marsh as I thought, and says that Joe invented the trick in 1930.

I’m still trying to find a date for Freddie Ferrer, but if we assume he was 20 in 1930, that would make him in his 60s in the video of him performing the feat on TV – which isn’t as implausible as I had originally thought.

Having re-watched several of the videos very carefully, and bearing in mind what I know of Joe Marsh’s props, I think Frankie Ferrers approach to the trick *may* be worked slightly differently. It’s hard to describe without openly theorising about the gimmicks (something I’m naturally opposed to given my history as a magician) but the way Frankies top club moves suggests that’s a point contact balance and nothing more “worked”

This combined with the mention of Ty’s golf tee suggests that my original thinking about how to make the golf ball work is still a valid solution.

Updates: 2014-04-23
Thanks to Sam Veale for pointing out in the comments that Michael Chirrick has performed this trick. You can see a nice photo of him performing it on his website: http://www.mikechirrick.com/videos.php although I’ve not been able to turn up more than a couple of seconds of video of him doing it, so I can’t really tell which of the likely approaches he’s using.

If anyone has some links to a video which shows him setting up/tearing down the trick, I’d be interested!

One Response to ““The Golf Club Trick””

  1. Sam Veale says:

    Great article Paul. Michael Chirrick does this trick as well.

    I’ve been working on this too and performing a scaled down version occasionally (without the crossbar club at the base).

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