Stewart Thomas (St. Andrews) Stewart is arguably the most famous hickory cleek-maker in the world. He produced millions of club heads (he only made club heads and not complete clubs) between 1893 and1932. His eye for perfection was legendary. As a result, many of the world’s best players used Stewart irons (Old Tom Morris, Bobby Jones, Francies Quimet and many others).
Of all the old Scottish cleek makers who worked during the wood shaft era, Tom Stewart was the most respected in his day and is the best know today. He was not the largest producer or the most innovative, but his high-quality products and his location in St. Andrews, where many great championships were held, brought him in contact with many of the elite players of the day.
It was no coincidence that Tom Stewart could produce fine iron heads. He was an accomplished amateur golfer. According to many accounts, he played the Old Course four times weekly throughout the forty years of his career.
In the early days, his best customer was the shop of Old Tom Morris. Old Tom himself played with irons made by Stewart. In the 19th century, Stewart also made heads for the McEwans in Musselburgh, as well as D. & W. Auchterlonie and Robert Forgan in St. Andrews.
Many of the great players of the 20th century came to Stewart to forge an iron to fit a specific need. Stewart capitalized on the success of these clubs, by producing copies of the original. Some of the more notable copies include the James Braid iron, the Vardon mashie, the Sandy Herd iron, and the cleek used by Freddie Tait. His best-known copies were his last few.
The legendary American amateur Bobby Jones greatly admired Stewart’s workmanship and used many Stewart irons during his career. In 1931, following Jones’s Grand Slam victories, Stewart introduced his R.T.J. model irons although he did not have Jones’s permission.
Stewart preferred making copies of high performing clubs rather than unique clubs for every golfer. For example, Stewart only patented one club, a putter with top and bottom flanges which gave the back a hollowed out effect behind the sweet spot.
Stewart clubs are recognized by his famous cleek mark, the clay pipe, which he first used in 1893. He registered the cleek mark as a trademark in 1905, so all clubs made from that time have small lettering under the pipe designating the trade mark status. He also used a cleek mark of a serpent on ladies and children’s clubs. Stewart was always conscious of quality and rejected many heads for minor flaws. These heads were stamped with a spider like reject mark.
Reference: Compendium of British Club Makers