The following article was researched and written by Jeff Ellis for the Jeff Ellis Golf Auction website. A number of Fred X Fry’s club have been offered in his Fall 2020 and will be offered in his Spring 2021 auction. To view, please click here.
During the first half of the 20th century, Fred X. Fry was, by far, the most prominent American golf club collector. A number of national magazines published articles about him and his collection between 1936 and 1963, when he and his collection made the cover of Golf World Magazine. The caption noted that Fry had "gathered an array of putters second to none in historical value and interest."
During the early 1930s, while working as the golf professional at the Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course near Pebble Beach, Fry began to build his collection in earnest. He eventually displayed his collection in a room adjacent to his pro shop and allowed inquisitive customers to try out the putters from his collection on the practice green. He was quick to trade new clubs for old or reimburse others who brought him treasures for his display.
Fry's collection gained such notoriety that both Bobby Jones and Harry Vardon sent him a club upon his request. A member of the USGA Museum committee presented Fry with a putter used by Chick Evans in many championships, commemorating that fact with a plaque on the handle. Also in the collection were some amazing, unusual designs, a few of which are included in The Clubmaker's Art 2nd Edition. (Just look up Fry's name in the index.)
Fry documented the vast bulk of all the clubs that were given to him. He kept notebooks in which he assigned each putter an inventory letter and/or number and would often record information about where, when, how, and from whom he had obtained the club. Initially he included a piece of white tape around the base of the grip or just below it that was marked with an inventory ID.
Later he instituted a second number or identification system, installing a second piece of tape with the new ID number typed on it. These wraps of tape can be seen in many of the images of his clubs in the old magazines, and they are still on the clubs offered through Jeff Ellis Golf Auctions.
Interestingly, Fry did not give woods or irons inventory numbers nor did he put labels on their shafts. On some clubs Fry would stamp his name in the top of the head. There is no mistaken who once owned those if the paperwork were to be lost!
Fry's putter collection approached 450 in total. Since Fry's death in 1968, many of his putters have either been given away or sold. But not all. A number of his putters, books, and other items are now being offered through Jeff Ellis Golf Auctions by one of Fry's descendants.
Born Francis Xavier Frederick Henry Fry, Fred X. was one of five renown golfing brothers. The April 24, 1938 issue of The New York Times reports on a "telegraph match" between the 5 Fry Brothers in California and 5 of the famous Turnesa Brothers in New York. In 1962, Fred X. Fry retired from his reign as senior municipal golf pro in the US, having held posts at municipal courses since he was 18.
It should be noted that there are a few errors in some of these articles about Fry's clubs, primarily in the dating of some of the clubs. Also, according to the letter Vardon sent, the putter he gave Fry was used by Vardon when he won the 1914 British Open and when he finished tied for second in the 1920 US Open.
Fred Fry collects 423 -- Golfing, July 1954
Fred Fry Golf World cover -- Golf World, December 7, 1962
Fred Fry Putter Bug Article -- Golf, April 1939
Fred Fry Putter Bug Article p2 -- Golf, April 1939
Fred Fry trades new for old putters -- The American Golfer, January 1936
Fred Fry Putters with Putters -- (unknown)
Fred Fry PG's Father Of Golf Article -- (Unknown) 1962