Once, when a visitor entered John Berg’s home and saw the hundreds of golf clubs he kept around his home, she asked, “How do you live here?”
Berg replied mischievously: “Very carefully.”
And noting that Berg wasn’t married, he added, “No woman would settle for this place.”
For approximately 25 years, Berg has been collecting putters, drivers and irons in the Illinois, Miami area, Lake Okeechobee, Florida and now North Fort Myers, Florida. Between his double-wide trailer and the warehouses, he estimates he has about 5,000 thugs.
“I like to make a few bucks,” he said. “I enjoy the thrill of buying something, stopping in one place and finding something. I also like to sell them.”
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Now, in his late 70s, Berg no longer plays golf. While undergoing knee surgery and plagued by back problems, he admits he’s burned out from the game. That’s why he wants to find a buyer for his entire collection.
“If the right person comes along, I’d like to sell them,” he said.
Berg was an assistant golf pro, teacher, and golf coach who also owned rentals, taught night school, and was a caddy.
When he moved to Hollywood, Florida in 1996, he began collecting thugs. Berg and a pal scoured thrift stores and flea markets along the coast looking for treasure. Over the years he found a 1900 Slazenger putter, a 1915-20 Half Blade putter, a rare wooden shafted putter with no name, a Jack Nicklaus/George Low putter (only about 3,000 made) and a putter by Bill Buckley designed for Karsten Solheim. Solheim, a golf club designer, founded Karsten Manufacturing – better known as PING – and the Solheim Cup, the premier international team competition in women’s golf.
“Only about 100 of these were made,” he said. “They were rare.”
Berg tapped into his interest in vintage collectibles, collecting dozens of 1960s-era wooden clubs and 1,200 wedges and irons, which he sold either on his porch or on trips to San Diego.
Some of his customers were just learning to play. Others liked something that reminded them of the good old days.
“Just the nostalgia, the vintage clubs,” he said. “However, the trend quickly went downhill. Then people mostly wanted newer, better stuff.”
Once Berg met a man who invited him to his home in Miami to see his golf collection.
“He had about 35 bags of golf clubs,” Berg said. “Old stuff and semi-junk. Then I almost fainted. He had about 17 or 18 classics. I loaded the station wagon. I asked him how much he wanted and he said, ‘Just give me $20.’
“Then he told me about two old Studebakers he had. I wish I had bought one like this.”
When he got home, Berg said he found a few more goodies that he put in “junker match sets.”
“I took them to the backyard, got out my Brillo pad and cleaned those clubs. I worked and sweated and when I got bored I played with my dog. It was one of the best days of my life. I think I ended up with about 50 classics. And when I sold them, I think I made about $1,000.”
If he were to sell his collection, Berg said he didn’t know what he would do.
“I’m just enjoying what I’m doing right now,” he said. “Be retired.”