A Tribute to Old Tom Morris

With the prestigious Ryder Cup set to take place on the PGA Centenary Course at the Gleneagles Hotel near Auchterarder in Perthshire on 26-28 September 2014, it seems fitting to pay tribute to the man widely considered to be the ‘Father of Golf’ in Scotland, Tom Mitchell Morris, affectionately known as Old Tom Morris. Although golf had been played in Scotland for centuries before Tom Morris arrived in the world on 16 June 1821, he is rightly credited with developing golf into the sport currently played internationally.

Born in the ‘home of golf’ – St Andrews – Morris showed an interest in, and talent for, the game at a young age. At the age of 14 he started working as an apprentice to Allan Robertson, who ran the St Andrews Links and produced and marketed golfing equipment. Rated as the top golfer of his time, Robertson often chose Morris to partner him in challenge matches which required partners to play alternate shots. As a partnership the two golfers were referred to as ‘The Invincibles’ and by the time Morris reached his early-20s he was considered to be second only to Robertson in golfing skills. With the two golfers playing as a team, there was no opportunity to play head-to-head, but it can be noted that when Morris played Robertson in an informal match in 1843, Morris won.

After working for Robertson for nine years, first as an apprentice and then as a journeyman, Morris was dismissed for playing golf with a competitive product – the guttie golf ball. Morris was hired by the newly founded Prestwick Golf Club where he was keeper of the greens, while running a business selling clubs and gutties, giving golfing instruction and organizing events. Having been influential in starting what has become the oldest golfing championship in the world, Morris struck the first shot at the inaugural Open Championship in 1860.

Morris is credited with establishing the 18-hole golf course, which was also implemented in other golf playing countries. As keeper of the green at Prestwick, Morris pioneered top-dressing of the greens, management of hazards and other innovative facets of golf course design. He went on to design, or re-design, up to 75 golf courses in Scotland, including Prestwick, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Royal Dornoch, Cruden Bay and Askernish Golf Club.

In 1865 Morris returned to St Andrews as a professional golfer and keeper of the green. He refurbished the existing course by enlarging the greens, widening the fairways, and applying the techniques he had perfected while at Prestwick. Highlights in his competitive golfing career are many. He won The Open Championship in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867, and set the record as oldest winner of the event at the age of 46. In the 1864 Open Championship, Morris set a record for the largest margin of victory, finishing 14 strokes ahead of the runner up.

Old Tom Morris remained at St Andrews Golf Course for almost four decades, until his death on 24 May 1908 after falling down a flight of stairs at the golf course clubhouse. His grave at St Andrews Cathedral is visited by thousands of golfers each year who stop by to pay their respects to the “Father of Golf”.