The life of Tom Morris was extraordinary. He was persuaded at the age of 14 to forget becoming a carpenter and, for a better future, to take up an apprenticeship with Allan Robertson, making feathery golf balls and golf clubs.
Robertson was generally regarded as the world’s first professional golfer. Whilst Old Tom was training, he also caddied, and Allan taught him golf on the links. At the age of 18 Tom became his journeyman, and continued to do so until their famous falling-out in 1851 over Allan’s hatred for the gutta percha ball. His profitable business existed by making the featherie ball, and that was threatened by Tom’s acceptance of the “guttie”.
Splitting with his mentor
With his split from Allan in 1851, Tom was persuaded to work at Prestwick Golf Club. His influential life there is well documented, and with Colonel James Ogilvy Fairlie he was pivotal in creating the Open Championship in 1860, striking the event’s very first tee shot.
Tom won the Open Championship four times over Prestwick’s links. He won the second Championship in 1861 with a score of 163, ine strokes better than Willie Park’s score the year before. In 1862 he again won the red Morocco Belt, equalling his 1861 score.
In 1864 Old Tom won it for the third time with a score of 160, a record which was not beaten until, in 1868, when his legendary son “Young” Tommy won it with a score of 154.
Old Tom was immensely proud of his son, who went on to win The Open three times in succession to retain “The Belt”. Subsequently Young Tom was the first to have his name inscribed on the Claret Jug.
Laid out new golf courses
Between the hours spent attending to his day job, and his travelling the length of Great Britain and its islands to lay out new golf courses, Tom still found time for challenge matches between the ever-growing legion of professional golfers across the country Many of them his friends and fellow Open participants.
Laterally, his course design work took precedence, designing courses such as Crail, Cullen links, Nairn and Muirfield to name but a few.
Toms legacy is like no other in the world of golf and we pay great thanks and gratitude that the game we know and love today has evolved partly to the work of one great man.
The statue of Old Tom Morris pictured above (Photo by MigrantGolfer.com) is watching over the 1st tee at Rosapenna Old Tom Morris Links in North West Ireland.
Below is a a link ro several short videos produced by Scotland Where Golf Began, which celebrates Old Tom’s life, from his courses, the matches he played and everything in between.