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- Allan Robertson
Allan Robertson was born in the Auld Grey Toon of St Andrews at a point in history when golf was beginning to captivate the imaginations of well-heeled gentlemen. Robertson was the pre-eminent club and feathery ball-maker of his time, inheriting his grandfather’s business from his father.
According to Charles Blair Macdonald: “Allan Robertson was the best known golfer of his generation and generally thought to have been the greatest player of his day.” Robertson is also considered to be history’s first professional golfer and he made a good deal of money from winning challenge matches.
A young 14-year-old apprentice called Tom Morris (Old Tom Morris) worked in Robertson’s shop and they became formidable golfing partners. It’s said that the pair never lost a match, but the partnership came to an end soon after Morris beat Robertson in a friendly and Robertson later sacked Morris following a dispute over equipment.
James Balfour, Robertson’s contemporary, wrote the following in Reminiscences of Golf on St Andrews Links: “His style was neat and effective. He held his clubs near the end of the handle, even his putter high up. His clubs were light, and his stroke an easy, swift switch. With him the game was as much of head as of hand. He always kept cool and generally pulled through a match even when he got behind.” In 1858 he became the first golfer to break 80 at St Andrews.
In The Golf Course by Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten, the authors commented as follows: “At the urging of Sir Hugh Playfair (who, as Provost of St Andrews in 1842, had set about improving the town) Robertson exercised a general supervision of the St Andrews links. He was credited with the 1848 modifications to the Old Course that widened the fairways and created the now-famous huge double greens. Robertson also built a new seventeenth green on the classic Road Hole. Apart from St Andrews, Allan Robertson laid out links in various districts of Scotland, including a 10-hole course at Barry, Angus, that ultimately became Carnoustie. He was certainly, if unofficially, the first greenkeeper and golf course designer in history as well as the first golf professional.”
Allan Robertson died following an outbreak of jaundice just one-year prior to the inaugural Open Championship at Prestwick. He was buried in the cemetery of St Andrews Cathedral and his epitaph reads: “Allan Robertson - who died 1st Sept. 1859 aged 44 years old. He was greatly esteemed for his personal worth and for many years was distinguished as the champion golfer of Scotland.”
Allan Robertson – the grandfather of golf.
Allan Robertson was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001.
World Golf Hall of Fame – Robertson’s shop overlooked the Old Course’s 18th green. In his best year, Robertson produced 2,500 balls. He supplied local demand, but also exported balls to Britain and the American colonies. Today, a Robertson ball carrying his ‘Allan’ stamp is highly prized by collectors. One of golf’s most priceless artefacts is the feathery ball that Robertson signed in 1843 which tells that he defeated arch rival Willie Dunn in the “great match.”
St Andrews Golf Links The First 600 Years by Tom Jarrett: “As a golfer, he perfected the skill of iron play, particularly the running shot to the green. It is surprising that this should be so, for cleeks, or iron-headed clubs, did not become the norm on the links until after the invention of the gutta ball in 1848, and Allan Robertson fiercely resisted the gutta for two years, as he saw it as a threat to his featherie-ballmaking business.
He had a genial disposition which endeared him to men of all ranks. Shortish, with a round, impish face, he was a popular partner for the gentlemen golfers of the R&A. His cordiality did not rest there but was extended to everyone who shared his interest in and love of the game of golf. His untimely death came as a shock to the golfing world for, like his contemporary Tom Morris, he was a temperate man enjoying regular exercise over the links and with scarcely a day's illness in his life."
Allan Robertson, Golfer: His Life and Times by A. B. Adamsen (1985)
St Andrews Golf Links: The First 6000 Years by Tom Jarrett (1995)
Reminiscences of Golf on St Andrews Links by James Balfour (2007)