Old Tom Morris

Full Name
Thomas Mitchell Morris
Year of Birth
1821
Year of Death
1908, aged 87
Place Born
St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Place Died
St Andrews, Fife, Scotland

World Golf Hall of Fame – Class of 1976: Old Tom Morris didn’t invent the game of golf, but he is recognized as the sport’s founding father. He played in the first 36 British Opens, winning four times, and sired a son, Tom Morris Jr., who won the world’s oldest golf championship four times on his own.

In 1835, at the age of fourteen, Old Tom was apprenticed to Allan Robertson, who most historians consider as the first golf professional, and he worked in his mentor’s St Andrews workshop making golf balls and clubs. It’s said they were never beaten in a challenge match when paired together – especially in high stakes matches such as one for £400 against the Dunns of Musselburgh in 1849.

Unfortunately, they had a major disagreement when the gutta percha ball first made its appearance. Robertson insisted on playing the old, more expensive, featherie ball (which his firm supplied) but his protégé realized that the future lay with the new ball and so they parted company, with Old Tom heading off to become Keeper of the Greens at Prestwick in 1851.

As a player, Old Tom won four of the first eight Opens, which were all held at Prestwick. His son Young Tom, who he would outlive by 33 years, then won the next four titles in consecutive years, but he passed away broken-hearted at the age of 24 on Christmas Day in 1875, only months after his wife and baby had died during childbirth.

Old Tom Morris had returned to St Andrews a decade earlier, in 1865, to look after the upkeep of The Old Course, which had apparently fallen into a state of disrepair. Applying techniques he’d developed at Prestwick, he built two new greens on the 1st and 18th and re-turfed the fairways on both holes. He would remain in post until 1903, a total of thirty-nine years.

From around the death of Young Tom until his retirement, Old Tom was involved in the design or remodelling of more than sixty courses around the British Isles. He travelled far and wide on commissions, from Dornoch in the north to Royal North Devon in the south, taking the ferry to set out courses in the Western Isles, the Isle of Man and Ireland.

In The Golf Course by Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten, the authors have this to say about Old Tom: "Those who knew him described Old Tom as a man it was impossible to dislike. Throughout his productive life, he refused to play golf on Sundays and kept the Old Course closed on that day, feeling it needed a rest even if the golfers didn’t. His philosophy in regard to putting maintenance embraced “sand and more sand” as a top-dressing.”

Some have criticized Old Toms’s work, arguing that his green designs were overly geometric and his routings were unconventional, with crossing holes and little variety in length, but it must be remembered the era in which he operated, when it was virtually impossible to alter the existing contours of the landscape he was working with.

In the book The Evolution of Golf Course Design by Keith Cutten, the author has this to say about Old Tom: “It is wrong to solely view Old Tom’s legacy through the dual prism of the golf courses he crafted and his considerable playing success. Arguably, of greater importance was his effect on the growth of the game, and his influence upon future golf course architects. Old Tom became the figurehead of golf throughout the British Isles, and so many golfers made the pilgrimage to The Old course to visit him and hear stories about the game.”

Snippets:

There are many good biographies about Old Tom, including:

The Golf Course of Old Tom Morris: A Look at Early Golf Course Architecture, published in 1995, by Robert Kroeger

Tommy's Honor: The Extraordinary Story of Golf’s Founding Father and Son, published in 2011, by Kevin Cook

Tom Morris of St Andrews: The Colossus of Golf 1821-1908, published in 2012, by David Malcolm and Peter E. Crabtree

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Courses designed by and courses remodelled and added to by Old Tom Morris

Alyth

7th Perth & Kinross - Best in Area 89th Scotland Ranking

Alyth Golf Club, in the Vale of Strathmore, is a little off the main Scottish golfing tracks, but is well worth the deviation away from other more well known courses.

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Av. Reviewers Score:
Description: Alyth Golf Club, in the Vale of Strathmore, is a little off the main Scottish golfing tracks, but is well worth the deviation away from other more well known courses. Rating: 4.3 out of 6

Arbroath

10th Angus & Dundee - Best in Area

Home to Arbroath Artisan Golf Club, Old Tom Morris designed Arbroath Golf Links in 1877. This little known course lies a mere five miles up the North Sea coast from Carnoustie.

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Av. Reviewers Score:
Description: Home to Arbroath Artisan Golf Club, Old Tom Morris designed Arbroath Golf Links in 1877. This little known course lies a mere five miles up the North Sea coast from Carnoustie. Rating: 4.3 out of 6

Callander

Gem Scotland - Best in Area

Callander Golf Club is set in the heart of the Trossachs and Old Tom Morris originally laid out this short but historic course.

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Av. Reviewers Score:
Description: Callander Golf Club is set in the heart of the Trossachs and Old Tom Morris originally laid out this short but historic course. Rating: 3 out of 6

Carnoustie (Championship)

1st Angus & Dundee - Best in Area 5th Scotland Ranking 9th Britain & Ireland Ranking 26th World Ranking

Carnoustie is a big natural seaside golf links and the Championship course is considered to be one of the most difficult in the British Isles.

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Av. Reviewers Score:
Description: Carnoustie is a big natural seaside golf links and the Championship course is considered to be one of the most difficult in the British Isles. Rating: 5.5 out of 6

Castletown

1st Isle of Man Ranking

Castletown Golf Links is located at the southeastern tip of the Isle of Man on a triangular links headland which is bordered on three sides by the Irish Sea.

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Av. Reviewers Score:
Description: Castletown Golf Links is located at the southeastern tip of the Isle of Man on a triangular links headland which is bordered on three sides by the Irish Sea. Rating: 5.3 out of 6

Cleveland

18th Yorkshire - Best in Area

Dating back to 1887, Cleveland Golf Club is one of the oldest clubs in Yorkshire and its 18-hole course just happens to be the only true links layout in the county.

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Av. Reviewers Score:
Description: Dating back to 1887, Cleveland Golf Club is one of the oldest clubs in Yorkshire and its 18-hole course just happens to be the only true links layout in the county. Rating: 4.3 out of 6

Crail (Balcomie)

15th Fife - Best in Area 74th Scotland Ranking

The Balcomie Links is the relatively modern home of the Crail Golfing Society, the ninth oldest golf club in the world, which was formed in 1786.

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Description: The Balcomie Links is the relatively modern home of the Crail Golfing Society, the ninth oldest golf club in the world, which was formed in 1786. Rating: 4.7 out of 6

Crieff (Ferntower)

10th Perth & Kinross - Best in Area

Located at the “gateway to the Highlands”, Crieff Golf Club is surrounded by dramatic scenery with views over the Strathearn Valley.

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Description: Located at the “gateway to the Highlands”, Crieff Golf Club is surrounded by dramatic scenery with views over the Strathearn Valley. Rating: 4.3 out of 6

Cruden Bay (Championship)

3rd North East Scotland - Best in Area 11th Scotland Ranking 24th Britain & Ireland Ranking 71st World Ranking

Cruden Bay Golf Club is inspirational, regarded by some as quirky and considered by others as a masterpiece. Either way, it's a thrilling course...

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Av. Reviewers Score:
Description: Cruden Bay Golf Club is inspirational, regarded by some as quirky and considered by others as a masterpiece. Either way, it's a thrilling course... Rating: 5.3 out of 6

Dunbar

6th Lothians - Best in Area 32nd Scotland Ranking

Dunbar Golf Club is laid out on a narrow strip of land with the best holes hugging the rocky coastline affording resplendent views across the North Sea to Bass Rock, a huge volcanic lump rising up out of the water.

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Av. Reviewers Score:
Description: Dunbar Golf Club is laid out on a narrow strip of land with the best holes hugging the rocky coastline affording resplendent views across the North Sea to Bass Rock, a huge volcanic lump rising up out of the water. Rating: 4.9 out of 6