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- Tom Dunn
Tom was born into a well-respected East Lothian golfing family. His father and uncle Jamie – Willie Dunn Sr.’s twin brother – were fine golfers and famous for indulging in big money matches against the likes of Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris.
Dunn spent his early years at Blackheath in London, where his father was the professional, before the family moved back to Scotland in 1864, with Willie Dunn Sr. taking up an appointment at the Thistle Golf Club which played out of Leith Links [NLE].
Tom started his professional career as a club maker at North Berwick in 1869 but moved the following year to the London Scottish Golf Club in Wimbledon. He remained as the club’s professional for twelve years, employing two men as club makers and his younger brother Willie Dunn as an apprentice during that time.
Tom married Isabella May Gourlay who, according to the book The Golf Course by Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten, was a “descendant of the Gourlays of Musselburgh (renowned golf instructors to the Kings of Scotland and ball makers to the Royal Family of Great Britain).”
While Tom and his wife were in England, John Duncan Dunn, William Gourlay Dunn and Isabella May Gourlay Dunn were all born there. The family returned to North Berwick in 1881, with Norah Eleanor Dunn and Seymour Dunn arriving a few years later.
In The Golf Book of East Lothian (published in 1896), the author Rev. John Kerr wrote: “When Thomas Dunn entered on his duties in November 1881, he found the green very much cut up with iron marks and holes all over the place, and the putting-greens and teeing grounds in very bad order.
Having got a sum of between two and three hundred pounds raised by subscription, he set to work with a gang of men to get things put right, and by next season the condition of the course was the admiration of all who played over it.”
Tom played in eight editions of the Open Championship between 1868 and 1886 but he never finished better than 6th place, the position he achieved after his first attempt to win the event.
Dunn returned to London in 1889, to the Tooting Bec Golf Club [NLE], at a time when golf’s popularity was at a high around the capital, and he was in just the right place at the right time to help satisfy the demand for new golf courses.
Prime Minister Arthur Balfour had been given lessons by Tom when he was at North Berwick and when Parliament was sitting Balfour played at Tooting Bec.
He was asked to evaluate three potential sites for a new course near Bournemouth in 1895 and selected the one at Meyrick Park. Within three months, a team of a hundred men and twenty horses had laid out the course at a cost of £2,500. Dunn took over as the club professional and remained in post for five years.
His son John assisted him at Meyrick Park when Tom was out and about designing courses, but John then left for a job in Florida. Tom joined him for a short spell in 1899 though he stayed less than year before returning to England to design the course at Hanger Hill [NLE], where he became the club professional.
In 1902, Tom reckoned he had laid out or reconstructed as many as 137 golf links, mainly in the south of England, though he also claimed to have had a hand in designs as far afield as Cork in Ireland, Dinard in France, and Oratava in Tenerife.
Dunn died of tuberculosis at the Nordrach Clinic in Blagdon, Somerset, in May of 1902 at the age of 52.
He wasn’t the only family member to make their mark in golf. His brother Willie Dunn Jr. worked with Tom and, before moving to America, served as the professional at Westward Ho! and Biarritz Le Phare in France.
Tom’s three sons – John Duncan Dunn, Seymour Dunn and William Gourlay Dunn – were all professionals and clubmakers. Both Seymour and John Duncan followed their uncle Willie to the United States to earn a living in golf.
John Duncan collaborated with Walter Travis to set out the course at Ekwanok Country Club in Vermont in 1899 and he was later employed by the Florida East Coast Railway Company, developing hotel-associated courses.
Seymour, left his post as professional at Royal County Down to take up a similar position with Wykagyl Golf Club in New York. He designed Royal Ostend before leaving for the US, where he also laid out a number of courses and formed a mail order business to distribute golf equipment throughout the country.
William Gourlay remained in the UK, marrying a woman named Nina Grace Chambers. Unconventionally, he adopted her surname and, after emigrating to Canada in 1911, he worked with A.V. Macan on the design of the Royal Colwood course in Vancouver.
Tom’s daughter Isabella May Gourlay Dunn – known as “Queenie” – also emigrated to the other side of the Atlantic in 1915 and was said to have worked on the design of a couple of courses in Nevada.
Tom MacWood at golfclubatlas.com:“Tom Dunn was the target of criticism after his death (the critics were mostly silent while he walked amongst them). After reading these later accounts one could easily conclude ‘Poor Tom Dunn’ was his given name.
Men like Colt, Campbell and MacKenzie when analysing the 1890s singled him out as the symbol for Victorian golf architecture and all the evils it represented. And without question he was guilty of the formulaic use of cross-hazards and the hit-and-run method of staking out a course.
Make no mistake. That was his modus operandi. On the other hand, he was providing an important service at a time when no one really knew what they were doing. As Horace Hutchinson wrote: ‘It was a simple plan, nor is Tom Dunn to be censured because he could not evolve something more like a colourable imitation of the natural hazard. A man is not to be criticized because he is not in advance of his time.’
One wonders if his formative years spent at Blackheath and not at Musselburgh had a detrimental effect. Whatever the case, he should at least be given partial credit for those courses that turned out well, like Woking. Certainly others were involved in polishing those courses but he did conceive their structure and should be credited at the very least for their initial routing, the foundation of all good architecture.”