Old Tom Morris (Thomas Mitchell Morris)



Born: Jun 16, 1821 (St Andrews, Fife, Scotland) - Died: May 24, 1908

Affectionately known as "the grandfather of golf," Old Tom Morris wasn't very old when he first started working as a caddie and developing an interest in the Royal and Ancient game. At 14 he was taken on as an apprentice by the man generally acknowledged as the first professional golfer, Allan Robertson, who ran the links at St. Andrews and made clubs. Morris worked with Robertson and partnered him on the golf course for about nine years. They were nicknamed "The Invincibles" and it's widely believed they never lost a match when playing together.

The partnership was finally broken in 1851 when Morris was caught using a "guttie" ball and was fired on the spot. Robertson hated the "guttie" which threatened his profitable business making "featheries."

Morris was then employed by the newly formed Prestwick Golf Club to lay out and maintain the course, run the pro shop and give lessons. He was also responsible for organizing tournaments, in which capacity he was heavily involved in the first ever Open Championship in 1860 and reportedly struck the very first shot on the opening hole.

Morris eventually returned to St. Andrews in 1865 to take up the position as "Custodian of the Links." He inherited a course that was in pretty poor condition. His first job was to sort it all out and he began by widening the fairways, enlarging the greens and applying the lessons in course maintenance he learned at Prestwick. In particular, the transformation of the greens was a huge achievement.

Often regarded as the father of modern green-keeping, Old Tom introduced a number of concepts and innovations that transformed courses. Top-dressing greens with sand was his idea as was maintaining previously neglected bunkers. Among his other firsts was the use of yardage markers, push-mowers on greens and creating separate teeing areas for each hole. Also significantly, he introduced the idea of placing hazards in such a way as to create a route around them, which could be regarded as the beginning of strategic design.

Morris remained at St. Andrews for nearly 40 years during which time he clinched his fourth and final Open Championship when 46. He remains the oldest winner.

Because of his considerable experience looking after the links at St. Andrews, he was in great demand as a course designer around the British Isles. He began by helping Robertson lay out 10 holes at Carnoustie and his subsequent commissions included Prestwick, Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, Machrihanish, the Jubilee Course at St. Andrews, Nairn, Cruden Bay, Balcomie at Crail, Moray, Lahinch and Rosapenna in Ireland, Royal County Down and Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, Warkworth and Royal North Devon in England and Castletown on the Isle of Man. In total, he was heavily involved in the creation or re-design of about 75 courses.

The lack of any serious earth-moving equipment and, quite frequently, funds, obliged Morris to adopt a minimalist approach. Although longer than the featherie, the guttie ball didn't travel all that far and consequently courses were typically between 5,000 and 6,000 yards in length. When the "Haskell ball" arrived a couple decades later, a lot of Old Tom's courses were tweaked, lengthened and increasingly re-routed. Consequently, much of his work at courses such as Muirfield and Royal County Down has been obliterated. However, at others -- including Cruden Bay and Royal Dornoch -- a great deal remains to this day.


Average Overall Rating

4.6 stars from 5

based on 337 reviews.

4-5 stars:
74.2%
3-4 stars:
4.8%
2-3 stars:
0.0%
1-2 stars:
0.0%
n/a:
21.0%
Avg. Course Layout: 4.5 stars from 5
Avg. Off-Course Amenities: 4.2 stars from 5
Avg. Value for the Money: 4.5 stars from 5
Avg. Pace of Play: 4.5 stars from 5
Avg. Staff Friendliness: 4.6 stars from 5
Avg. Course Conditions: 4.4 stars from 5

Old Tom Morris-designed golf courses map


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