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Father and Grand Old Man of Golf

Updated on November 16, 2020
powers41 profile image

The interesting and true story of the Pioneers of Golf. I love learning history, evolution, and progress of sports

The Old and New Golf Balls

A "fivers" Golf Ball
A "fivers" Golf Ball | Source
Today's Golf Balls
Today's Golf Balls

Old and New Golf Balls

The very first golf balls were made of wood and certainly not round. It makes one wonder how they could roll. Then, came the featherie balls made of boiling goose feathers a couple of hours and sewing leather around them. As the feathers dried, the leather shrunk, making them about as round as could be. The process was handmade, making them expensive to make.

Wooden balls were used until the 17th century, the featherie balls until about 1848 when the new Gutta Percha was invented. They were made of the sap of a tree, heated and then shaped into a ball while hot. And, in 1898, rubber core balls were the next evolution of golf balls.

Old Tom Morris-Father of Golf

Old Tom Morris
Old Tom Morris

Old Tom Morris

Thomas Mitchell Morris was born in St Andrews, Fife in 1821, son of a weaver and his wife. He was a Scottish professional golfer, but in reality, much more than that. He started playing golf very early by playing the game called "sillybodkins" with his friends. This was the game played by knocking down wine bottle caps using their homemade clubs of birch.

Early on, Tom started caddying and working as an apprentice of Alan Robertson. Robertson was one of the first professional golfers and ran the St. Andrews Golf Club. After a while, they started playing team matches and became known as "The Invincibles." By now Morris twenty and the second-best player at St. Andrews and very close to Robertson in golf skill.

Tom worked with Robertson until 1851 the day Robertson fired him on the spot. Why you right ask, but Robertson was furious Morris started using the new golf balls, the guttie ball. Robertson had a lucrative featherie golf ball business and didn't want to lose business.

Out of a job now, Morris was hired by the Prestwick Golf Club. He designed, laid out, and maintained the course. And on the side, he had his own golf equipment business, sold the new guttie balls and clubs, and gave golf instructions.

The founder of the Prestwick Golf Club, James Ogilive Fairlie, mentored Morris along the way. In 1865 Morris returned to St. Andrews as a greenskeeper and professional. He began by widening the fairways, enlarging the greens, and building two new greens. He is credited with adding sand to dress the greens.

For 39 years, he "mothered" St. Andrews, and after he retired, the R&A (Royal and Ancient) kept him on at full salary. He worked until his death just before he was 87. He had fallen down the stairs at the new St. Andrews Golf Club and died soon after.

In 1860 Old Tom came in second at the first Open Championship then won it the following year again in 1862, 1864, and 1867. He holds the record for the oldest winner of the Open Championship. He also holds the record for the most significant margin in a major (13 strokes in the 1862 Open Championship). That record stood until Tiger Woods won the US Open by 15 strokes.

Golf Courses Designed by Old Tom Morris

in addition to the design skills he used at Prestwick and St. Andrews, Tom designed the following:

Kingussie Golf Club

Kincaddy Golf Club

Murfield Golf Club

Balcomie Golf Club

St. Andrews Golf Club

St. Andrews Golf Club
St. Andrews Golf Club

Old and Young Tom Morris

Old and Young Tom Morris
Old and Young Tom Morris

Young Tom Morris

Young Tom was born in 1851, son of Old Tom, and took to golf early in his age. He had a natural talent for the game. In 1868 just 17, he won the Open Championship, the youngest ever to win this prestigious major. Often playing with his father and at the age of 13, he beat his father in a game of golf. In 1869, Young Tom had the first hole-in-one on a 166-yard hop. That scorecard is on display at the Prestwick Golf Clubhouse. Young Tom met and fell in love with a commoner and maid, Margaret Drinner. Margaret was ten years older than Tom.

His parents were against the marriage and refused to attend the small wedding. Soon, Margaret was pregnant, and Young Tom was thrilled. Old Tom had arranged for a golf game, including Young Tom. While playing, a note was delivered to Old Tom saying Young Tom's wife was in labor and ill. He folded the note and put it in his pocket until the game was over. When Young Tom got the note, he was on his way home when another note was delivered to him that his wife and baby died.

Young Tom was inconsolable that he never got to say goodbye. He started drinking heavily, and Old Tom never forgave himself for failing to let him know earlier. Both Tom's played in their final game during a cold, snowy day. Tom caught a cold and died on December 25th, 1875. The death certificate said he died of cardiac problems, and many believed he simply died of a broken heart; it seems he simply didn't want to recover.

His career cut short but he could have been one of the greatest golfers.

World Golf Hall of Fame

Both Old and Young Morris were inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Young Tom was indicted in 1975 and Old Tom in 1976. They are both buried in St. Andrews Cemetery in Scotland

In 2016, a historical drama was released depicting Old and Young Morris and their lives and accomplishments. The film is Tommy's Honour and won the British Academy Scotland Award.

St. Andrews Cemetary

St. Andrews Cemetary
St. Andrews Cemetary
Tom Morris Marker
Tom Morris Marker


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    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      11 months ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Thanks and I will

    • surovi99 profile image

      Rosina S Khan 

      11 months ago

      Fran, the latest hub on my story series, "Keily, the Bookworm" is now available. Here is the link:

      Hope you will read it and leave your feedback in the article.

    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      11 months ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them.

    • surovi99 profile image

      Rosina S Khan 

      11 months ago

      It seems both Old and Young Tom were great golfers once upon a time. I only wish Old Tom was easier on his son's choice of marriage. In the end, none of them were happy. Yes, a tragic but interesting hub.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      11 months ago from UK

      This is a fascinating but sad story from golfing history.


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