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Old Tom Morris

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Old Tom Morris
Morris in 1901
Personal information
Full nameThomas Mitchell Morris
NicknameOld Tom, The Grand Old Man of Golf[1]
Born(1821-06-16)16 June 1821
St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Died24 May 1908(1908-05-24) (aged 86)
St Andrews, Scotland[3]
Sporting nationality Scotland
Agnes (Nancy) Bayne
(m. 1844; died 1876)
Children4 (Tom, Elizabeth, James, John)[3]
Best results in major championships
(wins: 4)
The Open ChampionshipWon: 1861, 1862, 1864, 1867[4]
Achievements and awards
World Golf Hall of Fame1976 (member page)

Thomas Mitchell Morris (16 June 1821 – 24 May 1908), otherwise known as Old Tom Morris, and The Grand Old Man of Golf,[1][5] was a Scottish golfer. He was born in St Andrews, Fife, the "home of golf" and location of the St Andrews Links, and died there as well. Young Tom Morris (died 1875), also a golfer, was his son.

Early golf career[edit]

The house where Morris was born no longer exists, but it is thought to be close to 121 North Street, St Andrews.[6] He was the son of a weaver, and was educated at Madras College in his home town. He began golf by age ten, by knocking wine-bottle corks pierced with nails (to serve as balls) around the streets of the town using a homemade club, in informal matches against other youths; this was known as 'sollybodkins'.[7] He started caddying and playing golf from a young age, and formally was hired as an apprentice at age 14 to Allan Robertson, generally regarded as the world's first professional golfer; Robertson ran the St Andrews Links and an equipment-making business. Morris served four years as apprentice and a further five years as journeyman under Robertson, by most accounts the world's top player from about 1843 until his death in 1859.

From the early 1840s, Robertson often chose Morris as his partner in challenge matches, played by alternate shot format, which were the principal form of competition at that time. It was said the two never lost a team match played on even terms. The team became known as "The Invincibles". By the time Morris was in his early 20s he was the second-best player in St. Andrews, close to Robertson in golf skill, and won an informal match from him over the Old Course in 1843, but the two players rarely played seriously head-to-head. As Robertson's employee, Morris was in somewhat of an awkward position.[8] He was a long-time member of the St Andrews Golf Club.[9]

Moves to Prestwick[edit]

I can remember the circumstances well. Allan (Robertson) could not reconcile himself to the new ball at first at all. But the gutta became the fashion very quickly, so what could we do? One day, and it is one that will always be clearly stamped upon my memory, I had been playing golf with a Mr. Campbell of Saddell, and I had the misfortune to lose all my supply of balls, which were, you can understand, very much easier lost in those days, and Mr. Campbell kindly gave me a gutta to try. I took to it at once, and as we were playing in, it so happened that we met Allan coming out, and someone told him that I was playing a very good game with one of the new gutta balls, and I could see fine from the expression on his face, that he did not like it at all. And, when we met afterwards in his shop, we had some high words about the matter, and then and there we parted company, I leaving his employment. - Old Tom Morris[5]

Morris worked under Robertson at St Andrews until 1848, when he was fired on the spot after being caught by Robertson playing the new gutta percha golf ball; Robertson had a profitable business making the featherie ball, which was threatened by the emergence of the guttie. Morris was then hired by Prestwick Golf Club in 1851, which was just starting up. At Prestwick, he designed, laid out, and maintained the course, ran his own golf equipment business selling gutties and clubs, gave instruction to players, and ran events. He was influential in beginning The Open Championship in 1860, along with James Fairlie, and struck the very first shot in that event.

Return to St Andrews[edit]

Morris was sought out by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, which formally passed a motion in 1864 calling for his rehiring. Morris returned to St Andrews in 1864 to take charge of the links, as Keeper of the Green and professional, at a then-generous salary of £50 per year.[10] St Andrews was then in very poor condition, and his first task was to correct this. He did so by widening the fairways, enlarging the greens, applying greenkeeping techniques he had developed at Prestwick, building two new greens (on holes 1 and 18), and "managing" the hazards. He stayed in the post until 1903, a total of 39 years, and was kept on afterwards by the R&A at full salary.[11]

Competitive highlights[edit]

Morris worked as a greenkeeper, clubmaker, ballmaker, golf instructor, and course designer, as well as playing match and tournament golf. He came second in the first Open Championship in 1860, and won the following year. He followed this up with further victories in 1862, 1864 and 1867. He still holds the record as the oldest winner of The Open Championship at 46. Also, he was part of the only father/son couple being winner and runner-up.[12]

Morris held the record for the largest margin of victory in a major championship (13 strokes in the 1862 Open Championship), which stood until Tiger Woods won the 2000 US Open by 15 strokes. He became the second player to break 80 over the Old Course, scoring 79; Robertson had been the first to do it. Once his son Young Tom Morris became an accomplished player in his own right by his mid-teens, in the mid-1860s, father and son formed a team for challenge matches, usually played by alternate shot (foursomes play), where they proved very successful. Their partnership, although not exclusive, would continue until the death of Young Tom in 1875.[11]

Golf course design, greenkeeping innovations[edit]

Morris played a role in designing courses across the British Isles. He began by assisting Robertson to lay out ten holes at Carnoustie in 1842. In 1871 he visited Forfar, in Scotland, where he created the first golf course in the world that was originally designed with 18 holes, Forfar Golf Club. His subsequent work included Kingussie Golf Club in 1895, Kinghorn Golf Club in 1887, Kirkcaldy Golf Club Nov 1904 9- holes then May 1906 18 holes, Prestwick, Muirfield, Machrihanish, the Jubilee Course at St Andrews, Balcomie at Crail, Moray, Bridge of Allan Golf Club, Askernish in South Uist, Lahinch and Rosapenna in Ireland, Warkworth, Wallasey and Royal North Devon Golf Club (Westward Ho!) in England, King Edward Bay Golf Club in the Isle of Man and the Castletown Golf Club in the Isle of Man.[13] Glasgow Golf Club's Killermont course was his last 18 hole design, opening in 1904, just four years before his death.

The simple grave of Old Tom Morris, St Andrews Cathedral churchyard

Morris was also the father of modern greenkeeping. He introduced the concept of top-dressing greens with sand, which significantly helped turf growth. He introduced many novel ideas on turf and course management, including actively managing hazards (in the past, bunkers and the like were largely left to their own devices, becoming truly "hazardous") and yardage markers. He was the first to use a push mower to cut greens. He improved play at St Andrews by widening fairways to handle increased play, improving greens, and establishing separate teeing areas on each hole; all of these measures spread out play over larger areas, and led to better turf conditions. He created a new first green on the Old Course, and was responsible for the initial design of the New Course 1895 and Jubilee course in 1897. He also introduced the modern idea of placing hazards so that the golf ball could be routed around them; this was the beginning of strategic design, which has dominated golf course design ever since. Before his time hazards were thought of as obstacles that either had to be carried or were there to punish a wayward ball.[13] When he was 77 he was nearly beaten by Rhona Adair at St Andrews Links. Adair was one of the leading women players. He is quoted as having said: "I'll no' be licked by a lassie".[14]


Morris kept working right up until his death, just before his 87th birthday. He died in the Memorial Cottage Hospital, St Andrews after falling down a flight of stairs in the clubhouse of The New Golf Club in St Andrews.[3]

He is buried against the eastern wall of the churchyard of St Andrew's Cathedral. The grave is simple but stands beneath the highly notable monument to his son, Young Tom Morris, which carries a bronze statue of the golfer in high relief against a white background, and is visible across the breadth of the churchyard. His grave attracts thousands of golfers each year who wish to pay homage to this golfing hero.

Major championships[edit]

Wins (4)[edit]

Year Championship 24 holes Winning score Margin Runner-up
1861 The Open Championship 2 shot deficit 54-56-53=163 4 strokes Scotland Willie Park, Sr.
1862 The Open Championship (2) 11 shot lead 52-55-56=163 13 strokes Scotland Willie Park, Sr.
1864 The Open Championship (3) 1 shot lead 54-58-55=167 2 strokes Scotland Andrew Strath
1867 The Open Championship (4) 2 shot lead 58-54-58=170 2 strokes Scotland Willie Park, Sr.

Results timeline[edit]

Tournament 1860 1861 1862 1863 1864 1865 1866 1867 1868 1869
The Open Championship 2 1 1 2 1 5 4 1 2 6
Tournament 1870 1871 1872 1873 1874 1875 1876 1877 1878 1879
The Open Championship 4 NT T4 7 T18 T4 T8 11 T14
Tournament 1880 1881 1882 1883 1884 1885 1886 1887 1888 1889
The Open Championship 10 T5 T10 T13 T29 T27 T28 T27 T15
Tournament 1890 1891 1892 1893 1894 1895 1896
The Open Championship WD T58 50 52 WD 47 WD
  Top 10
  Did not play

NT = No tournament
WD = Withdrew
"T" indicates a tie for a place

Depictions in film and print[edit]

The 2016 film Tommy's Honour depicts the lives and careers of Old Tom and his son, and focuses on their complex and bittersweet relationship. It is based on Kevin Cook's Herbert Warren Wind Book Award–winning 2007 biography, Tommy's Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf's Founding Father and Son.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Old Tom 200-Celebrating the Grand Old Man of Golf". St Andrews Links. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  2. ^ "Old Tom Morris (1821-1908)". National Records of Scotland. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d "Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris". National Records of Scotland. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  4. ^ "Tom Morris Sr". The Open. Archived from the original on 16 October 2013. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Old Tom at 200 / A Life and Legacy". R&A Championships. 16 June 2021. Retrieved 23 July 2021.
  6. ^ "15 Things to do in St Andrews when you are not playing Golf". scottishgolfhistory.org. Retrieved 3 April 2022.
  7. ^ Herd, Alexander (1923). My Golfing Life. Chapman & Hall, Limited.
  8. ^ Tommy's Honor, by Kevin Cook, Gotham Books, New York 2007, ISBN 978-1-59240-342-4, pp. 23–33
  9. ^ "7 and 8 The Links, Tom Morris House and Golf Shop". Historic Environment Scotland. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  10. ^ "Tom Morris – The Grand Old Man of Golf". R&A World Golf Museum. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  11. ^ a b Tommy's Honor, by Kevin Cook, New York 2005, Gotham Books
  12. ^ "Old Tom Morris". Lorrin Golf. Archived from the original on 30 June 2008. Retrieved 18 November 2007.
  13. ^ a b "Old Tom Morris". Undiscovered Scotland. Retrieved 18 November 2007.
  14. ^ Gilleece, Dermot (23 June 2001). "Old Tom had plenty to be worried about". The Irish Times. Retrieved 21 May 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]