“Old” Tom Morris, The Godfather of Golf
To trace the history of golf to its very beginning, many harken back to the days of “Old” Tom Morris, crediting the bearded Scotsman with founding the early generation of the sport.
But, while “Old” Tom is widely known as the inventor of golf, Morris didn’t actually create the game. He was, however, golf’s first superstar and he grew the game through his popularity. Long before Jack, Arnie, Tiger, Rory or even Bubba, there was “Old” Tom.
Born in St. Andrews, Scotland, on June 16, 1821, Morris was a carpenter in his early days, but took an apprenticeship under professional golfer Allan Robertson where he learned to make feathery golf balls and golf clubs.
After 12 years working under Robertson, Morris left to take a job as Keeper of the Greens at Prestwick Golf Club in 1851. Morris played the game in his spare time and became a steady golfer. He eventually proved that he could compete with the game’s best even though, by all accounts, he was not a long hitter off the tee and was a below-average putter. It was Morris’ fiery, competitive nature that drove him to success,and his slow and smooth swing allowed him to expend little energy as he trekked his way around the golf course. His conduct off the course was that of a gentleman and he was renowned for his humble and gentle nature among his peers.
Morris went on to compete in the first 36 British Opens, playing the first on his home course at Prestwick. He won four of the first eight Open Championships and continued to play until he reached the age of 75. He still holds the record for the greatest Open Championship triumph (13 strokes), which he set in 1862.
Morris eventually returned to St. Andrews in 1864, where he served as Keeper of the Greens of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club for the next 40 years until his retirement. Morris also became considered the first golf course architect, designing numerous courses in Scotland, including Prestwick and Muirfield.
Morris had a son, Tom Morris Jr., who also made an impact on the game by winning the Open Championship four times himself.
“Old” Tom finally passed away in 1908 at the age of 87. He was beloved by all and seen as a man amongst men by those who had gotten to know him.
Morris is sill revered within the golf community today. The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America has presented the “Old Tom Morris Award,” since 1983 to an individual who, through a continuing lifetime commitment to the game of golf, has helped to positively impact the game in a manner and style exemplified by “Old” Tom Morris. Truly “the godfather of golf,” we think Morris would be proud of this award and how he is viewed by the entire golf community today.