Remembering Old Tom Morris

May marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Old Tom Morris. For many Morris is merely a name in the record books. An Open winner in a time when it didn’t really mean that much.

But Morris was one of the pioneers that created the idea of a professional golfer as we understand it today. As a greenkeeper he remodelled the Old Course into the links that we recognise today. As a course designer he was involved with Muirfield, Carnoustie and, the original home of the Open, Prestwick.

As a tournament pro Morris won four Opens and formed formiddable partnerships with both Allan Robertson and his son Young Tom Morris. Many of these games were played for money, augmented by huge sidebets laid by gentleman golfers. The popularity of these games spread and turned golf into a major spectator sport. This fuelled its move across the border to England and, eventually, across the Atlantic.

Christian, upstanding and devoted to his family Morris was a respectable pro at a time when many of his rivals were seen as barflys and conmen. Loved and respected by the caddies he managed at St Andrews Morris made that rag bag collection of men into a more regimented and respected group.

We must also acknowledge Morris as the man who introduced modern greenkeeping, from the tending of putting surfaces to the maintenance of bunkers and hazards. He also played an integral role in the standardising of golf courses to the 18 holes we play today.

Morris also endured heartache. His first born son died in infancy. Another son was disabled from birth. And, most famously, his second son and golfing companion Young Tom Morris died at the age of 24.

Young Tom equalled his fathers haul of Opens. Three consecutive victories culminated, in 1870, with Morris Jnr being awared the Open Championship for good. At the next championship in 1872 he became the first person to win the Claret Jug.

Young Tom died only months after losing his wife and newborn baby. In legend it is said that Young Tom died of a broken heart. Old Tom, a man given to showing little emotion, would say only:

“They say Tommy died of a broken heart. That can’t be true or I’d have died myself.”

In fact Old Tommy Morris lived into his eighties. At the age of 48 he read that the life expectancy for men in Scotland at that time was 41. Looking up from his paper he told the assembled caddies:

“Lads, it would appear I have been dead for seven years already.”

Old Tommy Morris died after falling down the stairs at the New Club in St Andrews. Few who knew him or have celebrated his memory could ever claim that Morris was one of “the parcel o’ rogues” who made up his hero, Robert Burns’, nation.

4 Responses to “Remembering Old Tom Morris”

  1. Tom says:

    Great article. Both Tom Morris are true giants of the game whose legacy is eternally cemented. A friend of mine said it would be great to see them play today. I objected that it would not be good for their legacy as they clearly would have a steep learning curve what with all the new equipment, course designs, … I’m about a 15 handicap and I would say that if you brought them out today and gave them today’s equipment that I would be able to beat them thoroughly for a long time as today’s game really is night and day from the game they played. Plus, there were only like 8 people in the first Open (UK) Championship.

    Anyhow it’s great that there are people out here preserving the legacy of Tom Morris as their contributions were truly remarkable.

  2. Melvyn Hunter Morrow says:

    Thanks for the interesting insight into Old Tom Morris. Did you know that he was involved with more that 100 courses designs from new to modification existing courses. New finds are appearing on a daily and the list is still growing. Have you checked out the Askernish site and the Channel 4 new on

    Through Old Tom, the Morris family actually include George & Jack Morris (Hoylake), Charlie Hunter (Prestwick), James Hunter (Royal Quebec) and Willie Rusack (many course in Germany pre WW2).

    I have the honour to be Old Tom’s great, great grandson.


  3. John E McCannel says:

    Was given the book “Tommy’s Honour ” for Christmas and was totallly taken by the history in it !! I have loanbed it to my golfing buddies and they all enjoyed it too.

  4. patrick farrell says:

    Cannot remember where i read it but did old Tom Morris often remark to his son young tom that the game of golf was too easy so they used to devise ways to make it more of a challange like playing whilst standing on one leg or playing the game by the light of the moon.

    Andy’s Reply:

    Dear Paddy,

    Sounds true, I will have to get some of my books out to check out the validity of it.



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