Book Review: Tommy’s Honor

by Roy M. Barineau, Ph. D. on June 28, 2012

Roybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf

Book Review: Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son

See Roybob’s Ball Rating System

Kevin Cook, Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son, Gotham Books, New York, 2007.

Cook informs his readers that Tom Morris was born to John Morris in the town of St. Andrews, Scotland, 1821. By the age of nine, Tom was “the silly bodkins king of North Street.” Sillybodkins was street golf played by young boys with whatever clubs they could find or create to whack corks up and down the streets. At some point, Tom began to play a few holes on St. Andrews’ links whenever the fine gentlemen of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R. & A.) were not around.

Tom Morris’ institutional education came to a halt at the age of fourteen; and his father, acknowledging Tom’s interest in the game, arranged for a meeting with Allan Robertson, the best golfer of the generation. Allan, just six years older than Tom, was also “the first man to parlay caddying, ball-making, and playing into something like a fulltime job.” Allan had seen Tom swing a golf club, and he entered into a contract with Tom’s father to apprentice Tom for four years and allow him to work as a journeyman for another five. Tom, fourteen years old, moved into Allan Robertson’s home and shop in order to learn, among other things, how to make feathery golf balls. When Tom entered his term as a journeyman, he found himself released from work in order to play as Allan’s partner. Tom actually beat Allan in a match, winning a short-waisted, red jacket that had been donated by an interested member of the R. & A.

Allan Robertson, 1850

On occasion, Tom Morris caddied for Captain Broughton, one of the R. & A.’s better players, and the captain employed a maid named Nancy Bayne. She was four years older than Tom and would slip him a scrap of beef fat when he managed to hang around the Broughton home. Cook declares that Nancy “was no beauty,” but she was a “strong, sensible girl….” Tom and Nancy were married in 1844. In a short time, Nancy became “’no longer unwell,’ meaning that her monthly flow had ceased,” and she gave birth, in 1846, to the first Tommy Morris Junior, who was called Wee Tom.

Tom Morris and Allan Robertson  began playing the twin Dunn brothers, Willie and Jamie, who hailed from Musselburgh. The four players worked up a big game consisting of three matches, thirty-six holes each, to be played at Musselburgh, St. Andrews, and North Berwick. Matches of this nature were primarily held for the benefit of clubs’ “gentlemen.” The matches provided them with the opportunity to witness much better golf than, generally speaking, they could play; and, more importantly, the matches gave the “gentlemen” a chance to gamble. The winning “cracks,” as early golf professionals were called, would get a percentage of whatever the “gentlemen” put forth in their betting. Despite Allan’s “funking” (yipping or otherwise missing short putts), Tom and he won the big game.

In the late 1840s, a new ball, the gutta-percha, made its appearance. It was made from the gum of a Malaysian rubber tree and held three advantages over the feathery. The gutty, as the ball came to be called, was much easier to make; it was, thus, less expensive; and it tended to be more durable or dependable. The gutty did not travel any further than a feathery and, in fact, flew slightly shorter. Players, though, did not have to worry as much about gutties splitting apart when struck. They would still break apart, but not as frequently as featheries; and, at least with gutties, there was something remaining to hit. The rule, if a gutty broke apart, was that the player should find the largest chunk and play it. Makers began denting the gutties with a hammer when they discovered that they flew better with nicks and scuffs, the early dimples.

Allan Robertson, a feathery maker, determined that the gutty was a threat to his livelihood. Allan referred to the gutta percha as “the filth” and said that playing with the gutta ball as “no’ golf.” Allan would pay boys to find gutties and bring them to him so that he could destroy the balls in his kitchen fire.

One morning, Tom Morris was playing with a prominent R. & A. member and ran out of featheries. The club member gave Tom a gutty to finish the round. As Tom and the member were coming in, Allan was going out. Allan spied Tom playing a gutta percha. He stormed over and shouted furiously at Tom. Tom said that, “Allan in such a temper cried out to me never to show face again.” That was it. Tom was without a job.

Old Tom Morris, 1855

The situation was dire, and the death of the first Thomas Morris Junior, Wee Tom, at this time (1850), at four years of age, only dimmed Tom and Nancy’s outlook on life. Fortunately, an R. & A. member found Tom a job as greenkeeper at a new golf club in Prestwick, located on the west side of Scotland. Tom and Nancy packed up the rest of their lives and moved to the other side of the island. Nancy had become “no longer unwell” again; and, just prior to the move to Prestwick, she gave birth to another boy. He, like the first, was named Thomas Morris Junior, but this second Thomas Morris Junior would be called “Tommy” rather than “Wee Tom.”

At Prestwick the Morrises lived in a cottage that functioned as the Golf Club. In other words, members stored clubs and held their meetings in the Morrises’ home. The club was just founded in 1851, and the links needed a lot of work. Tom rebuilt what little hint of a course the members had laid out. He had helped Allan Robertson lay out a few holes at Carnoustie, but the Prestwick course would fall entirely upon him. There was not enough room for eighteen holes, so Tom designed the twelve for which he had space. Tom used railway ties to support the boundaries of his bunkers; and when he accidentally spilt a wheelbarrow full of sand on a green, he discovered the benefits of top dressing. Tom was a hard worker, and members were both grateful for and impressed with what Tom did for their club. At the first autumn meeting of the Prestwick Golf Club, the Earl of Eglinton, Archibald Montgomerie, who along with Colonel James Ogilvie Fairlie was largely responsible for establishing the Club, toasted, “To Tom Morris … Our perfect pioneer.”

Allan Robertson, in time, forgave Tom Morris for whoring around with a gutta percha; and, in 1852, Tom returned to St. Andrews to play with Allan and against Willie Dunn and Sir Robert Hay. Subsequently, “The Invincibles,” as Tom and Allan were called, won match after match in town after town. These two-on-two matches grew into individual matches where golfers played for their own honor and the honor of their home towns. Tom and Willie Park from Musselburgh engaged in many such matches.

Nancy Morris gave birth to her third, fourth, and fifth children: a daughter called Lizzie (Elizabeth), a son who was given the name James Ogilvie Fairlie Morris (called Jimmy or JOF), and another son called Jack (John). Due to an infirmity in his legs, Jack would never walk. Tommy, eight years old in 1859, began swinging cut-down clubs at Prestwick.

Old Tom Morris and Others Clad in Plaid Jackets at the First Open Championship 1860

In 1860, Lord Eglinton entertained the prospect of determining the world’s best professional golfer in a tournament at Prestwick. Eglinton’s tournament is now considered the first Open Championship. Eglinton offered the winner a “Championship Belt” or “Challenge Belt,” a nice belt costing twenty-five pounds and featuring a decorated buckle. The “professionals” of the day were also referred to as “cracks.” They were generally better players than the gentlemen amateurs, but they were also lower class caddies and could be rather uncouth. Only eight cracks played in the first Open. Fairlie tried to dress them up a little by giving each player a plaid jacket to wear during their play. After three rounds at Prestwick’s twelve-hole course, Willie Park became the Champion Golfer of Scotland. After putting up a deposit, he was allowed to hold the Belt for the following year. If, perchance, he could win the tournament three years in a row, Willie, or whoever, would own the Belt as his own.

Detail of the Championship or Challenge Belt

In 1861, Prestwick hosted the second Open Championship. This year, though, the tournament was a true Open. Eight amateur gentlemen entered with hopes of rising above “the cracks.” The amateur gentlemen were trusted to keep their own scores; markers were sent out with the cracks. As expected, the amateurs did not triumph. In fact, Prestwick’s own crack, Tom Morris won the Open, and he would repeat that feat in 1862.

Tom’s days at Prestwick began with a bath in the Atlantic Ocean’s Firth of Clyde. Tom would make a little trek to the shore where he would remove his coat and hat, leaving himself in heavy, long-sleeved, bathing attire to experience Clyde’s chilled waters. The shallows would freeze over in January and February, but Tom would walk across the ice to take his dip. “A Prestwick memoirist wrote, ‘We recollect a gentleman staying in a cottage shouting out one cold, frosty morning that there was ‘a man on the beach trying hard to drown himself.’ It was only Tom Morris breaking the ice to enjoy his usual morning dip in the sea.” After his bath and breakfast, Tom went about his duties as Greenkeeper and golf professional. Tom worked on the course, played with members, gave lessons, repaired clubs, made gutta-percha balls. He also settled disputes among golfers. “One match turned when a Prestwick golfer swung too far under his ball and sent it straight up into his own beard, where it perched and would not budge. Tom’s ruling: loss of hole.”

When Tom won the Open twice in a row, he received nothing but the Belt as a prize, but he won money playing in other matches, the most notable of which were against Willie Park of Musselburgh. Tom triumphed in a big match for 100 pounds in late 1862, but Park won the fourth Open in 1863, depriving Tom of a chance to secure the Belt as his own and “leaving Nancy Morris with an empty space on the mantel” where the Belt had been displayed. The prize for first place in the Open has grown from zero pounds in the first four years of the Open’s existence (only the pleasure of holding the Belt) to 900,000 pounds (2011) and a claim to the Claret Jug.

Tom was frugal enough to provide Tommy with a solid education at Ayr Academy which held classes Monday through Saturday. Other “lads” his age could be found working in textile factories, sweeping chimneys, or laboring in Lothian coal mines. Cook quotes a government report about what it was like for one boy who was “doing shoddy work” in a nail making factory. “‘Somebody in the warehouse took him and put his head down on an iron counter and hammered a nail through his ear, and the boy has made good nails ever since.’” Tommy, instead, was afforded a good education and a chance to learn the game of golf. Tom took Tommy with him to play a tournament in Perth. The “Perthers” would not let Tommy play in the tournament, but they arranged for Tommy to play one of their best young boys. Tommy won the match easily with a score that would have won the men’s tournament.

Map of Golf Courses in Scotland Map of Golf Courses in Scotland

Allan Robertson had died with jaundice in 1859, at only four-four years of age. In 1864, the R & A. of St. Andrews finally agreed to offer Tom the Greenkeeper job at fifty pounds a year, eleven more pounds than he was making at Prestwick. Tom accepted the position and would serve as “Custodier of the Links” at St. Andrews for the next forty-four years of his life. The course was not in good shape, and Tom worked very hard over the next years to improve it. He also carried out his usual duties of giving lessons, playing with members, repairing clubs, and making gutties, each of which would be stamped “T. MORRIS.”

While Tom worked, Tommy hit balls. In 1867, Tom and Tommy went to a match play tournament at Carnoustie. Willie Park asked Tom, “what have you brought this laddie here for?” Tommy beat Park in a playoff to win. That same year, Tom, age forty-six, won the Open Championship at Prestwick. Tom Morris is still the oldest Open Champion. Tommy, age sixteen, came in fourth that year, just five strokes behind his father. The Championship Belt was restored to the Morris mantel, albeit at a new home, next to the links, that Tom had purchased. Tom was also awarded seven pounds for his victory.

To keep the water from threatening his course and clubhouse, Tom and George Bruce buried wrecked fishing boats under all manner of dirt, cement, and garbage. The plan resulted in the reclamation of about a quarter mile of land, enabling Tom to build what is now the first hole. Tom also dug out the Valley of Sin on the eighteenth, using the earth to build a new putting green up above. In the process he uncovered a burial pit that had been filled with bodies during a cholera outbreak of 1832. The Valley of Sin was undergirded with death even before she became a boneyard for golfing aspirations.

Old and Young Tom Morris

“By the spring of 1868, seventeen-year-old Tommy and forty-seven-year-old Tom were making real money in foursome matches. “ In the 1868 Open, Tommy beat his father; the two of them finished in first and second place. Tommy bettered the Open record that year by eight shots. The two of them were paired together on the last day, and when they came to the last hole, Tom still had a chance to win. Tommy said to his father, as he had many times before, “Far and sure, Da.” Tom replied, “Far and sure.” Tommy was awarded the Belt and six pounds, one less than his father two years before.  Tommy is still the youngest golfer to win the Open Championship.

The R. & A. members of St. Andrews began sponsoring a professional event of their own in 1868, offering eight pounds to the winner. A young native named Davie Strath wanted to enter, but he was told that he did not qualify as a professional because he was “a clerk in a lawyer’s office, and not at the call of gentleman players.” In other words, he was not a caddie. Strath had a serious choice to make. He could play and be labeled a professional, or he could not play, remain an amateur, and associate with the gentlemen. David Strath played and played well, but Tommy won the event. Oddly enough, Tommy was not a caddie either, but there was no doubt about the class to which he belonged. Tommy, at this time, would win nineteen pounds in various tournaments in less than one month. He “was starting to think that it might be possible to do nothing else” but play golf.

Tommy and his friends created the Rose Golf Club in 1868. They rarely played golf as a group, but they enjoyed dining, drinking, debating, and telling stories. The members shared the political conviction that Scotland should be more British. Members of the Rose Club held their own annual dance, a rival to the ball held by the R. & A., but the Rose Club would hold its last ball in 1871, after which members of the R. & A. felt their preeminence threatened.

Tommy battled Bob Fergusson of Musselburgh after Fergusson had beaten Tom. Tommy won the series of matches. They battled again in the St. Andrews Professional Tournament of 1869, and Tommy again won.

Tom “filled in a little bunker on the fifteenth hole” at St. Andrews in 1869. A. G. Sutherland, “a lawyer who summered in St. Andrews, demanded that he restore the bunker. When Tom refused, Sutherland sued him and the R & A, claiming that the greenkeeper and his bosses were despoiling the links. Three nights later, two golfers sneaked onto the course, re-dug the bunker by moonlight and left a note with Sutherland’s name on it.” Tom found Sutherland’s obstinacy humorous and left “the Sutherland Bunker,” as it came to be known, as it was.

In the Open at Prestwick, in 1869, on a 166-yard hole Tommy scored the first hole-on-one to be recorded in the history of professional golf. The hole-in-one did not hurt Tommy’s chances for his second Open title; but, as it turns out, he did not need it. Tommy won the Open by eleven shots that year. As a writer named Everard wrote, Tommy “absolutely spread-eagled the field.” He left the twenty-five pound security deposit for the Championship Belt and returned to St. Andrews with his father.

If Tommy could win the 1870 Open, still at Prestwick, it would be his third win in a row and he could retain the Belt for keeps. Tommy scored a three on the first hole, 578 yards long, an absolute monster in those days. He won the tournament by twelve strokes. Tommy was nineteen years old, and he had won the Open three times in a row. The Belt was his. In Fifty Years of Golf (1921), Andra Kirkaldy, who was ten years old in 1870, wrote that Tommy Morris possessed “the gift of golf …. We were all his worshippers.”

Young Tom Morris with the Championship Belt

Willie Park challenged Tom to what Park figured to be an easy match. Park was thirty seven and Tom was fifty. When the pot reached 200 pounds, with an expected ten percent to the winner, Tom agreed. On the second hole of the last nine holes in a 144-hole contest, “a man kicked Tom’s ball sideways…. Soon another spectator kicked Tom’s ball into high grass … [and] the golf devolved into farce.” Tom refused to continue. The referee, a man named Chambers, declared they would finish the next day. Park, insisting the match was still on, played the last six holes by himself and claimed victory. Tom showed up with Chambers the next morning. Park showed up too, but without clubs, insisting he had finished yesterday. Tom took four more shots than Park did to finish the day before; but, since he ignored the referee’s instructions, Chambers declared Tom the victor. The man holding the money kept holding the money. Six months later, “the courts declared that neither Tom nor Will had won…. The backers got their money back and neither player won a penny.”

In 1871, professors at the University of Edinburgh decided to try an experiment in playing golf at night. Rather than lighting the course with lanterns, Peter Tait proposed to paint golf balls with phosphorus that would glow in the dark. All went well until one of the participating professor’s hands began to burn. The group, saddened and defeated, abandoned their experiment.

Since Tommy won the Belt for keeps, the Open Championship required a new trophy. The gentlemen members at Prestwick were sloth; and, even worse, they did not want to pay for a new belt on their own when members at St. Andrews, Musselburgh, and other clubs were willing to chip in for a new trophy if they would be allowed to host the Open. “For the price of a horse, Prestwick gave up control of the Open.” Further, Prestwick members did not deem to Open important enough to hold a special meeting to decide Open matters for 1871. Consequently, there was no Open in 1871.

Tommy kept playing in his matches and earning good money. Some of these matches were highly creative. For example, James Wolfe Murray, a member of the R & A, was also a member of “the elite Royal Company of Archers.” “He and Tommy squared off in a ballyhooed match in which the young champion hit golf balls while Wolfe Murray played true target golf, shooting arrows around the links.” Murray had trouble shooting arrows into the holes from more than two or three yards, and Tom had to watch as his holes were being shot up.  Tommy won more than his share of the short holes, but the power of the bow proved too much. Tommy was outshot.

In 1872, Tommy won an event at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England, “the first major professional tournament ever held in England.” Later that year, two amateurs, Robert Clark and Gilbert Mitchell Innes “challenged any professional to beat their best ball.” Innes, as a member of Prestwick and the R. & A., had encouraged Prestwick to share the Open. He and Clark had beaten all those who took up their challenge until Tommy. Tommy won the last two holes to take the match.

On August 10, 1872, Tom had a controversy on his hands. The caddies organized and went on strike. R. & A. members labeled it “communism” and traced it to Marx and Engel’s The Communist Manifesto which had been published in 1848. The strike ended when R. & A. members “agreed to pay all caddies at least a shilling per round, the price of a gutta-percha ball.”

In September, the Prestwick Club agreed to rotate the Open with St. Andrews and Musselburgh, but the rotation would begin with Prestwick. Only eight players entered the 1872 Open. “It rained hard all week.” Tommy won again to claim his fourth consecutive Open title. He earned eight pounds. He was also given a gold plated medal inscribed “GOLF CHAMPION TROPHY” with the promise that his name would be engraved on the Open trophy when they procured one. Tom finished fourth.

Tommy took a temporary job at a start-up club in Stirling where he was to teach and play with members. He was perhaps escaping a controversy of his own. He had refused to tip his cap one evening to the captain of the R. & A., an embarrassment for Tom. Tommy never caddied; but, as Tom’s son and a touring professional, as he essentially was by now, he would never be confused as a gentleman. Tommy returned in a few months.  He and Davie Strath began playing matches to provide amusement and gambling opportunities for the gentlemen, but they also began to demand appearance fees rather than settling for a slice of the pie. Cook writes, “Tommy Morris and Davie Strath helped legitimize professional golf in that summer of 1873. By staging the golf show of the year at a time when the game was becoming a spectator sport, they helped blaze a trail that Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods would follow….”

St. Andrews hosted its first Open in 1873. Stormy weather motivated Tom Kidd to cut grooves in the faces of his cleeks (early irons). Twenty-six players entered. The winner would get eleven pounds, a medal, and a new trophy. The new trophy was a silver claret jug, a pitcher, commissioned by the clubs at Prestwick, Edinburgh, and St. Andrews. Claret jugs were common features of clubhouses. “Gentleman golfers had long bet wine as well as money on their matches and had lugged their claret [red wine] to the clubhouses in such jugs in case they lost.” Up until 1928, winners of the Open would have custody of the Claret Jug during their championship year. In 1928, the R. & A. created a replica for the champions to hold. The original would remain at St. Andrews “except in 1982, when Tom Watson, given the original by mistake, took it to his home in Kansas City, where a wild Watson practice swing dented it.” Tom Kidd won the Open in 1873, and Kidd’s name would appear second on the jug after that of “Tom Morris Jnr.”

Tommy spent much of that winter courting Margaret Drinnen. She was a striking older woman with long legs, dark hair, and deep eyes. She was new in town, and rumor indicated that she was a woman with a past. Margaret or Meg grew up in Whitburn, not far from Edinburgh. Her father, Watty, worked at the coal mines of West Lothian, operating the cage that transported men from the surface to the tunnels. Margaret apprenticed as a lace worker (tambourer). At age twenty-five Meg was impregnated by a Coltness mine official named James Stark. Unfortunately, it was not uncommon for unwed women to become pregnant by the miners. Rather than trying to abort the pregnancy by stabbing at her womb with a whalebone speculum (also not uncommon), she gave birth to a daughter, Helen Stark Drinner (1866). In order for Helen to be baptized, Meg was compelled to endure a “naming and shaming” ritual. For three consecutive Sundays, she sat on a stool facing the congregation in the Whitburn Parish Church. Holding her sickly daughter in her arms, she heard the minister announce her name and the name of her sin, fornication. She acknowledged her sin, and Helen was baptized. In less than a month, though, Helen died of septicemia (bacteria in one’s blood). Meg obtained a post as a maid in Edinburgh, a good job for someone of her background at the time. Margaret “worked in the home of a prominent solicitor in Edinburgh’s thriving New Town, where she toiled like a dray mare for food, board, and pay of about £8 a year.” The solicitor’s mother lived in St. Andrews, “in a grad villa on The Scores, facing the sea.” In 1872, Margaret moved to St. Andrews to serve the solicitor’s mother. Tommy’s courtship of Margaret meant mostly that they would take walks accompanied by a chaperone.

In April of 1874, the Open was hosted by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at the nine-hole Musselburgh links. The field of thirty-two included three Morrises as Jimmy joined his brother and father in pursuit of the title. Willie Park’s brother, Mungo, had given up working on a fishing boat in the North Sea and had begun playing golf again. Mungo Park won the Open.

The Park brothers challenged Tom and Tommy to a match for twenty-five pounds in August. Tom and Tommy made the half-day trip by train and ferry to North Berwick. The Parks won the match on the sixteenth hole. Tommy challenged Willie to singles’ play afterwards for another twenty-five pounds and won his money back.

On November 25, 1874, Tommy and Margaret were married. According to custom, the service was held at Margaret’s home church in Whitburn. Tom did not attend the service, but we do not know whether his absence was due to his wife’s illness or to his disapproval of Meg. Lizzie Morris served as Meg’s best maid, and crippled Jack was Tommy’s best man. Tom did host a supper in Tommy’s honor later that evening at the Golf Hotel. According to The Citizen, Tom toasted to “the health of Tom Morris, Jun., who they must no longer call Tommy….” Tom Jr. and Meg moved into a house on Playfair Place, about two-hundred yards from Tom Sr.’s home on Pilmour Links.

Lizze and Meg became good friends, and in March of 1875, Lizzie married James Hunter, a member of the Rose Club. Tom attended this wedding. James Hunter was “a bright young businessman who had made a fortune in timber.” Hunter threw a party for his new father-in-law as part of his wedding night’s festivities.

A tournament in North Berwick was scheduled for the third of September, 1875, and the Park brothers challenged Tom Sr. and Tom Jr. to a foursome match for twenty-five pounds on the following day. By then, though Meg was in her ninth month of pregnancy. Meg was nearing the time of her “confinement,” when men were banished from the birth experience. It was both a very happy time and, given the prospect of death, a very anxious time. Tommy was hesitant to leave, but he decided to honor his commitment and made the six-hour journey to North Berwick.

Tommy won the tournament on Friday, September 3. A crack named Bob Cosgrove claimed to have beaten Tommy by one stroke, but Cosgrove was disqualified by an umpire.

The match with the Parks, on the following day, involved four rounds at North Berwick’s “short quirky nine-hole course.” The match was well attended, but spectators were kept back by a rope. Tom played well, as did Tommy. With two holes to play the match was all even. Few people “noticed a boy moving through the gallery, a messenger from the telegraph office, pushing his way toward the golfers.” The boy had a message for Thomas Morris, but he did not know Thomas Morris. Spectators indicated that two of the players were both Thomas Morrises. The boy was told to wait until they finished playing, as there was twenty-five pounds on their minds right now. The boy, though, knew the telegram was urgent, and he delivered it to Tom. Tom read, “Come home posthaste.” Margaret’s labor had begun, the telegram indicated, and she was having difficulties. The message was probably sent by Jimmy Morris.

Map of Area Around the Firth of Forth

Tom considered the telegram. “Posthaste” did not mean much since, no matter what they did, they were six to eight hours away. The match was within a few minutes of being over, and the next train for Edinburgh would not depart for about three hours. Tom elected not to say anything to Tommy. The Morrisses went dormy with one hole to go; they could not lose. They tied the last hole to win the match one up.

Tom informed Tommy about the telegram, saying, “We must go. Your wife is ill.” The issue now became how to get home in the quickest manner possible. St. Andrews was only about twenty miles away “as the rook flies,” but it was around seventy-five miles or more by trains and a ferry. Rather than wait for a train from North Berwick, the Morrises could hire a coach and horses to take them to Waverly Station in Edinburgh where they could catch a train to the ferry dock in Granton. There was no way, though, that they could be there in time to catch the last ferry. When Tommy looked across the Firth of Forth, he could see the low hills of Fife some fifteen miles away. St. Andrews was just beyond the hills. A body of water and several hours separated him from the woman he desperately loved. “’I’ll take you,’ said J.C.B. Lewis, a gentleman golfer who kept a yacht in North Berwick’s little harbor. ‘We’ll sail across.’ Lewis pointed to a twenty-eight foot ketch bobbing in choppy water at the foot of the links. He rounded up a two-man crew and they set sail….” The journey would still be around eight hours long. They had to cover some thirty-two miles, mostly in the dark, in a sailboat that “made four knots in calm seas.” Years later, Tom remembered it as “a long, weary crossing” as he observed “the frozen look Tommy had on his face.” They arrived at St. Andrews sometime between one and four in the morning. Alerted by telegram that they were sailing across, nineteen-year-old Jimmy Morris was at the pier to meet his brother and father. Jimmy had the unpleasant task of telling Tom that Meg and her baby boy were already dead.

A telegram had arrived at North Berwick when Lewis’ yacht was leaving but was still within hailing distance. The telegram reported that both mother and son were dead. Those who received the message agreed that it would be better not to burden those on board, sailing at night, with the terrible news. They would learn of the tragedy soon enough.

After Jimmy shared the news with his father, Tom had to inform Tommy as they hurried toward North Street. “’Tommy, it’s over,’ he said. Margaret was dead, he said. The baby was dead. He was sorry, he said.” Tommy arrived to find his mother, Lizzie, Jack, and Reverend A.K.H. Boyd. Boyd would write, “I never forget the young man’s stony look: stricken was the word: and how all of a sudden he started up and cried, ‘It’s not true!’ I have seen many sorrowful things, but not many like that Saturday night.’”

Dr. Moir reported that the child died in the four-hour struggle to give birth. Dr. Moir was summoned by the midwife when Meg’s bleeding would not stop. Clootie Dumpling, the midwife, used rags at first and, then, was forced to bunch new linens between Meg’s legs. Of Meg’s death, Dr. Moir wrote in the death registry, “Ruptured uterus, 4 hours.” One writer, W. W. Tulloch, reported that after that night, Tommy “went about like one who had received a mortal blow.”

After the funeral, Tommy moved back into his father’s home. His friends encouraged him to play golf. While the Morrises grieved that fall, Willie Park won the Open. Tommy, though, would play again, beginning in October, but his mind was not always on his game. At the end of November, Tommy would face a young challenger named Arthur Molesworth, an amateur to whom Tommy would give six strokes per round in a six-day, twelve-round match for a total of seventy-two holes. “Thus began a match that would unfold in what The Field would call the worst weather the game had ever seen.” After a heavy snow, the umpire declared the links unplayable, but Arthur’s father complained that a delay would conflict with their schedule. Tommy agreed to play. The match came to an end on hole 206 (out of a scheduled 216). Tommy had won, and he enjoyed an evening of celebration with his friends. Some believed that Tommy has risked his health by playing in such weather.

Morris Family Plot at the Cathedral Graveyard in St. Andrews

Tommy spent two days in Edinburgh just prior to Christmas. He returned to St. Andrews “in time to take communion during Watch Night services on Christmas Eve,” and he enjoyed a late dinner with his friends. He arrived home at about eleven o’clock. His mother, Nancy, now sixty years of age, suffered from back and stomach ailments that made sitting up difficult. Tommy looked in on his mother and went upstairs to bed. Tom, a few minutes later, “poked his head into Tommy’s room to say good night,” snuffed out all the lamps, and went to bed.

As always, Tom awoke early the next morning. “Soon the fire was lit, a tea-kettle whistling. He and Nancy had their breakfast. So did Jimmy and Jack. An hour passed and Tommy still hadn’t appeared, so Tom went upstairs to wake him.” “Tommy was still in bed…. There was a spot of blood at one corner of his mouth.” Tommy, at twenty-four years of age, was dead. As Pastor Boyd remarked, “Tommy and his poor young wife were not long divided.”

Tradition has it that Tommy died of a broken heart. Cook quotes a golf historian and a surgeon named David Malcolm, “It makes a nice story, but it is shite [shit].” Malcolm contends that Tommy “died of a pulmonary embolism due to an inherited weakness. He could have gone at any time.” “Grief, drink, and the cold may have weakened him until his pulmonary artery ruptured, filling his lungs with blood, drowning him in his sleep.” Such a diagnosis is consistent with St. Andrews’ The Citizen which, referring to a doctor’s opinion, reported “that death had resulted from internal hemorrhage.” This could also explain Wee Tom’s death and, later, the death of Jack.

When asked about the cause of Tommy’s death, Tom said, “People say Tommy died of a broken heart, but if that was true, I wouldn’t be here.” It was Tom now who was “stricken.” He “had a new round of funeral arrangements to make.” “Tom watched as the coffin was lowered into the grave that held Tommy’s wife and stillborn child and, below them, the bones of Wee Tom, buried twenty-five years earlier.” Tom was quoted as saying, in his own Scottish dialect that “it was like his very soul was altogether gone out of him.”

Inscription on the Morris Family Tombstone

In the first months of 1876, an expecting Lizzie (Morris) Hunter sailed with her husband, James, to America. In March, Tom received a telegram informing him that he had a newborn grandson who had been named Tommy Morris Hunter. The baby died, however, in May, only two months later.

Tom’s life continued with morning dips in the Firth of Forth and days spent supervising workers, inspecting caddies, tapping on the club secretary’s window to see who was playing, replacing divots, and partnering with R. & A. golfers. Cook reports that Tom paid a clubmaker named Robert Forgan for “half-finished clubs, which Tom’s workers assembled, polished and stamped TOM MORRIS, the one name that was known wherever golf was played.” Forgan was a better club maker, but he was much less famous. Tom introduced horse-drawn mowers for fairways and push-mowers for greens. When Prince Leopold hit a tee shot to drive himself in as captain of the R. & A., Tom played his proper role. He bowed, tipped his cap, and told His Royal Highness “to take a smooth, steady swing with his eye fixed on the ball.” The Prince nailed one, sailing his ball over the expectant caddies’ heads. The Prince told Tom, “I never got the ball off the ground before.” Later that same week, the Open revisited St. Andrews for a second time. Tom played and finished fourth.

Sixty-one years old and in constant pain, Nancy, Tom’s wife, died on November 1, 1876. Tom had another funeral to handle. “In little more than a year he had buried Tommy’s wife, the stillborn son, Tommy, his grandson (Tommy Morris Hunter), and now Nancy. Five were recently dead, but Tom was left to live on.

Monument and Inscrption for Tommy Morris

In September of 1878, “Tom, Jimmy, and several hundred others gathered around the Morris plot in the Cathedral cemetery. Sixty Scottish and English golf societies had taken up a collection to pay for a Tommy Morris monument in the cemetery…. The monument, which still stands in the south wall of the churchyard, shows Tommy in his tweeds and his Balmoral bonnet, preparing to drive a ball over the cemetery to the sea.”

Tom cut back on the matches he played and devoted more time to designing courses. At every potential course, Tom would say, “Surely Providence meant this to be a golf links.” Every course was “the finest in the kingdom, second only to St. Andrews.” In 1886, Tom was summoned to Dornoch in order to extend the links there to eighteen holes. Donald Ross, who would become a famous course designer in America, met Tom at Dornoch, and five years later he would work for Tom at St. Andrews. Another famed designer, Charles Blair Macdonald kept a locker in Tom’s shop “before he crossed the Atlantic to build America’s first eighteen-hole course at the Chicago Golf Club.” Yet another designer, Alister Mackenzie, who helped Bobby Jones design Augusta National, studied Tom’s designs and entitled his book on course design, The Spirit of St. Andrews. Lastly, though American born, course designer Albert W. Tillinghast learned the game of golf from Tom before he found his aim in life.

Tom spent much of his later life honoring Tommy. When Tom entertained visitors, he would take them over to Tommy’s locker, saying it was “undisturbed since he last touched it…” Cook writes, though, that “he often disturbed it.”

While showing a visitor around the shop, filling the fellow’s ears with well-worn stories, Tom would open the locker and pluck out a club. ‘Tommy’s last putter,’ he would call it, or ‘Tommy’s last niblick,’ placing the stick in the visitor’s hand. ‘Take it – keep it.’ Of course his workshop turned out putters and niblicks by the gross; this so-called relic, part of a growing supply of ‘Tommy’s last clubs,’ could be replaced tomorrow. Cynics would call him a showboat, but Tom knew that every golfer who left with one of those clubs would spread the gospel of Tommy Morris.

Tom would refer to Tommy as “the best the old game ever saw.”

Old Tom Morris

Tom became something of an advertising magnet. There was “a postcard showing Old Tom Morris ‘walking on water.’ Tom wanted no part of such blasphemy, but the card was best seller.”

James Hunter, Lizzie’s husband, died in Georgia, at the age thirty-seven, in 1886. “Lizzie brought her husband’s body and her four surviving children home to St. Andrews, where she helped look after Old Tom.”

Jack Morris, the paraplegic son, would perform finishing work on new clubs in Tom’s workshop. He would drag himself around on a wheeled trolley. He worked late into the night of February 21, 1893 and died in his bed at the age of thirty-three. “In fact Jack’s heart may have stopped after his pulmonary artery ruptured, just as Tommy’s had done.” Lizzie Morris died in 1898, at the age of forty-five, and Jimmy Morris died in 1906, at the age of fifty-two. Tom had the misfortune of bearing the deaths of his wife and all five children. He outlived everyone in his family.

Tom played in his last Open Championship in the fall of 1895. He was seventy-four years old and finished seventy shots behind the winner, J. H. Taylor.

Tom retired as St. Andrew’s greenkeeper in 1903. The R. & A. continued to pay him his full salary and renamed the Home Hole, the eighteenth, the boneyard hole, in his honor. The Home Hole, as it was formerly named, became the Tom Morris Hole. The R. & A. also made Tom an honorary member. Tom, though, would have found it uncomfortable to avail himself of the privileges of an honorary membership, and the members would have found Tom’s presence equally uncomfortable. Tom was still a tradesman, not a gentleman of the club.

 

Nick, Roy, Jerry, and Ken on the Swilken Bridge on the Tom Morris Hole (18) at The Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland

 

Tom spent his days some three-hundred yards away in what was called the New Club, a house, next to the eighteenth fairway, “that several local golfing societies chipped in to buy.” They wanted to call their organization the Tom Morris Golf Club, but Tom would not permit that. He spent hours in the afternoons “in a bright corner of the members’ lounge, sitting in a high-backed leather chair by the window, watching golfers bump balls through the Valley of Sin” to the green at his hole.

On Sunday, May 24, 1908, Tom “made his way from church to his seat by the window at the New Club.” He would not be watching any golf that day. Tom had banned golf on Sundays, in part, because of his religious convictions and, in part, because he thought the course needed a day of rest. St. Andrews still observes this tradition of Sunday rest except for one Sunday every five years when the Open Championship arrives. When Tom left his chair to visit the loo, he walked down a short, dark corridor and arrived at two doors. The one on the right led to the men’s room or water closet, and the one on the left “opened onto a stone staircase that led to the cellar. Tom, coming from his seat in dazzling sun, fuddled and momentarily blind in the darkness of the corridor, opened the door on the left and stepped into space.” The St. Andrews Citizen reported that “‘the noise of someone falling was heard. . . . Old Tom was found in an unconscious condition.’ It was mercifully quick: He cracked his skull at the bottom of the stairs and never woke up.” Tom was eighty-six years old. He had “lived the last thirty-three years of his life in Tommy’s honor.”

During my trip to Scotland in 2002, I had the pleasure of playing the last eighteen-hole course Old Tom Morris designed, Glasgow Golf Club at Killermont (December, 1903). Thanks to Ken Ellis, who arranged our tour, we met and played with Arthur Montford, a well-known television sports journalist, who was a member of Glasgow Club. I am certain that when the Grand Old Man designed Glasgow Club, he said something like, “Surely God meant this land to hold a golf links, the finest in Scotland, after St. Andrews.”

Without conducting the research for myself it is difficult to assess the accuracy of Cook’s accounts. I do, however, have a question for Mr. Cook. He reports that Tom Morris meet a boy named John Henry Taylor (J. H. Taylor) when Tom, in 1864, went to Devon in order to lay out a course at Westward Ho. J. H. Taylor, of course, was one of golf’s Great Triumvirate (along with Harry Vardon and James Braid), and he would win the Open Championship five times. Cook reports that when a young J. H. Taylor met Tom, he mistook Tom for the actual Saint Andrew and would remember the meeting for the rest of his life (pp. 90, 305). John Henry Taylor, though, was born in 1871, so how could he meet Tom Morris in 1864? Something is somehow askew.

The story of Tom and Tommy Morris is a gripping, albeit tragic, story, and Cook’s Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son is a good book. I am awarding it a full sleeve of balls.

Roybob’s Book on Golf: The Hucks, A Golfer’s Divine Comedy, and a Religious Philosophy of Golf

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: