Old Tom Morris 200 years on - 50 facts about his amazing life

Old Tom was born on this day in 1821. Few, if any, have done more for the game


1 He was born and died in St Andrews in Fife. He was the second son of John Morris, a postman and his wife Jean Bruce


2 His full name was Thomas Mitchell Morris


3 He began golf at the age of 10 and he would use balls made of wine bottle corks pierced with nails


4 He was hired as an apprentice to Allan Robertson who is generally regarded as the world’s first professional golfer


5 He would work under Robertson, who ran the St Andrews Links and an equipment-making business, for 12 years


6 The pair would partner one another in challenge foursomes matches and they were said to have never lost a match where no shots were given


7 There was an infamous match in 1849 against Allan and Willie Dunn of Musselburgh which was played for the incredible sum of £400. The Dunns won the opener at Musselburgh before Morris and Robertson tied things at St Andrews before winning the decider at North Berwick


8 He supposedly beat Robertson, his boss, in an informal match over the Old Course in 1943. Generally they would avoid playing one another


9 He was said to have a slow, smooth swing and was fiercely competitive. His only flaw was, on occasion, the short putts


10 He was a long-time member of the St Andrews Golf Club (not to be confused with The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews or the R&A)


11 Along with Robertson he would assist in laying out the first 10 holes at Carnoustie


12 He was fired on the spot by Robertson after being caught playing the new gutta percha ball – Robertson did well making the featherie ball


13 Morris said of the fall-out: “One day, I was out playing with Mr Campbell of Saddell, and I got stint of balls. Mr Campbell gave me a gutta to try. Coming in, we met Allan, and somebody told him that I was playin’ a grand game with one of the new balls. Allan said nothing at the time but I saw he didna like it, and when we met in the shop, we had some words about it. This led to our parting company and I took to making balls on my ain account’. 


14 He moved to Prestwick which had just opened its doors in 1851. He designed, laid out and maintained the course as well as giving lessons and selling gutta balls and clubs


15 In 1860 he was instrumental in beginning the Open Championship, along with James Fairlie, to decide who would succeed Robertson, who died in 1859, as the new’ Champion Golfer’


16 It’s reported that Morris struck the very first shot in the championship


17 He played in the first 36 Open Championships


18 He first played in the Open at the age of 39, where he finished second two shots behind Willie Park Sr


19 He then won the Open in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867, all at Prestwick. From 1860-1873 his lowest finish was 7th


20 His 13-shot record ‘major’ win in 1862 stood until Tiger Woods’ 15-shot victory in the US Open in 2000. It remains an Open record and, even more remarkably, it was achieved over just 36 holes


21 He holds the record as the oldest winner of the Open at 46 years and 102 days in 1867


22 His last Open start came at the age of 74 at Muirfield in 1896


23 In 1868 his son Young Tom Morris would win his first Open at just 17 with Old Tom one shot behind in second place. Young Tom would win four Opens on the trot


24 He would return to St Andrews in 1865 to look after the links. As ‘Keeper of the Green’ and professional he would be on a salary of £50 a year


25 His early tasks included widening the fairways, enlarging the greens, building two new greens at 1 and 18 and ‘managing’ the hazards


26 For the next 39 years, up until 1904, he would remain in the post and was kept on by the R&A at full salary


27 Today his portrait hangs in the R&A clubhouse and the 18th green is named in his memory


28 He became just the second player to break 80 over the Old Course


29 Valuation rolls in 1875 showed that Old Tom owned his own premises at Pilmour Links, a house, shop and garden, with a valued rent of £30. His wife, Nancy, was now an invalid and rented a small house nearby. His rival club maker Robert Forgan lived and worked next door


30 In 1875 Tom’s daughter Elizabeth married in the United States. He also had two other sons James and John


31 The same year Young Tom would die at the age of 24 from a lung haemorrhage, nearly four months later after the death of his wife and newborn baby. It was said that he may have been weakened having played in a marathon challenge match in terrible weather weeks earlier


32 Old Tom, to likely save his son the pain of registering his wife’s death, informed the local registrar and signed the register


33 Old Tom would say: ‘People say he died of a broken heart but if that was true I wouldn’t be here either’


34 In 1876 his wife Nancy would die at the age of just 61


35 In 1886 his son-in-law does leaving Elizabeth to raise their children. In 1893 his son John, who suffered from epilepsy, died ahead only 33


36 Five years later his daughter Elizabeth would also die at just 46


37 Morris lost his last surviving offspring when his son James died of sudden heart failure aged 51


38  He would go on to design or remodel 75 courses


39 To name just a few Morris worked on Prestwick, Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, the New and Jubilee at St Andrews, Machrihanish, Moray, Wallasey, Askernish, Lahinch, Royal North Devon, Wallasey and Castletown


40 His final 18-hole design work came at Glasgow’s Killermont which opened in 1904, just four years before his death


41 As a greenskeeper he would introduce the concept of top-dressing greens with sand to encourage turf growth


42 Bunkers were generally left to their own devices before Morris began to look after them


43 He would be the first to place the bunkers around the course so that players had to play around them and use some strategy


44 He would also install yardage markers and was the first to use a push mower on the greens. He would improve the pace of play by establishing separate teeing areas for each hole


45 At the age of 77 he was nearly beaten by the Irish amateur Rhona Adair – he was quoted as saying ‘I’ll no’ be licked by a lassie’


46 He died, as he was entered the world, in St Andrews, just before his 87th birthday after falling down a flight of stairs in the clubhouse of the New Golf Club, sustaining a head injury from which he died in the Cottage Hospital


47 At the time of his death he had customers in Britain, Europe and Canada


48 The funeral procession extended the entire length of South Street in St Andrews, form the port to the cathedral. Andrew Kirkaldy described it as a ‘cloud of people… there were many wet eyes among us, for Old Tom was beloved by everybody’


49 He is buried against the eastern wall of the churchyard of St Andrews Cathedral. The grave stands beneath the monument to his son which carries a bronze statue of the golfer and can be seen across the churchyard


50 He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1976, a year after his son Young tom