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The Life of Tom Morris
Chapter XXVII - Tom at Home - On the Links, in Shop and House


SEVERAL years ago I wrote of Tom Morris as a "Celebrity at Home" in The World. I have not my article beside me as I write this chapter. But in it I intend as well as I can to describe my golfing hero as he appeared to me some thirteen years ago at home, on the links of St Andrews, in his shop and in his house. It is the day of the Autumn Medal a day of bright sunshine, with a gentle and cooling breeze making the grass on the bents quiver a little and tiny crests of white spindrift to gleam on the tops of the blue wavelets racing towards the shore along the yellow sands an autumn day of brilliant beauty, such a day on which St Andrews, its bay and its links, looks its fairest.

It is the Autumn Meeting of the year and no less a personage than Mr Arthur J. Balfour is Captain of the Club. And I have come literally from the very top of Ben Nevis to be present at it. Yesterday at this hour I was climbing up its white heights with Her Grace, for it was one of the years Lord Breadalbane, with the good-will of the whole of Scotland, held the high position and fulfilled the arduous and honourable duties of Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and he and his distinguished wife were known as "Their Graces." Just about the time the guns will fire to-night to announce that the competition is over for another year, I was bidding her and Lady Onslow and the party who made the ascent with us "Good-bye," as they left the train at the Bridge of Orchy and handed me back my "tall hat," that had been left in charge of the station-master overnight, amid laughter and interrogative song as to where I "got that hat" and whence came "that tile." It was the end of a pleasant little sojourn at the Black Mount, where I met Lord and Lady Onslow to be met again in a few months in the native city of Jeypore in Rajputana and Lord Colin Campbell to be met afterwards, and also shortly before his lamented and all too-young death, at the Byculla and the Yacht Clubs of Bombay the Beautiful. And like many another I had left the Highlands to be present at this particular Autumn Meeting in St Andrews by the sea.

Above us a great expanse of vivid blue, in which a few white; fleecy clouds are floating southwards, wafted by the high wind, which has a fine bracing touch of autumn in it. So much expanse is there overhead that Mrs Oliphant has somewhere said that the sky here gives one a better idea of the sphere in which we live than it does in any other place known to her. In the background a quaint, quiet, academic city with ruins that carry the mind back to the earliest ecclesiastical settlement in the country. To the right a long reach of beautiful blue, buoyant, restless water. Mrs Craik says that nowhere is the sea so beautiful as here. The rocks are white with sea-gulls. The waves, "blue, fringed with white," are racing up the yellow sands and will not rest until they reach "the bents," across which lie the famous links in their long stretch of green, velvety, springy, elastic turf. To the left the shops of the makers of clubs and balls, a large hotel with modern houses on either side of it. Farther off the woods of Strathtyrum, where John Blackwood, editor of Maga, used to live, and where George Eliot, Mrs Oliphant, Anthony Trollope, Laurence Lockhart, Charles Kingsley and many other famous people were wont to come. In front the Forfarshire hills the sun lighting up their patches of mottled colour and away in the distance the Grampians crowned with the crest of dark Lochnagar.

As you stand in front of the Royal and Ancient Club-House, and coming down the steps take your place among many more at the first teeing-ground, you are surrounded by bevies of smart and pretty women in charming toilets, discussing the prospects of the favourites and chatting endlessly about golf, for here "maid and matron are given over soul and body to a ``tyrannising game." The Royal Standard and the flag of the Club are floating from the flagstaff above you. The Captain is striking off the
first ball and thereby declaring himself winner of the Silver Club the Captain's medal. The report of a small cannon announces that he has done so. Hands are clapped, cheers are raised being led off by a fine-looking old man one of Nature's gentlemen, "born in the purple of equable temper and courtesy." With shoulders somewhat rounded, left hand in trouser pocket, pipe in hand, he is now superintending the start of the competitors with sunny smile and apt greeting for each. What a fine Scots face he has, full of intelligence, kindliness and humour, with keen, observant eyes underneath somewhat heavy and shaggy brows. Look well at him. He is the best known and most popular professional golfer who has ever lived, he is watching the outgoing players. As soon as he sees the couple which has started last across the burn he turns to the next couple and says, ``You may go now, gentlemen."

The afternoon will find him standing on the perfect green of the Home hole, flag in hand, keeping the green clear, and watching the putting out of the players as they return at intervals of about five minutes and give in the record of their scores. Then will the little cannon declare that the play is over and that the gold medal presented by his late Majesty, King William the Fourth, has been won, in this year of grace 1894 the year I am taking as a typical year, the year in which Mr Balfour is captain by perhaps the most popular among all the players Freddy (Frederick Guthrie) Tait, in the fine score of 78. And the winner of the gold medal given by the Club is Mr Laidlay. Who knowing him will ever forget the charming, the cheery, the affable Freddy, fine soldier, brilliant player, lovable lad. For one I shall always cherish his memory and lament his too-early death. I had watched his career from the time he was a little boy and I could not count the number of times I have walked round the links of St Andrews following, often in company with his gifted father, his charming mother and sister, his matches, with all our hopes centred on Freddy winning. St Andrews, nay, the whole golfing world, had taken the powerful and brilliant, the dashing and daring, the unaffected and unspoiled golfer to her heart as she had taken none other. St Andrews loved him for his own sake and for the love she bore to his people. She loved him as a mother loves her son and because she had followed his career from its earliest attempts to its latest triumphant achievements. He was her affectionate pride, the champion of her traditions, on whom she could rely with confidence for fresh laurels for her brow. She loved him because he was her own and because he was what her links, surroundings and associations had made him, and for the simplicity and charm that was in himself. Feeling thus she set him down to take an almost similar place in the very heart of the whole golfing world. His name, his fame, his achievements were magnetic. Hundreds who never saw him followed his career and successes with something of the same affectionate pride and interest. For the lovableness of his nature, and for his power and pluck as a player, his memory will ever live in the annals of the game which he loved so dearly, which he helped to make so popular, and to which he imparted so much interest. Round him the halo of memory will ever be bright, and his name will be an incentive and an emulation, a spur and a stimulus, to future generations of aspiring and enthusiastic young golfers. May the sand rest lightly on his brave and blameless, his healthy and his happy, heart.

When the play is over for the day, and as the shadows of evening are gathering around and the sun is setting in glory, lighting up the grey city and the green links and the tawny sands, you saunter with Tom up to 'the shop," you exchange greetings with "Jamie," who is busy at his desk writing up the transactions of the day, and with some of the "hands" in the shop, all of whom are more or less known to you. The very smell of the shop is redolent of old days and brings back old associations to you. From this little shaving-strewed shop, with the water for the gutta boiling on the stove, clubs and balls have gone forth to the uttermost parts of the earth. And if you pause for a little with him you may hear him tell a consultant "aye to play wi' the club you fancy." You will see specimens of an excellent driver he sent out some years ago, in which the best qualities of the bulger and the ordinary club were secured. You can hear him descant on the qualities of dogwood and persimmon, of which he has large quantities well seasoned and in capital condition, of thorn and of apple and lunderwood, and hickory and ash for shafts. And then you will pass with him through the narrow passage and up the outside stair which leads to his own particular sanctum. Inside, he may say, "Maybe it's ga'en to be a wee cauld the nicht, we'll be nain the waur o' a bit fire," and he will proceed to light a gas stove. He courteously invites you to take a seat, and seating himself down in his arm-chair lights his briar-root pipe and is ready for a crack. A large window looks out upon the putting-green of the first hole, the teeing-ground of the starting-point, the sands, the rocks, the sea of which he will tell you he "never wearies." He uses it also as a coign of vantage for supervising his beloved putting-green at the Home hole; and sometimes will be heard from it a roar which has been compared to that of a wounded lion, "Hand off that puttin'-green." And the youthful offenders tremble and skedaddle. Above his mantelpiece there is a large picture containing full-length photographs of his famous son and champion golfer, "Tommy," and his other son, "Jamie." In the middle there is a head of himself. Under the photograph of each son there is a record of his best score out and in the links of St Andrews. From it you see that "Tommy," in 1869, went out in 37 strokes and returned in 40, making a total of 77. In 1887 ``Jamie" went out in 38, and returned in 39, making the same total as his greater brother.

The walls of Tom's sanctum are covered with pictures of famous golfers professionals and amateurs many of Allan Robertson amongst the former and of Colonel Fairlie of Coodham among the latter. His adjoining bedroom, too, is full of photographs of well-known players and famous matches, and his toilet-table is literally covered with golf balls. If he does not dream of his life's occupation and favourite game it is not the fault of his surroundings. On the table in his sitting-room is the big family Bible, without a chapter of which Tom never goes to his bed.

And if you ask him he will bring out the Champion Belt won by his famous son and tell you its story, and many another story, too, of his life; and, if you have been fortunate enough to have known him all your life, of many dear to you both. On one of the many occasions I have thus "cracked" with him, when bidding him good-bye, he said, "Bide a wee, I maun tell ye a story o' yer Faither, the Principal, and the Doctor Dr Boyd. It was a Monday and we had baith been i' the kirk the day before. I meets your Faither at the second hole he was gaun oot and I was coming in. I says to him, 'Principal, the Doctor was gey guid yesterday.' And the Principal, he just put his hand on ma shoulder and gies me a bit clap in that kindly way he had, and says he to me, ' But, Tom, the Doctor's aye guid except when he havers! ' And we baith laughed and passed on. I was unco fond o' baith yer Faither and the Doctor. Like the links o' St Andrews they were gey ill to beat." But Dr Boyd had not "departed" on the memorable occasion of which I am writing. He was to say "the grace" at the dinner to which I left Tom to hurry to, and Mr Balfour was to be in the chair, and Freddy Tait was to reply to the toast of the medal-winner; and with Dr Boyd I was to walk home after it was over and listen to his talk of the speeches and of his "elder," the great and good Tom Morris, for whom he had such a warm regard.


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