Life of Tom Morris Chapter VI - Tom's early
style of play and occupation
BUT enough for the present of
Tom and Allan's partners in those far-off days at the game which the latter
described as "aye fechtin' against you." And Mr H. G. Hutchinson, quoting
this saying in the chapter on "Hints on Match and Medal Play" adds, "And it
is not everyone who is blessed with the cheerful serenity and superiority to
circumstance which distinguished that old worthy, and his compeer and
sometime rival, old Tom Morris, born in the purple of equable temper and
courtesy as we have seen the latter described in print."
It is Mr Everard who thus describes Tom, and in "Some Celebrated Golfers,"
in the Badminton Golf, the same writer says of Allan: "Apart from his
excellent play he is described as a charming partner and an equally generous
opponent; no amount of 'cross accidents' could disturb his equable temper,
and when steering an indifferent partner with consummate skill through the
varying fortunes of the game, no irritable word or gesture was ever known to
escape him, however valueless, not to say destructive, the endeavours of his
protege happened to be."
In the same chapter Mr Everard tells us that Tom "curiously enough began to
drive with his left hand below his right, a mode of play adopted by only two
players in the writer's experience."
He adds: "It was by a mere accident that Tom became a golfer at all, for his
career was marked out for him, and arrangements all but completed, under
which he was to have been apprenticed to a carpenter; but a casual question
of old Sandy Herd as to why he did not get apprenticed to Allan Robertson as
a club-maker, put the idea into his head. Allan considered the matter, the
upshot of which was that he agreed to take Tom, who served under him four
years as apprentice, and live as journeyman, and from that period began his
golfing life. Possessing naturally a keen, good eye, he began before long to
play a game which year by year developed, until in measuring himself against
Allan Robertson, the latter found himself obliged gradually to decrease the
odds of a half to a third, then to four strokes, until at last, if the 'old
man' was not exactly 'beaten by the boy,' still the boy, or rather lad of
twenty-two or thereabouts, rendered such an exceedingly good account of
himself that the odds he was allowed were represented by zero. Here, then,
was a fact.
He could play the greatest living masters of the game and hold his own; but
their interests were not divided, and it was rather as partners that they
took the golfing world by storm."
Scattered through the Badminton book on Golf there are various allusions to
Tom's style of play, which, no doubt, was adopted in the early St Andrews
days of which I am writing.
In Mr H. G. Hutchinson's chapter on "Elementary Instruction," the writer
remarks: "Of all good players old Tom Morris is probably he who plays with
the most supple club; which he is able to do by reason of the comparative
slowness of his swing."
In a subsequent chapter in the Badminton Golf, "On Style," Mr Hutchinson
writes: "It is true that Tom Morris until recently putted with his first
finger down the shaft of the putter, and save for an occasional aberration,
was a very fine putter. 'Old Tom' one day missed a short putt, upon which
the late Mr Logan White, who was himself possessed of one of the most
singular styles ever seen, remarked, 'If you were to have that finger
amputated, Tom, you might be able to putt.' The phrase took Tom's fancy, and
since that day, to avoid amputation, he has coiled his first finger round
the shaft, like an ordinary human golfer."
Golfing, like all other habits, is doubtle acquired in youth, and probably
Tom as a driver and putter in those early St Andrews days was the father of
him we now know as the "Grand Old Man of Golf." And his habits of play were
doubtless acquired while he was engaged in making balls with Allan and going
round the links with the best known players of the day.
This seems a favourable opportunity to say something of the history of the
occupation which he pursued.
The industry of ball-making in Scotland was organised in the days of King
James VI. This monarch was thoroughly in touch with the pastimes of Scotland
before he left for England. On the 4th of April 1603 he issued a grant
confirming the appointment of "William Mayne, bower burgess of Edinburgh,
during all the day is of his lyif-tyme, Mr. fledger, bower, clubmaker and
speirmaker to His Hienes, als weill for gay me as weir."
At this time the golf balls made in Holland were much superior to those
produced at home. They were accordingly patronised to such an extent that
King James VI., in 1618, issued his famous letter patent from Salisbury. It
began thus: "Our Souerane Majestic understanding that thair is no small
quantitie of gold and silver transported zeirlie out of His Hienes kingdome
of Scotland for bying of golf ballis, vsit in that kingdome for recreatioun
of his Majesties subjectis, and His Hienes being earnestlie dealt with by
James Melvill, in favors of William Bervick and his associate, who onlie
makis, or can mak golf ballis within the saide kingdome for the present, and
were the inbringeris off the said trade thair and seeing that the said three
parties undertook to "furnische the said kingdome with better golf ballis,
and at ane moir easie rate than have beine sauld there these manie zeiris
The King granted them a patent for the native manufacture of these articles
for the space of twenty-one years, to the exclusion of all other dealers,
under the condition, "That the said patentaris exceid not the price of four
schillings monie of this realme for everie ane of the saide golf ballis as
for the pryce theirof and power to be given to the same, by himsclfc, his
deputies, and servantis, in his name, to seirch, seik and apprehend all sik
golf ballis as sal be maid or sauld within His Heines' said Kingdome and
these ways then according to the trew meaning of His Majesties' grant and to
escheit the samyn."
It must be noted that this document speaks of "William Berwick and his
associate" being the "inbringeris off the saide trade thair," not as those
who were the "inbringeris" of the game into Scotland. A later license to
make golf balls is from the Town Council of Aberdeen, and is dated 1642:
"License and tollerance to John Dickson to mak gouff balls within this burgh
during the council's pleasure, and his good carriage and behaviour allenarly,
in respect there is not such ane tradesman in this burgh, and that he has
produced ane certificate from the town of Lcith of his bygane gude life and
conversation amongst them."
Golf had long been played at Aberdeen "on the lynks which extend themselves
almost betwixt the two rivers Done and Dee," but Leith was the metropolitan
course. It was on the links of "wee Leith" that Charles I. was playing when
news of the Irish rebellion reached him, and dropping his clubs, and calling
for his coach, he drove to Edinburgh and then to London as fast as horses
could earn him. It was at Leith that the Duke of York, afterwards James II.,
while acting as Commissioner to the Scottish Parliament, and living at
Holyrood, played the historic match, with Patersone the cobbler as his
partner, against two English noblemen. As all golfers know, the Duke and the
shoemaker won. The cobbler received the whole of the stake.
Then the great Duke of Montrose's accounts under the date of 1627 read, "For
2 golf balls, my Lord going to the golf at Leith, 10s."
The balls used by the early Flemish golfers, if, indeed, the game they
played can be called golf, were egg-shaped ones of beechwood. Those used in
the game of pell-mell were of boxwood, and could be hit about 400 yards on a
smooth, hard surface like that of the Mall in London, where Pepys saw the
Duke of York play. The ball was propelled by a club somewhat like a "light
supple croquet mallet."
The mention of it by Pepys runs: [12 April, 1661. To St James's Park where I
saw the Duke of York playing at Pele-Mele the first time that ever I saw the
sport." In a note to my edition of the immortal Diarist (The Globe Edition,
Macmillan) the game is thus characterised, "An early form of croquet,
derived from France, where the game jeu de mail, palemail (i.e., in
etymology pila and malleus), had long been in vogue" (see Jusserand, Lcs
Sports ct jcux d'excrcice, Paris, 1901, p. 304). The place at St James's
Park, where it used to be played, has given the name Pall Mall (cf. Rue du
Mail in Paris). From a Harleian MS. we learn that golf was "not unlike to
pale malic." This is mentioned when the manuscript in question states that
the "ill-fated Prince Henry" bemoaned by Chapman and other poets was a
Pepys's only other mention of the game is on the 4th January 1664, the
morning of which had been spent at "the Tennis Court, and there saw the King
play at Tennis and others; but to see how the King's play was extolled,
without any cause at all, was a loathsome sight; though sometimes, indeed,
he did play very well, and deserved to be commended; but such open flattery
is beastly." After he had had enough of the King's play at tennis, the great
Samuel, who certainly did not deserve the sobriquet of "Soapy," went on to
"St James's Park, seeing people play at Pell Mell, where it pleased me
mightily to hear a gallant, lately come from France, swear at one of his
companions for suffering his man, a spruce blade, to be so saucey as to
strike a ball while his master was playing on the Hill."
Home Hole (St Andrews) in the 'fifties
When golf assumed its present form, the balls were made, of course, of
leather stuffed with feathers. In the Royal Accounts of 1503, we find 2, 2s.
"for the King to play at the golf with the Earl of Bothwell." We know that
only nine shillings were paid for the King's club and balls, so probably the
rest of the money went to pay a bet the Earl had won from him. "Clubs cost a
shilling each and balls were four shillings the dozen." See King James's
"patent" conferring a monopoly of ball-making on James Melvil, but the
question must be asked whether the "four schillings" was "Scots" or English
At Leith, in the middle of the eighteenth century, when the great players
were Duncan Forbes of Culloden, Dalrymple, Kattray, Crosse, Leslie, Alston
and Biggar, the historic ball-maker was Bobson. The fame of this Bobson was
sung in verse in the mock-heroic vein by Thomas Matheson, who, in the
Badminton Golf, is described as a "writer" or attorney. He probably was, to
begin with, an agent or writer in "his peaceful home," Edina. But there is
no doubt that he was eventually a minister of the Church of Scotland. It is
supposed that the suggestion that he should become a minister came from
Duncan Forbes of f ulloden, the Lord President. He was licensed by the
Presbytery of Dalkeith on the ist of November 1748, and began his clerical
life in the North of England. He was ordained as assistant and successor to
William Hepburn, minister of Inverkeillor, and four years afterwards, he, in
July 1754, was "translated" to the senior charge of the parish of Brechin,
where he died on the 17th June 1760. He married Margaret White, who survived
him. His publications were, The Golf, an Heroi-Comical Poem in Three Cantos
(Edinburgh: J. Cochrane & Co., 1743, 8vo. Second edition: Peter Hill,
Edinburgh, 1793, 4to.); and A Sacred Ode, occasioned by the late successes
attending the British Arms. (Edinburgh, 1760, 8vo.)
The balls with which the earlier worthies played were made by Bobson, of
whom Matheson thus sings:
"The work of Bobson, who, with
Shapes the linn hide, connecting ev'ry part;
Then in a socket sets the well-stitch'd void
And thro' the eyelet drives the downy tide;
Crowds urging crowds the forceful brogue impels,
The leathers harden and the leather swells.
He crams and sweats, yet crams and urges more,
Till scarce the turgid globe contains its store.
The dreaded falcon's pride here blended lies
With pigeons' glossy down of various dyes;
The lark's small pinions join the common stock
And yellow glory of the martial cock."
Bobson was a St Andrews man.
"Such is fam'd Bobson who in
And such the balls each vig'rous hero drives."
Perhaps some of my readers
may be able to give me some information in regard to Bobson. Can the name
have anything to do with the Robertsons, the forefathers of the famous
When Tom Morris was working with Allan Robertson their rivals would be the
M'Ewans of Musselburgh, the Gourlays, and Johnny Jackson of Perth.
Dr Graham, writing in 1848, thus alludes to Gourlay and Allan, and to the
wear and tear of golf balls:
"Though gouf be of our games
Yet, truth to speak, the wear and tear
Of balls were felt to be severe
And source of great vexation.
When Gourlay's balls cost half-a-crown,
And Allan's not a farthing down,
The feck o's wad been harried soon,
In this era of taxation.
Right tain were we to be content
Wi' used-up ball new lick't wi' paint,
That ill concealed baith scar and rent,
Ball scarcely lit for younkers.
And though our best wi' them we tried,
And nicely every club applied,
They whirred and luffed, and dooked and shied,
And sklentit into bunkers."
On the advent of the
gutta-percha balls, about 1848, the year in which he wrote, Dr Graham breaks
"Ye're keen and certain at a
Nae weet your sides e'er opens up
And though for years your ribs they wimp,
Ye'll never moutt a feather."
And so he cries:
"Hail, gutta-percha, precious
Now, I suppose it must be:
"Hail, rubber-core, so sweetly
But on the green you're often trying."
Readers will please continue
this ode to the new ball.
In regard to the introduction
ol the gutta-percha balls, Tom Dunn has heard his father declare many a
time, and has heard it corroborated by the late John Gourlay, my wife's
father, the famous leather and feather ball-maker, whose ancestor, Douglas
Gourlay, was appointed ball-maker and teacher of the gowft to King James I.
of England and VI. of Scotland, that the late Sir Thomas Moncrieffe brought
down from London, in the year 1847 or 1848, a piece of gutta-percha, which
he gave to my father, asking him to make it up into a ball and try it, with
instructions how to make it. He made the ball and tried it several times,
but it wouldn't fly and he discarded it; but the caddies, for want of
anything better to play with, discovered that the more they played with the
ball (it undergoing a 'sair heed' occasionally) the better it flew, brought
it back, and my father struck it again and away it went, even better than
the old feather ball. Further experiments soon divulged the reason. The
surface required indentations; this he did with the sharp edge of a
shoemaker's hammer. It was considered good work if a man could turn out
three feather balls in a day. The case was of cowhide, and a high hat full
of feathers in their loose and dry state was needed for the stuffing. These
were dumped and crammed into the three parts finished case and sewn up. I am
told it was very hard work. My father and uncle served their apprenticeship
to the late John Gourlay for five years. The feather balls from that time
were doomed. My father took up the manufacture of gutta and almost had a
monopoly in the sale of them. I have in my possession the medal that was
awarded by the Commissioners of the first International Exhibition of 1851
for the exhibit of a case of leather and feather balls that were
manufactured by the late John Gourlay, the famous ball-maker. I have also
one of the original balls that were exhibited."
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