AFTER his marriage Tom was
naturally anxious to better his position in every possible manner. There
were, however, in the middle of last century, not a great many ways in which
a professional golf player and maker of clubs and balls could do this. And
Tom was already in St Andrews, the Mecca of golf in those days, even to a
greater extent than it is now and doing well, after leaving Allan over the
words they had in regard to the gutta balls' question, for the immediate
cause of this rupture was undoubtedly caused by Tom's using the gutta. At
last Tom's opportunity came in the shape of a pressing invitation from
Colonel Fairlie to go with him to Ayrshire and look after the links at
Prestwick. Colonel Fairlie used to golf regularly at St Andrews and had
formed a high opinion of Tom. The respect and esteem were mutual. Many a
time have I heard Tom say, "No better gentleman ever lived than Colonel
Fairlie; I'm perfectly certain o' that." That was Tom's opinion of the
Colonel, and one which I am sure all who had the privilege of his
acquaintance will endorse. "You mind o' him? " asked Tom, as we continued
our conversation; and I replied, "Perfectly; and it was he who taught you to
smoke, Tom, was it not?"
"Indeed, it was just him. In those days we used to take our luncheon on the
green, and the Cornel (Colonel) would gie me a ceegar. Then he gave me a
pipe and I had to buy tobacco. I never smoked till I was thirty, but I've
made up for it since," he added, with a chuckle and a good big "draw" of his
pipe. "And I never felt it do me ony harm." On one occasion, however, he
gave it up for six weeks; this was when he went into training to play his
great match with Willie Park over four greens.
And this brings us back to his matches.
He went to Prestwick in 1851. A local newspaper report said of the event:
"Tom departs from St Andrews for Ayrshire in the end of this month, to a
place in the vicinity of Ayr called Prestwick, where they have links, and
upon which Tom will likely soon astonish the natives of those parts; he will
no doubt reign supreme as a golfer." On this Mr Everard remarks: "The
grammar in the above quotation has now become rather turbid, but the fact is
clear that Tom was about as good as anybody at that time at the age of
thirty. He went to Prestwick, laid out the links, and remained as custodian
for fourteen years."
This year (1851), in the month of May, he played a match with Willie Dunn.
Willie was dormy one, and the finish is thus described: "The last hole was a
very peculiar place at the top of a hill, and Tom's ball rolled first down
the cast side, and the next putt sent it over again on the west. Seeing that
he could not halve the match, Tom gave his ball a kick in disgust, while
Dunn took a snuff and smiled satisfactorily, having the credit of taking the
match by two holes."
Next year Tom came back to St Andrews to play a big match with Allan
Robertson as his partner against Sir Robert Hay and Willie Dunn. The
professionals staked 100 to 50 on the issue. They beat their opponents by 6
holes and 5 to play in 2 rounds of the links. In the first part of this
match I am told that Sir Robert Hay and Willie Dunn had much the best of it,
but Dunn broke down. A newspaper report tells us that, "In the progress
inward some boys removed the flags for guiding to the holes and held them
aloft in the procession, giving it the appearance of a triumphal entry. Such
a scene has not been seen on the links for many years."
In May 1853 Tom was back playing at St Andrews, and had a tussle with his
old friend Allan, and beat him! This match is thus alluded to in what Mr
Kverard calls "a long and prolix letter, dated June 21, 1853": "Your
correspondent, despite the fact of Tom having by his skill and prowess
vanquished Allan in their last encounter, still maintains, but without
favouring his readers with his grounds for doing so, that the real King of
Golfing reigns in St Andrews, and is well known as Allan Robertson, all
others taking that dignity being guilty of high treason." After claiming
that honour for Tom, the writer proceeds, "It does not seem to me that he
(the other correspondent) can do otherwise than admit this in the face of
his own report of the encounter alluded to, which appeared in your paper as
follows: Allan and Tom encountered each other in single combat with the
clubs and balls a rare occurrence. Some little cash depended on the issue,
which Allan, strange to say, lost, Tom conquering him by three holes in the
round." This letter was signed,; 'A Loyal Prestwickian."
By-and-by a challenge was issued by Tom to play Allan for 100, but the
latter did not respond. This is an additional proof, T think, if proof be
needed, that Allan was a bit of "a funk" in regard to match playing. My old
and excellent friend, the sharer with me of many dear, tender and humorous
associations, John Gordon M'Pherson, warned me when I was writing this life
of Tom to be careful how I exalted Tom over Allan, adding that from his
beautiful manse he was "watching" me. Well, I was delighted to think that my
papers were read by so sympathetic a friend and so keen a critic as mine
ancient ally; and I by no means wish to extol my hero in preference to his,
but I think even Dr Matherson must admit that Allan did not respond to his
challengers as the "greatest golfer who ever lived" might have been expected
to reply. He did not take up Tom's challenge, and he also declined to play
Willie Park. For myself, I should have been inclined to back Tom against
Allan. He did beat Allan, on the occasion about which I am writing, in a big
and long match; and a very well-known player and charming writer whom I am
proud to know would, I am sure, have backed Park against Allan. "More power,
a longer driver and magnificent putter, and about then he was at his
zenith." Why did Allan not respond? Were symptoms of his fatal illness
rendering him less confident?
Big Bunker at St Andrews, 1852
In 1852 Tom and Park had the first of their many tussles for 100 a-side.
Park defeated Tom twice this year.
In 1854 Tom and Allan were on opposite sides in a big match. Bob Anderson
and he tackled Allan and Willie Dunn for 200, and beat them by one hole in
an 18-hole match at St Andrews. In that year and the next Tom and Park
played six 100 matches. The honours were about equally divided. In the fifth
match at Musselburgh, Tom was roughly jostled, and his ball frequently
interfered with. He appealed to the referee, who stopped play and declared
the stakes divided. Talking of his old antagonist, Tom says, "He was a
splendid driver and a splendid putter. I've been neether, and yet I've
managed to beat him."
In 1857 Tom and Willie Park played together against Allan Robertson and
Andrew Strath and were beaten by 6 holes in 2 rounds; the stakes were £100.
In this year also Tom played a notable match against Captain Maitland
Dougall. Tom was out in 39 and home in 43 82, the lowest score at which the
round had yet been taken in. The Captain also played magnificently, being
only 3 strokes behind Tom.
They were very happy years. He superintended the laying out of the
magnificent links, and played many matches on them. Even in Tom's day
Prestwick was celebrated as perhaps the best 12-hole course known
magnificent turf, splendid hazards, with beautiful views of Arran, Ailsa
Craig, and the Heads of Ayr. And no doubt it was owing very much to Tom's
good care of it that the links became one of the champion courses of Great
Britain. It had several characteristics, too, notably its own. "The course,"
says Mr H. G. Hutchinson, "went dodging in and out amongst lofty sand-hills.
The holes were, for the most part, out of sight when one took the iron in
hand for the approach, for they lay in decibells among those sand-hills, and
you lofted over the intervening mountain of sand, and there was all the
fascinating excitement, as you climbed to the top of it, of seeing how near
to the hole your ball may have happened to roll. There is still a measure of
this pleasurable uncertainty there are still several holes thus disposed in
hollows, but now that the course has taken unto itself the full-blown
dignity of 18 holes, comprising a great deal of ground newly taken in, there
is less of the backwards and forwards and cross work among the sand-hills."
Prestwick was a delightful residence. It had known golf for ages, for was it
not on these links or hard by that in pre-Reformation times, to settle some
deadly feud, a match at golf took place on " Ye linkes atte Air for his nose
between a Monk of Crossragnel and a Lord of Culzean."
The links were the property of the Club, whose servant Tom was, and he was
virtually lord and master of the situation.
At Prestwick Tom flourished as a club and ball-maker. Children were born to
him, and Tommy and Jimmy took to golf as soon as they could toddle. But no
doubt his heart would often be in St Andrews, to which, from time to time,
he returned with Colonel Fairlie, and to play some great match. It would
therefore be with joy and gratitude he would return to take charge of the
classic links on the invitation of the Royal and Ancient Club in 1863.
The Minutes of the meeting of the Royal and Ancient Club for September 1863
state that Alexander Herd had resigned the custody of the links, and the
Committee accordingly were authorised to appoint a custodian at a salary
considerably larger than that hitherto given. Thereupon Major Boothby gave
notice of a motion that a professional golfer should be employed as a
servant of the Club, and that the entire charge of the course should be
entrusted to him. Subsequently a large majority were found to be in favour
of the proposal, as a result of which Tom Morris was introduced from
Prestwick. His duties were explained to him: to keep the putting-greens in
good order, to repair when necessary, and to make the holes. For heavy work,
carting, etc., he was to be, allowed assistance at the rate of one man's
labour for two days in the week, and it was understood that he was to work
under the Green Committee. Emblems of office were then handed over to him,
to wit, a barrow, a spade and a shovel in prophetic instinct, belike that "saund"
and even "mair saund, Honey man" would be in future ages the watchword of
the newly-appointed Chief of the Links. The sum of £50 per annum was voted
by the Union Club for payment of the custodian's salary, and £20 for the
upkeep of the links.
Though he had only been away fourteen years great changes had taken place in
his absence. The number of golf players had largely increased. More
attention was in every way paid to the game in all its developments and
ramifications. The Club-House had been erected. Traces of the wise head and
cunning hand of "The Provost" Sir Hugh Lyon-Playfair, were to be found on
the links and in the Club-House, as well as in every part of the ancient
city. His old master and friend, Allan Robertson, was, alas! dead; but in
his own son Tommy was arising a greater than Allan, so far as mere play was
It must have been with great pride that the father watched his son's
progress, and took note of the wonderful promise, so soon to blossom into
achievement, which he gave.