Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Life of Tom Morris
Chapter III - Early Club and Ball Makers in St. Andrews

"Here Mr Philp, club-maker, was great as Philip as any Minister of State."

AT the time of Tom's birth, the only club-maker in St Andrews was Hugh Philp. This celebrated worthy, whose clubs are now among the unique treasures of the collector, was a joiner and house carpenter by trade, and had his place of business in Argyle Street. Till he was induced to open a little shop on the site of the present Grand Hotel, there were no other club-makers in St Andrews or on the links. A representative of the M'Ewans from Edinburgh would come over to St Andrews a week or two before the spring and autumn meetings, bringing an assortment of clubs with him. In time, however, golfers in St Andrews began to send their clubs to Phil]) to get repaired, and it was probably on this account that he opened his small shop on the links. Finally, he bought the property where Tom Morris's shop [Willie Paterson, retired slater, "one of Tom's oldest chums", says "The auld wa's o' High Philp's shop are stannin' yet".] now is, and won the fame which he so thoroughly earned as a maker of first-rate clubs.

Very little seems to have been preserved in regard to him. From the Minutes of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club we know that he was appointed "club-maker to the Society" in September 1819. And in terms of an earlier minute (1812) the members no doubt undertook to "countenance and support" him. He died in 1856. At the time of his death the late Mr Robert Forgan was his assistant, and worthily succeeded to the business which he made so famous. A former assistant was Mr James Wilson; who appears to have left him in 1852 and started business on his own account in a shop situated where the Marine Hotel now is. Andrew Strath was one of his apprentices, while Jamie Anderson, thrice champion, served his apprenticeship with Forgan. Of Hugh Philp's clubs, Mr Horace Hutchinson has written: "Some golfers early in their career are in the habit of giving a sovereign or even more for a club which they have taken a fancy to. ... Most of these fancy clubs are known as old Philp's. Mr Philp must have been as prolific a master of his craft as some of the old masters of the painter's art. The best recipe for making an old Philp is a mixture of soot and varnish."

Subsequently Mr Hutchinson, however, writes: 'The wooden clubs in use by our ancestors of the time of the St Andrews museum would seem to have been of a stubborn, stout, inflexible nature, bull-dog-headed. Then arose a great master club-maker, one Hugh Philp by name, who wondrously refined golf-club nature. Slim and elegant, yet, as we of these days would say, of but insufficient power are the specimens of his art which have descended to us. His true specimens, it should be said: for there is many a club boasting Hugh Philp as its creator which that craftsman never saw nor can we expect it would have been otherwise, since it is a matter of common report, that at least two subsequent club-makers had a 'Hugh Philp' stamp with which upon the head of the club they would imprint a blatant forgery. The golfing connoisseur will inspect the time-matured head of the old putter which claims Philp as its father with as cultured and microscopic a criticism as the dilettante lover of Stradivarius or the Amati will bestow upon their magic works."

It seems that Hugh Phiip was a good golfer, and Mr W. Dalrymple tells us that he once took every hole in the homeward course at St Andrews from his opponent. Writing his reminiscences of the year 1837, Mr Tom Peter says: "The only club-maker was Hugh Philp. It is questionable if any other whether before or since his time has shaped and set a club better than he did. Hugh was a dry-haired man (whatever that may be), rather gruff to strangers, but quite the reverse to those who knew him, with a fund of dry caustic humour, but withal a kind heait. If a man, after a match, went to him complaining of a club, Hugh would merely say, 'You'll hae lost your mautch?' and conversely with the jubilant. When gutta-percha was first introduced, Mr Peter and his brother carried out a number of experiments with the new ball, and succeeded in inserting and fixing lead securely in the centre of the ball, so that it putted accurately. "Nearly all the medals I gained," he says, "were won with leaded balls; and I used them regularly until my stock was exhausted. (The making of them ceased at my brother's death.)

They were well-known at the time; and when I played at St Andrews with Hugh Philp (a good player and deadly at the short game) he used to ask me for one of my leaded balls. They were, however, severe upon clubs, the fairest-struck ball often breaking the head through the centre. Many of Philp's line clubs have been broken in this way, and when I complained of rotten wood, he would answer, 'Hoo the deevil can a man mak' clubs to stand against lead?'"

We find from the Minutes of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews that the Club had paid a club-maker for coming over. The Minute, 11th October 1827, runs: "The captain proposed that as the funds of the Club were at present inadequate to payment of their debt, the salary or allowance of Two Guineas now payable annually to the Leith club-maker for attending at the General Meeting should be discontinued." Philp would thus reign supreme.

Mr W. Dalrymple says that in those days "A stranger -- the tradition has come down to us had no choice in his purchase of a club. He had to take what Philp gave him, or go without." That is, of course, unless he could wait until one of the M'Ewans or one of their representatives came from Edinburgh with clubs to sell, if they continued to come after the Club Minute was put in force.

Mr T. Anderson thus writes of Mr Douglas M'Ewan and St Andrews. Mr Douglas M'Kwan was born in 1809 and "it was during his life-time that golf clubs were, so to speak, civilised. Vast improvements were made in their manufacture; the thorn tree-cuts, hitherto in use, were discarded, and first apple, and thereafter beech, substituted therefor it being found that beech was a better driving wood and the shape and style of the heads were made more elegant. When about the thirteenth year of his age M'Ewan paid his first and only visit to St Andrews. It is curious that, notwithstanding his long and intimate connection with golf, he should never have gone back, but the journey in former days may have accounted for this. Getting to St Andrews was then very different from what it is now. There were in the days referred to no railways. A boat from Leith carried travellers to Kirkcaldy, and the rest of the way had to be walked. Would golfers crowd St Andrews links if they had to walk in the same way? It is not surprising therefore that Mr M'Ewan did not visit St Andrews frequently in his youth, but it is somewhat remarkable that in later days, when railways afforded greater facilities, he did not renew his acquaintance with the famous old green. It is understood that he and his son, Mr Peter M'Ewan, several times made arrangements to go over, but something or other always came in the way. As showing the connection between Mr M'Ewan and St Andrews, it may be remarked that the present Mr Douglas M'Ewan showed the writer a miniature feather ball, completely finished in every respect, on which is written, '15th Oct. 1826; from St Andrews, in 10'. There can be little doubt that this ball was not made for actual play, but was given to Mr M'Ewan as a memento, very probably, by his agent at St Andrews, but this cannot be stated as a matter of fact; it is merely conjecture."

This "agent" was Davie Robertson, ball-maker, and Allan's father.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus