History of Golf - Part Four The First Heroes


When you spoke the word professional in the early 1800s, you were referring to a professional caddie. The caddies were the only group that made a living from the game. They carried the clubs, certainly, but in 1800 they did so much more. In Robert Brownings book A History of Golf he describes the early caddie as his patrons guide, philosopher, and his friend, his instructor when he was off his game, and co-arbiter with the opposition caddie in all disputes.
Caddies were, in short, usually the best players. The best known in the early 1800s was David Robertson of St. Andrews. He was known as a senior caddie, whose duties were primarily to carry for the captain of St. Andrews on important occasions.
Robertson was the last of the senior caddies. His son, Allan Robertson, was also a caddie as a youth, but he emerged as the first great professional player.
The Robertsons were also ball-makers, carefully stuffing feathers into leather spheroids. But Allan was an exceptional golfer. In a series of famous matches watched by one of Scotlands largest sporting crowds of the 19th century, he teamed with his assistant, Tom (Old Tom) Morris, to play the Dunn brothers, Willie and Jamie of Musselburgh.
The four were to play a trio of matches in 1849, the first to be at the Dunns course at Musselburgh. The second was at St. Andrews, the home of Robertson and Morris. The third was at the neutral location of North Berwick. The matches were each to be 20 holes, and at stake was 400 pounds ' a huge sum in those days. Of course, side-bets were made from the spectators totaling many times more than that.
The Dunns won the first match easily on their home course, 13 and 12, principally because Robertson played poorly. Allan and Tom barely won the second match at St. Andrews. And at North Berwick in the decider, Robertson and Morris were down four with but eight holes to play.
Then, in one of the great comebacks in golf history, Robertson and Morris rallied to win six holes in a row, taking the match 2-up and winning the series, 2-1.
It was a great golfing tandem, the old master Robertson and his apprentice Morris. However, they would split friendships before too long over a dispute about golf balls. Robertson was a featherie man all the way. Morris had begun to use the gutta percha ball, which had come into widespread use in the middle of the 1800s.
The gutta percha was much superior to the featherie, hard as opposed to the soft ball which was subject to abuse by so many objects along the ground. Robertson, remember, was a ball-maker and did not want to see the age of the featherie come to an end. The dispute caused a split between the two which lasted the remainder of Robertsons life. However, the featherie was doomed with the gutta percha quickly taking over as the ball of choice ' Robertsons angry protests notwithstanding.
Robertson did, however, make one contribution to the game, the effects of which are still felt today. Previous to Robertson, the iron club was used strictly to extricate oneself from difficult lies. The rest of the clubs were used to score, and they all had wooden faces. Robertson introduced the iron as the way to approach the green. No longer would golfers use woods with their greater mass only for extrication from ruts and such.
The first inter-Scotland club matches were played in 1857, signaling the end of the great private match-play competitions. St. Andrews was the location and Royal Blackheath was the winner of the 11-club meeting, each club fielding two-man teams..

History - 1860 British Open
The inaugural British Open was played in 1860.
The world would wait until 1860 for the first British Open to be played. The first year only eight players competed and there was nothing open about this meeting ' all eight entries were professionals. Willie Park was the champion, his 174 two strokes better than Old Tom Morris.
The first Open was held at Prestwick with its 12 holes. Players went around the course three times in a single day for the 36-hole match. Park received no prize money, only a large red leather-and-silver belt. Interestingly, the word caddie and professional in this era were used interchangeably.
With no prize money, there had to be some reason for the golfers to come to Prestwick. And indeed, the Prestwick club tournament was held that week. It offered a great opportunity for the professionals to caddie and earn extra money ' which they did.
The second Open, though, in 1861, was open to everyone ' amateur and pro alike. Old Tom Morris won that one and he also won in 1863. By now he was the premier player, winning four of the next six tournaments.
His streak was finally broken by his son, Young Tom Morris. Young Tom was a golfing prodigy, much the same as Bobby Jones in the early 1900s. Young Morris first began playing matches when he was only 13, and by the time he was 16 he played in his first British Open.
Young Tom won in 1868 on his third try, then proceeded to win the next three in succession ' four in all. He won by remarkable scores ' 157 for 36 holes in his first win, which beat the field by 13 shots. He won by an average of nine strokes during his four-year reign as British Open champion ' exceptional for a 36-hole tournament. Morris score of 149 in 1870 was a record for the gutta percha ball. It remained unbroken until Jack Whites victory 34 years later.

History - Tom Morris
Tom 'Young Tom' Morris
Alas, though, death claimed Young Tom when he was just 24 years old, after his fourth British Open victory. His wife had just died in childbirth, and many believe Morris died of a broken heart. He succumbed on Christmas Day of 1874.
The first 12 Opens were played at Prestwick, a club that never intended to monopolize the proceedings forever. Therefore, St. Andrews stepped in 1873 and from thereafter a rota was arranged.
An interesting incident occurred in 1876 when an oversight occurred and the St. Andrews committee forgot to reserve tee times Saturday for the Open. Thus, the competitors were mixed in with couples and others out for 18 holes on a pleasant day. To make matters worse, the tee sheet was quite crowded, which caused a myriad of problems for the competitors, who still had to complete 36 holes.
The latter part of the 19th century saw an explosion of golf in England and Ireland. Through it all, however, the men who played in these tournaments remained first of all equipment manufacturers and caddies, giving lessons to others. Not until the Parks, Willie and Willie Jr., did a golfer attempt to live off what he had won at tournaments.
That was because the British Open for many years paid precious little. The first year, as noted, there was only the belt and no prize money. Not until 1892 did the prize money total 100 pounds ' about $150.
Nor was the belt of much value. Willie Park, Jr., returned it to the Royal & Ancient after he won it, saying that if the cheap medal was the best the society could do, the members had best keep it themselves.