100th Anniversary of Old Tom's Death

May 24th marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Old Tom Morris. Morris is still esteemed so highly that the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America names its highest award after him.

Morris excelled as a club-maker, greenkeeper, golf course architect and player. He built up a successful club-making business; revolutionized the conditioning of the links at St. Andrews; designed several courses, including Carnoustie and Royal Dornoch; and won the British Open four times in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867.

He was responsible for tending the Old Course, holding the post of "Keeper of the Green" from 1864 until his retirement in 1903, although he continued as consulting greenkeeper until his death by an accidental fall in 1908.

Thomas Mitchell Morris was born in St. Andrews in 1821. After leaving school at 16, he worked making "featheries" until 1851 for Allan Robertson, a St. Andrews club-maker and one of the greatest golfers of the 19th Century. Morris then left to become the greenkeeper at Prestwick, a role he held until returning to St. Andrews in 1864, at which time the R&A gave him "entire charge of the golf course" with a salary of 50 per year.

Morris was responsible for maintaining the course under the direction of the green committee, and set new standards in the quality and condition of the links - an improvement due in part to being a headstrong and determined character. He certainly was a man who took matters into his own hands. Morris once closed the course without permission because he considered it in need of a rest, an action that earned him a public reprimand. Nonetheless, he won that battle and the course was kept out of play for a fortnight.

Tom Morris's death in 1908 marked the end of an era. The sport of golf had lost its enduring icon, and in fitting tribute no golf was played in the town on the day of his funeral. The R&A's Green Committee recorded the esteem in which he was held: "The committee gladly and gratefully recognizes that his single love for the Links he cared for so faithfully, his courteous and cheerful manner towards all members of the golfing community and, above all, the example of his well-lived life and noble character have been forces which have influenced most powerfully the well being of the Royal and Ancient game."