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Golf and its History - 1850 - 1890 : The Morris & Park era

If golf as we know it had its birth in the dim and distant past of the 17th century and its upbringing under the Robertson family on the links of St Andrews, then its adolescence occurred abruptly between 1848 and 1852. Three highly significant events occurred in St Andrews that were to turn the game from the parochial into the global. The first of these events was the discovery of the "gutta percha" based ball, known as the "gutty" by James Patterson in 1848. More importantly, the durability of this new ball in turn encouraged the development of iron-faced clubs and so continued the process of evolution.

Then in 1852 the railway came to St Andrews and with it the progenitors of the millions who have made the pilgrimage since. Now the links was played by all and sundry throughout the year and not simply restricted to the busy spring and autumn meetings. The R&A erected it's now famous clubhouse in consequence of the railway, scores of ex-pat colonialists retired to the town and families took up residence so that their sons could attend the University, which was gradually assuming a stature comparable with Oxford and Cambridge. If the 'gutty' transformed the game, the railway certainly transformed the town of St Andrews.

The third event of this period, which comes in two parts, is surely one of the most important events in the long history of the game. Every individual who has made a living out of hitting a golf ball should hold April 20th 1851 as the nativity for that was the birth date of Young Tom Morris, one of the game's greatest early exponents. Similarly, every green-keeper, designer or administrator should express some word of gratitude on the 1st of July for it was on that day in 1851 that Old Tom Morris left for Prestwick to create the first purpose built golf course on the links of Monkton parish.

It was in 1860 that the first Open Championship was held at Prestwick and was contested by eight leading professionals. The first winner was Willie Park for which he received a red Morocco leather belt with silver clasps as the first prize. The Open continued to be held at Prestwick for 11 years and the Morris's dominated the early events. Old Tom had won the event four times by 1867 and Young Tom subsequently completed a quartet of wins, after which he was allowed to keep the Belt.

Young Tom Morris was raised on the links of Prestwick Golf Club and it was there that he honed a game that was as revolutionary as the new iron clubs that he had purpose made by Stewart in St Andrews. Irons that were previously resorted to for a bad lie were now used for driving, lofting, jiggering and putting.

Young Tom Morris also knew his worth and he demanded and obtained a good living from the flair that he brought to the game. In this sense he was the first true modern professional golfer. There may well have been greater players since Young Tom but if there has been, few have left a greater legacy to the game.

The Morris's accrued an incredible record, with Old Tom winning the Open in 1861, '62, '64 and '67, while Young Tom won in 1868, '69, '70 and 72. Across the Firth of Forth in Musselburgh another family came close to matching them when Willie Park Sr. and Jr. won the Open six times between them. Willie Sr. won the first Open in 1860 and again in '63, '66, '67 and '75. His brother Mungo Park won in 1874, while Willie Jr. won in '87 and '89. Old Tom and Willie Sr. won all but one Open (1865) prior to the emergence of Young Tom. Both were much-loved figures and were responsible for the standards of sportsmanship with which the game is synonymous today.