The Madras College Archive


Former Pupil Biographies

‘Old’ Tom Morris (1821 – 1908)

Tom Morris was born in St. Andrews on June the 16th, 1821. He lived in North Street with his parents, John and Jean. He attended Madras College. At the age of 18 Tom started to make feather golf balls for Allan Robertson who, at the age of 24, was the most famous golfer of the first half of the century and the first true golf professional. In the 19th century a golf professional's job was to make balls, clubs, caddy for wealthy amateurs, occasionally give lessons and to play in money matches against other professionals.

Tom stayed with Allan Robertson for many years before falling out with him over the new gutta percha ball. The gutta percha was the newly invented golf ball of the day and Allan Robertson viewed it as a threat to his feather ball making business, so he and Tom made a pact never to use gutta percha balls. However, one day Tom was out playing golf on The Old Course when he ran out of feather balls. His playing partner persuaded Tom to use a gutta percha ball. As Tom's group on the way in passed Allan Robertson on the way out, Tom's partner cried across to Robertson and told him that he had never seen such play and in a fit of temper Allan Robertson told Tom that he never wanted him to show his face in Allan's presence again.

Tom then setup his own ball and club making business in St. Andrews. In 1851 Tom was offered a position at Prestwick to formally design the course and look after it. He took his wife and new child and became the 'Keeper of the Green' as well as fulfilling all the other duties of a professional golfer. In 1853 Tom returned to St. Andrews, to play Allan Robertson (who had buried his anger over the gutta percha ball) in a money match. He won and could now claim to be the best golfer in the world.

In 1860 Prestwick held the first professional golf tournament and offered the prize of a red leather belt with silver buckle. Tom won in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867. This event helped increase Tom's reputation. In 1864 Tom Morris was offered the position of 'Custodian of The Old Course' and he returned to his native St. Andrews. He turned increasingly to golf course design with almost 70 courses bearing his mark with alterations to The Old Course and Carnoustie and the construction of Muirfield. In 1908, aged 86, Tom died when he fell down a flight of stairs in the New Club of St. Andrews and hit his skull on the concrete floor. He was a remarkable man who designed many great courses and advanced the game of golf.