Feature Interview with Melvyn Hunter Morrow

February 2012

For those who are not familiar, please take us through your genealogy.

I thought we had the full Family Tree going back until 1649, until I received an e-mail about a year ago, from a Morris living in Australia who had traced his side of the family back to the early 1700 to a certain John Morris (Old Tom’s great grandfather) who married Janet Robertson in 1744. He advised me that Janet Robertson’s father was a certain ball maker who lived in St Andrews. Apparently, the great grandfather to a certain Allan Robertson who was a golfing Professional, Featherie ball maker, and one of the earliest recorded golf course Designers and also related to a certain Thomas Mitchell Morris. It would appear that my family’s earliest known connection to golf is via John Morris and Janet Robertson circa 1744. However, my direct blood line is via the Morris side as can be seen in part, by a section of the following Morris Family Tree.

The family association with golf, I suppose, really starts with Old Tom’s (Thomas Mitchell Morris) older brother George Morris who is credited with work at Carnoustie and more famously, Hoylake (Royal Liverpool). His son, Jack, continued the design work by producing quite a few courses in the Liverpool region.

Next, we have my great, great grandfather Old Tom Morris, not forgetting Young Tommy and his younger brother JOF Morris who shined although, alas, not as brightly as his elder brother Tommy.

My linage as all surviving family members relating back to Old Tom, is through Elizabeth (Young Tommy’s sister). Elizabeth married into the Hunter family of Prestwick, to a certain James Hunter who was Young Tommy’s best friend and a gifted golfer in his own right. James Hunter and Elizabeth on their Honeymoon, traveled to Quebec prior to settling in Darien although he worked in Mobile. While in Quebec James is credited with suggesting the formation of what became Royal Quebec G C, returning 6 months later once the course had been built to become their first Champion.

James prior to his early death (by drowning at Mobile) had brought out two of his brothers (Robert & John) to assist in his successful lumber business and it was during this time in the early 1880’s, that the brothers designed and built a golf course at Darien (alas I am told now under a school). For more information on The Hunters in the USA see the following link

Robert after the death of James, was apparently known as the Father of golf at Mobile. James Hunter was also cousin to Charlie Hunter who trained and ultimately took over at Prestwick from Old Tom when he returned to St Andrews. Charlie to is credited with many designs from Machrihanish, Prestwick and Prestwick St Nicholas to name a few. One of James’ daughters, my great aunt Agnes married one Willie Rusack (from the Hotel chain both in Germany and St Andrews). He was at one time the Eden Course (St Andrews) record holder, and course designer mainly in Germany (pre WW2).

My father was a swimming Champion and Record holder for Scotland, training in Dundee and the Old Step Rock Pool located behind The Golfing Museum in St. Andrews and he was also a fair golfer. He followed his father into the jute business becoming a Consultant. Dying young on the 1st Fairway of a golf course near Jos, in Nigeria. My Uncle was not a sportsman but played golf more in later years, and was a Member of The R&A. He was a successful Charted Accountant with many business around the world, earning a knighthood for saving Rolls Royce in the early 1970’s.

Where did you grow up?

My father was born and bred in St Andrews. In fact he lived in Old Tom’s house at 6 Pilmour Links. By then it was The Hunter House inherited through my grandmother, Jamesina (Old Tom granddaughter) who married T G Morrow. TG was the best friend of Bruce Hunter who was Old Tom’s grandson who inherited the Golf  Shop.

Like my grandfather, TG, my own father worked in the Jute Industry although based at Dundee. He undertook 2-3 year contracts working overseas, mainly India now known as Bangladesh. My father did not want his son born in India (as this was the time of the partition India/ Pakistan East & West) so my mother travelled home for my birth.

My early years were a mix match of time spent in India, East Pakistan and Brazil. My first language was Portuguese and not English, but by the time I returned to St Andrews for schooling, I was speaking English.

We lived in the Fifties in St Andrews just past the old castle on The Scores, a couple of houses down from my great uncle, Great Uncle Tom (not to be confused with Old Tom) who owned the Turret House (see photo) facing the ruined castle.

By the late 1950’s/1960’s we lived off the Hepburn Gardens in Ladebraes Walk. By the mid-sixties we had moved to Northern Ireland and I attended boarding school at The Royal School at Dungannon. Leaving school, I followed my father into the Jute Industry before seeking new horizons in design and engineering by the early seventies.

How much have you studied Old Tom Morris’s life? Do family documents exist that shed light on his life?

Studied, never thought of it in that way, so to be honest, not a lot, it was mainly by word of mouth. Living in St Andrews, he was all around an honoured son of the town. Of course, much was passed down in the form of conversations and trips to courses associated with Old Toms, yet, I suppose, for a young lad and, if truth be known it still affects me to this day. It’s those occasional trips to North Berwick that still feel raw when considering the news Young Tommy received on the course about his wife and unborn son in the year of 1875. The thought that this was the beginning of the end for one of the greatest Golfers the world had ever seen. The saddest part being that Young Tommy never got back in time to see his wife and newly born child alive.

The amount of documents and possessions from the Championship Belt (pictured below), Gold Golfing Medals

timber cabinets made by the Foulis Brothers for young Elizabeth for her engagement and wedding present, plus a variety of other items, were not really know until recently. One of the family upon the death of my grandfather, somehow gathered together the majority of the items withholding them from both, his brother and sister, only offering a few trinkets saying that was all that was left. However, with the recent new book it has become apparent just how
much was taken or should one call it, as it is how much was withheld. It has divided the family bringing out much bitterness. So armed with these finding when trying to assist in providing information and photographs for the new book on Old Tom by Malcolm & Peter, I decided to undertake my own search on both Old Tom and how GCA developed in the early days of the 19th Century.

So in answer to your question yes documents do exist although up to 5 years ago we had been told no, none existed and that most had been destroyed.

Old Tom’s life, well lets clear up this name first. Known as Tom Morris for most of his life until the birth of his son, that is his second son. In fact his first son was named Tom, but died when 4 years old. When the second boy arrived he too was given the name Tom and later became known to all as Young Tommy, while others called his father Old Tom, so as not to confuse the issue. The name sticking well after the death of Young Tommy. While the Family tree submitted above shows the line, the following photo (right) shows the more intimate family connection and most upsetting is the date of the deaths of all his children.  The Morris Graves as seen in the photo (left) are located in the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral. The last person interned was Agnes Rusack (Old Tom’s granddaughter, Agnes Hunter, my great aunt in 1960)

Old Tom outlived all his children only to be survived by his grandchildren, the Hunters via his daughter Elizabeth who had one boy and three girls.

William Bruce Hunter inherited the golfing shop and is survived by his granddaughter Sheila (Walker) who still owns the property and lives over the shop now run by the Links Trust; Agnes Bayne Hunter (who married Willie Rusack – the German golfer and Course Designer) no children; Elizabeth Gray Hunter who married, we believe, the Chief Cashier of The Bank of England, and had a son; nothing more is currently known. Last my grandmother, Jamesina Hunter married TG Morrow, her brother’s best friend. We have been told that as a wedding present TG bought Old Tom’s old house for Jamesina.  They had three children with Jamesina dying at the birth of her daughter, Agnes, who is still alive, outliving her two older brothers Ian and James (my father). Agnes lives in Australia and has two children one being the famous seascape artist, Ian Hanson.

Please summarize his primary contributions to the game.

Old Tom was first and foremost a Golfer. He loved the game and through that not only did his own abilities grow, but so did the game of golf. Old Tom was also a great Green Keeper. In fact, he was the first Green Keeper to actually improve the course more by nurturing the turf by encouraging the worms and utilising sand to the topsoil. With his natural golfing abilities, Green Keeper knowledge, also learnt by assisting Allan Robertson on a few of the early golf courses design & modification in the 1840’s, Old Tom found that he had all the skills to turn his hand to course design. While he achieved greatness in all three disciplines, I feel his primary contribution to the game was his ability to bring golf to the masses. His life’s work was to encourage the playing of the game of golf. His great ability was to read the land, noting if it was suitable for the game and then suggesting the number of Holes that a specific section of land could accommodate.

For some 50 years he offered his great experience to all comers maintaining his original consultancy fee, charging £1 per day plus expenses throughout GB. Thus, giving new virgin clubs sound advice on both the land and the number of potential Holes it could accommodate, all at an affordable price way below what his reputation should have commanded.