Melvyn Hunter Morrow Interview

page 2

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 one should 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 only 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 expensive 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.

From his return to St. Andrews in 1866 until his death in 1908, what are several of the primary things that he did to The Old Course from a design point of view?

If we are to talk about TOC then let’s look at the course pre Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris. But before we do so Old Tom was approached by The R&A in 1864 to become the custodian of the course and in January 1865 the formal offer was made and accepted. Old Tom was back in St Andrews in 1865 and started the modification of TOC pre 1866.

On Old Tom’s return to St Andrews his first act was not to improve the course but to arrange for the building of the road across the fairways of the 1 & 18th Fairways. This has become known as Grannie Clark’s Wynd, being completed in 1866 to accommodate the public on their way to The West Sands.

However the main underlying reason for the road was that the year before in 1865, a massive storm at sea had washed up huge amounts of seaweed onto the West Sands. Local farmers seeing a bonanza to that multitude quickly set to work clearing the seaweed from the sands before the next high tide reclaimed it. In doing so they used the seaward side of the 1st Fairway (before Old Tom modified the 1 & 18th) to store the seaweed. However in the process did untold damage
with their carts to the course, then in dumping the seaweed on the 1st Fairway, and then in removing it to their farms with deep ruts left across the fairway by their wheels. Hence the need for a proper road. After the devastation, not just by the storm but also by the farmers carts (see carts again causing havoc on a golf course), the land now used as the 1st Fairway and Hole had to be repaired, and re-turfed. This was undertaken over approximately the next three years forming what we more or less see today in that the 1st Hole of TOC.

The course had become somewhat tired and a mess as described by a local newspaper of the time. Old Tom set about tidying up the course and, perhaps what may surprise some Architects and no doubt Green Keepers, he re-seeded the area between the Burn and the site of Halket’s Bunker.

We must credit Old Tom with repairing divots with sand from the West Sands. Every winter small mounds of sand would appear on the course ready for repairing the course and activating the turf into regeneration. The whole course underwent a massive face lift, or to be a little more precise, I think, a re-design would be more appropriate. As mentioned not only was the 1st Hole remodelled along with the building of the road to the beach, but the Swilken Burn was also banked and confined which in the end allowed for the siting of the new 1st Green.

The Swilken Burn & Bridge Water Colour 1870

Yet all this work would not have proceeded without reclaiming the land from the North Sea. This was originally started by Playfair, then Old Tom and Bruce finally completed the embankment. Without this work we would not have much of the 1st let alone the 18th Holes left to play upon.

It’s very difficult to state which was Old Tom’s major works on TOC, because nearly everything is interlinked. Certainly the 1st & 18th Holes make the course open and attractive. Allowing more numbers on to the course. A massive amount of whins clearing, a major project requiring more or less the removal covering between the 2nd Tee through to the 7th & 11th Fairways. Nevertheless, that act of clearance allowed the course to be re-designed and extended, Greens
modified and rebuilt, with some totally re-designed (7th, 6th & 12th) and Fairways widened thus a new larger course was born out of the old. I suppose it also opened out the course to be played clock and anti-clock wise. Yet through all this Old Tom had a battle on his hand with the ever threatening Eden Estuary. After every storm he wondered if the High Holes would still be there and would the shared Green of the 7th & 11th still exist.

TOC underwent an expansion; in fact it nearly doubled in size between the 1860-1875. If in any doubt the March stones (originally around 26 stones) that I previously mentioned, were laid out as TOC boundary in 1821. Some have survived and can be found not on the boundary but in the middle of the Fairways for the 4th, 5th & 7th. Then we have the work undertaken regards the bunkers, many were found to have water at the bottom as much as a foot to foot and a half.

Old Tom set about filling in the bunkers to resolve the water table problem. He also set out new bunkers and, if we look closely, we see that sod wall (revetted) face of bunkers was not just confined to the 20th/21st Century, but actively use under Old Tom in the 19th Century. My understanding as to why only the face was originally revetted relates to golfers tendency of exiting the bunkers over the front, causing damage to the front edge. Looking at the 1897 photo of Hell Bunker we see that only the front has sods, while the remaining sides are left in a more natural state.

The Hell Bunker photo from the book British Golf Links 1897 with front sod wall.

Old Tom was an active user of old rail sleepers to form the walls of his bigger bunkers as illustrated by the photo below depicting The Cape Bunker.

The removing of the whins and combating the sea as well as continuing the reclaiming policy allowed Old Tom to re-design TOC into what it is today. IMHO a great course that many seem so happy to play and play and play. One thing that I am indeed proud of was his ability to understand the game and the way it clearly interfaced with the land and environment. Something I feel was quickly lost by the Second World War. Such vital lessons that the land must be fit or
sustainable for the game of golf otherwise do not build a course, still are being ignored in the mad belief that money allows the ability to build great golf courses. Alas, without large amounts of water these courses would soon revert to their natural state and would for the most part be unplayable.

Many of those changes are strategic – as opposed to penal – in nature. Where did he develop that sense for what constitutes good golf?

I find it interesting that in these modern times we introduce the word Strategic yet within the same breath we highlight non penal.  I can’t get my mind around this because I firmly believe that when discussing golf the very word strategic must be centred around penal. Golf from start to finish is penal. It is that which gets us to play the game, more importantly, it is the key IHMO to getting repeat rounds over a course, to the point that the word ‘Greatness’
may be attributed to that course. Naturally there are levels of penal, but we seem to have put the fear of God into modern players by just mentioning that hated of most modern words, ‘Penal’. As for Nature, she at her calmest, is every bit penal. The problem is that we are no longer taught that vital lesson regards golf, which is that the game is first and foremost, a challenging game. The ability to meet this challenge is by actually walking, thinking the game to enable the player to understand the course, and hopefully finding hidden skills to successfully navigate around it while facing the hazards, be they man made or natural, not to mention the designers cunning (something we do not see much thanks to the fear of penal in the modern game). Golf is now being sold as easy, yet it’s the very opposite, golf is meant to be testing & challenging.

TOC was designed for the Hickory and Gutty combination, but has, of course been modified to try to accommodate the modern equipment. Yet IMHO technology is about to, if it has not already outgrown TOC. For this golfer, that is in itself is a crime against TOC, against all golfers, also Golf as a game. Is it not a very serious indictment against the R & A as the ruling body of the game?  For goodness sake, TOC is right on their doorstep yet they do nothing when they see Tee shots from the 18th Tee landing on the Green. My point regards this comment is to try and remind the many millions of golfers that they need to understand their game. More importantly the courses they play, noting that the majority of the ‘Great Courses’ are old, circa 100 years or older, were originally designed for a game which did not concentrate on the aerial game which has been much enhanced thanks to modern uncontrolled technology seemingly encouraged and enjoyed by players today. I have never understood how a golfer can be content knowing it was not solely down to his own efforts that his equipment was more responsible for his score than his skill.

Penal/Strategic must work hand in glove. Fairway bunkers should be built after a course has opened. Allowing fairways to speak to the designers through the majority of divots I would not call that penal, nor did Old Tom as it was his way to return some 3 months or so after the new course had opened to place or adjust the fairway bunkers. The divots show the standard of the clubs players and so the bunkers would have the most effect. This I believe adds strength to the course while helping the golfer’s skill levels and requiring him/her to understand the design behind the course. Yet is that really penal, as we have come to know it. To prove my point let’s look at the development of that most famous of bunkers on TOC, the Road Hole Bunker. I attach four photos of the same bunker and ask you to judge for yourself which is most penal.

The Bunker in the early photo of 1924 shows a testing face; alas the 1954 & 1967 photo displays a much shallower, thankfully finally corrected by 2000.

Bunkers/traps are a deterrent forcing the golfer to think his shot, to play safe or test his skill, and take that leap of faith. So they need to be seen as such, to be allowed to play upon the mind of the golfer.

Old Tom started playing golf because he loved the game and its challenges. He soon proved himself to be a first class golfer (remember the original courses were far more difficult than we play today). Also with ball and clubs which many a modern golfer would refuse to touch let alone play a round. Add to this his enrollment into the business of Allan Robertson allowed Old Tom to learn the ball and club side of the game. Yet the most important element of his

association with Allan was the introduction to the early designing and modifications of golf courses with the important side issue of understanding maintaining a course in good condition. While Allan Robertson may well be credited as the first course Designer/Architect, it was Old Tom through the combination of his playing, club & ball making, and green keeping skills that took the design, not just to the next stage but several more stages.

The Gutty ball gave golf that window of some 50 years of consistency allowing the clubs to be developed thus making golf into a fluid game. This was a Golden Age for the game of golf when the ball finally stabilised after nearly 500 years, the clubs being produced in conjunction with the ball, new rules formatted and real thought put into designing golf courses. Furthermore the first horse driven lawn mower, the early stages of building Greens with turf and also sowing grass seeds on parts of the fairways. Even simple inventions of pipes to keep the Hole open and the edges firm improved the quality of the Greens and thus the game.  Design requiring actual thought, expanding natural traps by utilising man made hazards like stone wall, railway tracks etc.

The game became more popular as well as affordable thanks to the gutty ball. Nevertheless golfs main draw was the sportiness of the new courses with their combination of hazards. Penal or strategic, no, I do not think that came into the equation. What mattered was the challenge, the sportiness of the course and the ability to navigate past all the traps without suffering the extra strokes to escape them.  Strategic is nothing without penal be it via incorporating
Nature or man made objects, but the underlying requirement is for challenging courses. However, the first thing the modern course owner or club offers is the easy option of riding instead of walking. Just where is the challenge in that, certainly, if you are fully fit and healthy? Take the cart and suffer a few strokes penalty may address the energy/fatigue equation, although I still am anti the idea of carts, it’s just not right, it’s not golf. The very heart of the challenge has been negated; one’s game compromised and one’s score worthless IMHO.

continued >