Experience the thrill and the pleasure of playing one of the many courses designed by the ‘grandfather of golf’
By Chris Johnston
THE life of Old Tom Morris, the ‘grandfather of golf’, has been immortalised in every form down the years. It was even recently re-told on the silver screen, with the release of Tommy’s Honour, a film about the relationship between him and his son ‘Young Tom’.
Shot in Scotland and directed by Jason Connery - son of the iconic Sir Sean - the film has garnered widespread critical acclaim since its world premiere at last year’s Edinburgh Film Festival.
It is entirely appropriate that Old Tom - or, more formally, Thomas Mitchell Morris Snr - should be the subject of a movie. Few men, either before him or since, have wielded as much influence over the game of golf, and it is an influence that endures to this day in the shape of his many magnificent courses.
Prior to his retirement in 1904 at the age of 83, Old Tom either designed or remodelled approximately 60 different layouts. Relative to other golf course architects, that’s not a particularly deep portfolio – but it’s the quality rather than the quantity that makes Old Tom’s courses so special.
Take Prestwick, for example. Morris moved across the country to Ayrshire from St Andrews in 1851 to take up the position of ‘Keeper of the Greens’. He laid out and maintained the original 12-hole course, before returning to St Andrews, after which the final six holes were added. Testament to the enduring quality of Morris’ layout is the fact that much of his original design remains in play.
Further up the west coast, Machrihanish is another fine example of Morris’ design genius. A rugged, exposed links, it is a magnificent test which is home to arguably the finest opening hole in Scottish golf. Named ‘The Battery’, it requires a tee shot that carries the lapping waters of the Atlantic Ocean to reach the fairway. It perfectly sets the tone for what is a magnificent round of golf.
For proof that Morris could turn his hand to parkland tracks as well as links, look no further than the unique King James VI Golf Club in the heart of the historic city of Perth. Founded in 1858 at South Inch, the club relocated to its current home on Moncreiffe Island in 1897, where it has the distinction of being the country’s only self-contained course on a river island. For that reason alone, it’s well worth checking out.
Likewise, Kirkcaldy Golf Club is home to a charming, inland Old Tom course. Truly one of Fife’s ‘hidden gems’, it is unquestionably one of the country’s top parkland layouts, providing stunning views over the Firth of Forth and the surrounding countryside. Watch out for the eighth. A driveable par-4, with a burn running all the way down its right hand side, it is surely one of the finest holes ever designed by Old Tom.
Further north, towards Aberdeen, you’ll find Tarland, a terrific nine-hole course. Designed by Old Tom in the early 20th century, it is a tranquil layout where the local wildlife - buzzards, deer and the like - put in regular appearances. It comes very highly recommended indeed.
Down into England, why not stop in at Dewsbury District? Located in West Yorkshire, its original nine-hole layout was designed by Old Tom before being extended and reworked by Ted Ray, Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas at various times through its history. You’ll love it.
A special mention, too, for Royal North Devon. Sometimes referred to as Westward Ho!, it has the distinction of being the oldest course in England. It promises ‘pure raw exhilaration and, ultimately, the experience of playing a fast running links in a stiff breeze’ - and it delivers every single time. Regarded by many as the ‘St Andrews of the South’, it is a magnificent place not just to play but to visit, with its clubhouse a veritable treasure trove of golf history, artefacts and silverware. It is an essential part of any ‘Old Tom Trail’.
So, don’t just watch the story of Old Tom on the big screen - live it on the fairways he left behind.