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Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris: Pioneers of Golf and The Open

Unveiling the Remarkable Journey of Golf’s Early Legends and Their Enduring Impact on the Sport.

Allan-Robertson-And-Old-Tom-Morris-Pioneers-Of-Golf-And-The-Open
Allan Robertson

In the annals of golf history, few names carry as much weight and reverence as Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris. These legendary figures emerged during the mid-19th century when the sport was the domain of affluent gentlemen due to its high costs. Yet, it was Robertson and Morris who excelled as players and revolutionized the game through their craftsmanship, innovation, and unwavering dedication to their craft.

Allan-Robertson-and-Old-Tom-Morris-Pioneers-of-Golf-and-The-Open-Championship

Alan Robertson (Left)

Allan-Robertson-and-Old-Tom-Morris-Pioneers-of-Golf-and-The-Open-Championship

Alan Robertson (Left)

The Rise of Golf’s Early Professionals

In an era where golf was predominantly a pastime for the privileged, professionals like Allan Robertson sought to make a living from their expertise. Robertson, renowned for his exceptional skills, honed his craft in various aspects of the game. Whether playing high-stakes matches, serving as a caddie, crafting clubs and balls, or offering instruction, Robertson epitomized the all-around golf professional.

It was said that Robertson, known for his unyielding competitiveness, was never beaten individually in money matches. Some even speculated that he intentionally downplayed his abilities to level the playing field and minimize the odds given to opponents. In a grand challenge match in 1843, Robertson faced off against Willie Dunn, Sr., the widely recognized top player of the time. Over the course of 20 rounds played across ten days, Robertson emerged victorious, solidifying his status as the preeminent golfer.

Beyond his prowess on the course, Robertson’s craftsmanship was unparalleled. He created exceptional clubs and became the premier ballmaker of his time. His reputation extended far and wide, and collectors today prize golf balls bearing the coveted stamp of “Allan.”

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Allan-Robertson-and-Old-Tom-Morris-Pioneers-of-Golf-and-The-Open-Championship

Old Tom Morris

Old Tom Morris: A Legacy Forged in Apprenticeship

In Robertson’s shop, a young apprentice named Tom Morris began his remarkable journey in 1839. Morris, who joined the shop at the tender age of 18, quickly formed an indelible bond with his mentor. Together, they forged a partnership that would shape the course of golf history.

Morris, known for his extraordinary talent, would later become the first to defeat Robertson in a friendly match in 1843, earning a jacket as a symbol of his triumph. However, it was not in direct competition against each other that their partnership flourished. Robertson, recognized as the best player of the time, had the privilege of refusing challenges per the era’s customs. Instead, he chose Morris as his preferred playing partner.

Their collaboration extended beyond the golf course. Robertson and Morris worked together to improve the greens of the renowned Old Course at St Andrews, expanding their size to accommodate the sport’s burgeoning popularity. Their joint efforts in golf course design also created ten new holes at Carnoustie in 1842, laying the foundation for what would eventually become one of the world’s most prestigious courses.

guttie golf ball

The Guttie Ball

The Turmoil of Progress and Loss

As golf continued to evolve, so did the equipment used in the game. The introduction of the guttie ball, a more affordable and versatile alternative to featherie balls, marked a turning point. However, this innovation strained the relationship between Robertson and Morris.

Upon discovering Morris had played with the guttie ball, Robertson, loyal to the traditional featherie, sought to suppress its popularity. This disagreement ultimately led to the dissolution of their working relationship. Morris, recognizing the winds of change, decided to venture out on his own, setting up his workshop and embracing the guttie ball’s potential.

Morris’s decision to adapt to the changing times proved fortuitous. He moved to Prestwick in 1851, where he played a pivotal role in establishing a new golf course while serving as a professional and greenkeeper. The guttie ball revolutionized the sport, and the featherie business that had been the foundation of Robertson’s family enterprise for over two centuries faltered. Robertson, however, adapted quickly and began manufacturing guttie balls using gutta-percha, a liquid rubber sourced from Malaysia.

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Allan-Robertson-and-Old-Tom-Morris-Pioneers-of-Golf-and-The-Open-Championship

Allan Robertson (Center)

The Legacy of Allan Robertson

Tragically, Allan Robertson’s life was cut short a few months after he fell ill with jaundice. His untimely passing left a void in the golfing world, prompting Prestwick Golf Club to organize a competition in 1860 to determine the rightful heir to his title as the “Champion Golfer.” Today’s competition, known as The Open Championship, is a testament to Robertson’s extraordinary skills and enduring legacy.

Prestwick Golf Club

Prestwick Golf Club

Old Tom Morris and The Open Championship

Old Tom Morris, a skilled apprentice of Allan Robertson and a formidable golfer in his own right, played a pivotal role in the birth and early triumphs of The Open Championship. Morris struck the very first shot of the event in 1860 and claimed the championship title in 1861, 1862, 1864, and 1867. His unparalleled skill and remarkable victories at The Open Championship solidified his place in golfing history.

The Open Championship, now the oldest and longest-running golf championship, owes its origins to the incomparable talent and impact of Allan Robertson. The tournament, held annually since its inception, pays homage to the pioneers who shaped the sport. As a player and a craftsman, Robertson’s contribution to golf remains etched in the fabric of the game, while his memory lives on in the hallowed grounds of St Andrews Cathedral.

Open Championship

Looking Ahead: The 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club

As we celebrate the legacy of Robertson and Morris, the golfing world eagerly anticipates the 151st Open Championship. From July 16-23, 2023, the esteemed Royal Liverpool Golf Club in the United Kingdom will host the prestigious tournament. This historic event promises to showcase the world’s best golfers as they compete for the coveted Claret Jug, continuing the rich tradition established by Allan Robertson and the sport’s early pioneers.

As the countdown begins to this momentous event, we reflect on the indelible contributions of Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris, whose passion and dedication laid the foundation for the grand tradition that is The Open Championship. Their legacy lives on, inspiring generations of golfers to push the boundaries of the sport and leave their mark on golf’s storied history.

 

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