Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris

 

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Old Tom Morris on the left and Young Tom on the right

Two of the early pioneers of golf made their mark in Great Britain in the nineteenth century.  They just happened to be father and son—Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris.

Old Tom was born in St. Andrews, Scotland in 1821 and later became an apprentice to Allan Robertson in the city. Robertson is considered by golf historians to be the first professional golfer. He made balls stuffed with feathers and taught the skill to Morris. Legend has it that when the two played together against other golfers, they never lost. However, when the gutta percha ball came into being, this caused a permanent rift between the two men. Robertson steadfastly adhered to the feathery ball and wanted Morris to do the same, but Morris realized that the new ball would change the game for the better and moved to Prestwick Golf Links in 1849.

At Prestwick, Morris became the “greenskeeper.” Prestwick hosted the first British Open in 1860 and Morris finished second. However, Morris won four Opens in the decade—1861, 1862, 1864, and 1867.

Morris returned to St. Andrews in 1865 as the club’s greenskeeper, a position he held until 1904.  He also established a shop for making clubs near the 18th green. Today, the 18th green at St. Andrews is named in his honor.

Besides being known as a skillful keeper of the grounds, Morris designed or remodeled about 75 golf courses, including Pestwick, Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Royal County Down, Nairn, and Cruden Bay. In 1899, Morris had an apprentice groundskeeper by the name of Donald Ross, widely known as one of the best golf course designers in the history of golf.

Morris still holds two British Open records—oldest champion (age 46 in 1867) and largest victory margin (13 in 1862). He also participated in every Open through 1895. Old Tom Morris passed away in 1908, but he outlived his son by about 30 years.

Young Tom Morris was also born in St. Andrews, in 1851.  Many golf historians consider Young Morris the best golfer of his time. He trained under his father at Prestwick and beat his dad for the first time at the age of 13.  At 14 Young Morris played in the British Open for the first time and at 16 he won a professional tournament at Carnoustie.

Young Morris won his first British Open in 1868 at the age of 17.  He still holds the record for the youngest to win one of the four major championships –British Open, United States Open, the Masters, and the PGA Championship. Old Morris finished second, which marked the only time that a father and son finished first and second in any major event.

Young Morris captured the Open title again in 1869 and 1870. The winner of the Open during this period received a belt entitled the Challenge Belt. However, the rules stipulated that if anyone won the belt in three successive years then that person would permanently own the belt. Morris took the belt after his 1870 title, which left the Open with no prize to give out the next year. In fact, the Open did not take place in 1871 largely because officials could not decide on what to give the winner. For the 1872 Open, the officials came up with the Claret Jug, which is awarded to the Open champion to this day. Fittingly, Young Morris won the first Claret Jug in 1872.

Morris died on Christmas day in 1875 of an unknown ailment. Several months earlier his wife and baby died while she was giving birth. Many people at the time surmised that he died of a broken heart.

Both Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris are members of the World Golf Hall of Fame. They both played an integral role in the development of the game during the last half of the 19th century and laid the foundation for the game as it moved into the 20th century. So raise a pint in honor of two golf pioneers!

The Players Championship and TPC Sawgrass

 

 

Courtesy of Craig ONeal

Courtesy of Craig O’Neal

Professional golf split into two organizations in 1968: the PGA of America and the PGA TOUR.  Founded in 1916, the PGA of America consists of local club and teaching professionals at golf courses throughout the country.  This group focuses on growing the game of golf and working closely with amateurs.  Also, this organization oversees the PGA Championship each year.  The PGA TOUR operates as the organization for professionals who play in tournaments. It hosts almost 50 events each year and consists of the PGA Tour, the Champions Tour, and the Web.com Tour.  The PGA TOUR does not host one of the professional Majors:  the Masters, the British Open, the United States Open or the PGA Championship. The fact that the PGA TOUR hosted no signature event led to then-PGA TOUR commissioner Deane Beman’s brainchild:  the Tournament Players Championship.

Beman sought to have a championship for the PGA TOUR, much like the PGA Championship for the PGA.  Only recently split from the PGA of America, the PGA TOUR, according to Beman, needed to establish important events that would lure the television networks and the money they could provide.  The Tournament Players Championship became the first of such events.  Later, the World Series of Golf (currently, the WGC-Mexico in Mexico City, the Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, TX, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, OH, and the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China), Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament and Arnold Palmer’s Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge became PGA Tour mainstays.  All of these tournaments helped establish credibility for the PGA TOUR and attract much needed television revenue.

The Tournament Players Championship (TPC) teed off in 1974 at the Atlanta Country Club.  Jack Nicklaus won the inaugural tournament in early September and would win three out of the first five TPCs.  The event moved to the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas for 1975, then in 1976 to Inverrary Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The event moved to Sawgrass Country Club’s Oceanside Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida for a mid-March date in 1977 and remained there until 1982 when the Stadium Course at TPC at Sawgrass opened.

Before the construction of the Stadium Course, Beman envisioned a special and unique site for the Players Championship.  He believed the players of the PGA TOUR should own the event and the host site.  Beman sold his idea to landowners Jerome and Paul Fletcher, who liked it so much that they offered to sell 415 acres of wooded wetlands and swamp to the PGA TOUR for $1.  This land served as the basis for the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course.

Beman told Dye that he wanted a course that would favor no specific player or style of play.  The course had to be balanced; must contain a selection of short, medium and long holes within the categories of par-3s, par-4s and par-5s; and had to have right and left doglegs.  Also, the course must not have two consecutive holes played in the same direction so that wind direction would have a more balanced influence on the players.

Because the site was to be built on wetlands and amidst heavy woods, Dye created lakes for strategic play of a hole and for fill necessary to create contours of play and “stadium” mounding, according to TPC.com.  Spectator viewing became an integral part of Dye’s design. Strategic viewing areas lined the 1st and 10th tees and the 9th, 16th, 17th and 18th greens.  These mounds allowed thousands of spectators to have unobstructed views of play.

The famous 17th island hole came about by accident.  Dye originally designed the green near a small pond. However, constructors continually dug out valuable sand around the pond until the green was surrounded by water, and arguably the most famous par-3 hole in golf emerged.

The event changed its name to the Players Championship in 1988.  The event and TPC Sawgrass are indeed owned by the players and the tournament has the richest purse of any tournament on the PGA TOUR, $10 million in 2015.  The field consists of 144 players chosen by various criteria, including rankings, PGA TOUR victories and Majors titles.  Players can also receive invitations from the Players Championship Committee.  Winners of the Players Championship receive exemptions of five years on the PGA TOUR, three-year exemptions for the Masters and British Open, and an exemption for the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship later that year.

Beginning in 2007, the Players Championship moved from its March date to its current May date in a restructuring that accommodated the new FedEx Cup, which concludes with the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta in September.  Players now have a significant event for six consecutive months beginning in April (The Masters in April, The Players Championship in May, the U.S. Open in June, the British Open in July, the PGA Championship in August, and the Tour Championship in September).

The Players Championship has become known as golf’s fifth major because of its lucrative purse, exemptions and FedEx Cup points awarded (the same as the four Majors). TPC Sawgrass offers a challenging, yet fair, golfing experience for players of all levels, professional and amateur, while the course contains one of the most famous par -3s in golf, the 17th island hole.  It may have taken a few decades, but Beman and the PGA TOUR found their signature event.

 

 

A Brief History of Golf

 

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Millions of people play golf every day around the world. Young and old, men and women, enjoy the game that traces its roots as far back as 100 BCE in Rome. Through the magic of television, live streaming on the internet and other forms of media, people today see the majestic beauty of Augusta National, the ancient links of the Old Course at St. Andrews, the splendor of Pebble Beach or any one of the hundreds of courses on which today’s professionals showcase their super human skills. Certainly, golf course design, the technology, and the players have come a long way since the nascent years of the game. The following will examine some of the history behind the game of golf, specifically its development into what we know as golf today.

The earliest form of golf can be traced to ancient Rome where people played a game called paganica around 100 BCE. Players hit a stuffed leather ball with a bent stick. During the Song Dynasty (960 CE to 1279 CE) in China, participants played chuiw an, which was played with several clubs and a ball.

A 1261 manuscript of Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant referred to a game with a ball and club. The reference may have been to the Dutch game called colf or kolf during which four players hit balls over a certain distance with the winner being the one who reached the starting point of one of the other players. Some colf or kolf games lasted multiple days.

However, the modern game of golf can trace its roots to Scotland. In a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament, the game of gowf (golf) received its first mention. The Act prohibited the game because King James II saw it as a distraction from archery practice, necessary for the defense of the country.   Further mention of the game can be found in government documents in 1471 and 1491 banning the sport. By 1500, Scotland lifted all bans and within a couple of years King James IV purchased balls and clubs to play the game. At that time, balls were made of wood or hard leather while clubs were made of wood, mostly beech, holly, pear and apple. In 1724, various documents referenced balls stuffed with feathers.

Royalty provided the impetus for the spread of golf in Europe.  With King Charles I’s blessing, the game took root in England in the sixteenth century.  Mary Queen of Scots, while studying in France during this same period, introduced the sport there.  Interestingly, the term “caddie” comes from her French military aides, referred to as cadets.

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (HCEG) established the first rules of golf in 1744. Twenty year later, the Old Course at St. Andrews reduced its total holes from 22 to 18, establishing the format for today’s game.

By 1826, hickory, imported from the United States, became the wood of choice for club shafts in Great Britain. About 20 years later, the gutta percha ball became the ball of choice. The ball makers placed strips of gutta percha (dried sap from a Sapodilla tree) in boiling water then molded the ball by hand before submerging in cold water to harden it.

The first British Open Championship was played at Prestwick in 1860. The Royal Liverpool Golf Club established the British Amateur Championship in 1885–Hoylake hosted the first tournament.

Montreal established the first permanent golf club in North America in 1873, the Canada’s Royal Montreal Club, while in 1894 the United States Golf Association (USGA) was  formed in New York with five charter members—St. Andrew’s Golf Club of Yonkers, New York; Newport (Rhode Island) Golf Club; Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in South Hampton, New York; The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts; and the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois.  A year later, the Newport Country Club hosted the first United States Amateur Championship and United States Open.  The USGA maintains the official rules of golf for the United States and Mexico.

By 1900, persimmon became the wood of choice for club heads while aluminum became a popular alternative. Groove-faced irons, which promote increased backspin, entered the market two years later.  Around the same time, the rubber-cored Haskell ball joined the list of new equipment. This ball revolutionized golf because it traveled farther than the gutta-percha ball and cost much less to manufacture. Golf enthusiasm and participation soared to new heights. By 1910, 267 clubs claimed USGA membership.

In 1916, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) was  formed and the first PGA Championship took place at Siwanoy Country Club in New York. Five years later the British team won the first Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland. However, the United States team won the first Walker Cup in 1922 at Golf Links of America in Southampton, New York.

Golf technology continued to evolve and the Royal and Ancient (R&A), the recognized stewards of the rules of golf for everywhere except the United States and Mexico, accepted steel-shafted golf clubs for the first time in 1929. The next year, Bobby Jones became the only person to achieve the Grand Slam of golf with victories in the United States Amateur, the British Amateur, the United States Open and the British Open. Not long afterwards, Jones was instrumental in designing Augusta National Golf Club, where the first Masters took place in 1934. In 1939, the Royal and Ancient indoctrinated the 14-club rule to promote individual skill and to prevent golfers from using an inordinate amount of clubs.

Women shared the golf spotlight with the men beginning in 1932 when the United States team defeated the team of Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup at the Wentworth Club in Surrey, England.   The United States Women’s Open was staged for the first time in 1946 at Spokane Country Club in Washington and four years later the Ladies’ Professional Golfers’ Association (LPGA) was formed.

Since 1952 the R&A and the USGA have worked together to produce a common set of rules for golfers worldwide called the “Rules of Golf.”  The rules are revised every four years.

More equipment changes followed World War II. Influenced by research in synthetic and composite materials, golf club manufacturing changed. In 1963, the casting method for manufacturing club heads was introduced.  This new technology lowered the costs of golf clubs, which led to increased participation in the sport. Graphite shafts hit the market in 1973, which were lighter and stronger than steel shafts. TaylorMade introduced the first metal woods in 1979. Callaway owns the honor of the best-selling golf club in history, the Big Bertha, which hit the market for the first time in 1991.

Golf has a long and rich history. The game may have its roots as far back as ancient Rome and China. Certainly, the game as we know it today can be traced to Scotland in the fifteenth century. As the technology changed over the years and equipment costs fell, more and more people began to play the game. Arguably, it is the one sport that people can truly enjoy well into their later years in life.  Play the game once and you will probably be hooked. Just remember to yell “fore!” after an errant shot.

The Birth of the Masters

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For Bobby Jones, the time had come to retire from competitive golf in late 1930.  He had just completed the Grand Slam—United States Open, United States Amateur, British Open, British Amateur—and the strain of competing in major championships had taken a physical and mental toll on him.  Playing as an amateur, Jones won 13 major championships between 1923 and 1930 .  He was the overwhelming favorite in any tournament he entered.  Thousands of fans followed him from one hole to the next, and he wished he could just play golf somewhere with his friends, out of the spotlight.  So Jones announced his retirement at the age of 28 to shocked fans across the globe.  However, golf was still in his blood. A conversation over a drink with friend Clifford Roberts set in motion the wheels of destiny that would eventually lead to Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament.

Roberts had moved around the country while growing up and eventually became a Wall Street stockbroker.  The market crash of 1929 hit Roberts very hard, but his financial abilities would prove invaluable as Augusta National tried to become a viable and sustainable operation.  He and Jones had met in the 1920s through mutual friends.  While sharing a drink one day, Jones informed Roberts of his wish to build a golf course in the South that would reflect Jones’ golf values—the course must be strategic and full of options for players of all skill levels.  Roberts suggested that Jones look in Augusta, Georgia for land.  For several decades, Augusta had served as a winter destination for wealthy northeasterners.  Roberts had been a part of some of these groups and believed these people could form the core of a national membership for the new club.  Jones had visited Augusta on numerous occasions and liked the thought of a private club in that city in part because the climate was warmer in Augusta during the winter months than Atlanta, which would allow more playing opportunities and better course conditions.  Roberts told Jones he would work with Jones on making his dream a reality, but only if Jones agreed to allow Roberts to handle all of the financing for the project.  Jones wholeheartedly agreed.

In the spring of 1931, Thomas Barrett, the vice president of the Bon-Air-Vanderbilt Hotel in Augusta, suggested a piece of property to Roberts that could be converted into Jones’ course.  The 365-acre property turned out to be the old Fruitland Nurseries, which had ceased operations in 1910.  The Berckmans family bought an old indigo plantation and turned it into a nursery in the 1850s.  The family imported trees and plants from all over the world, including the azalea plant.  The property, mainly because of the Depression, could be bought very cheaply.  Jones stated in Golf Is My Game (Doubleday & Co.:  New York, 1960), that when he first saw the property it was an “unforgettable” experience and further declared, “It seemed that this land had been lying here for years just waiting for someone to lay a golf course upon it.  Indeed, it even looked as though it were already a golf course.”  With Jones’ blessing, Barrett and Roberts handled the financing for the purchase of the property.

With the property secured, Jones needed to decide on a designer for the course.  Jones wanted someone who shared his values on the game of golf.  Alister MacKenzie sent a book he wrote to Jones in 1927 entitled Golf Architecture Economy in Course Construction and Green-Keeping (Originally published in 1920.  Republished by Coventry House Publishing: Dublin, OH, 2017).  Jones remembered that the book detailed similar views to his on how a golf course should be designed (the book is on display today at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta).  MacKenzie believed that a course should preserve all natural beauty and emphasize strategy as well as skill. He also thought that a course should be challenging and interesting for golfers of all skill levels.  Clearly, Jones and MacKenzie shared a common vision.

MacKenzie, a Scotsman, became a golf course designer after practicing medicine and serving as a civil surgeon for the British Army in two wars.  The Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews hired MacKenzie as a consultant for the Old Course in the 1920s.  He came to California in the mid-1920s where he was commissioned to design Cypress Point Golf Course near Pebble Beach Golf Links.  Not long after, Pebble Beach management hired MacKenzie to re-design the eighth and 13th greens.  He was next commissioned to design Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz.

In 1929, Jones headed to California to play in the United States Amateur held at Pebble Beach.  He went out early to play several of the courses in the state, and one of those was MacKenzie’s Cypress Point.  After Jones was upset in the first round of the U.S. Amateur, he decided to play Cypress Point one more time.  On this occasion Jones spoke with MacKenzie about course design.  Jones then played Pasatiempo, where Jones gained further appreciation for MacKenzie’s talent.

With these memories etched into his head, Jones knew that MacKenzie was the man to design Augusta National.  After a meeting at the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York, MacKenzie agreed to a formal offer of $10,000 to design Augusta National.  Roberts helped secure some funding for the course construction.  With Jones’ input, MacKenzie began the design of Augusta National in 1931.  The course was completed in less than two years with the formal opening in January 1933.  With the suggestion from one of the Berckmans, distinctive trees and flowers were planted on each hole of the new course.

After MacKenzie made several requests for payment after the completion of the project, Roberts finally gave him $2,000.00 to appease him, but MacKenzie never received the money originally agreed to in New York.  He died at his home on Pasatiempo in 1934.

Augusta National struggled financially after the course opened.  Getting members to join became a problem.  Grantland Rice, the famous sportswriter, agreed to become a member and recruit others. Finally, Roberts and Jones came up with the idea to host a golf tournament in order to raise much needed capital.  Originally, they thought of bringing the United States Open to Augusta National but that idea dissipated because of scheduling conflicts and Augusta’s summer heat.  So Roberts and Jones decided to host their own tournament.  As a means to attract participants and to lend credibility to the event, Jones agreed to participate.  The city of Augusta gave $10,000 to support it.

The first Augusta National Invitation Tournament took place in the spring of 1934.  Horton Smith won the inaugural event while Jones finished 13th.  Jones, Roberts and all involved deemed the tournament a success.  The next year, the tournament gained more notoriety when Gene Sarazen scored a double eagle on the par five 15th hole in the final round to force a play-off with Craig Wood.  Sarazen defeated Wood the next day for the victory.

Through the diligence of Roberts, increased membership and the income from the tournament, Augusta National’s finances stabilized in the coming years.  The Club would become the viable and sustainable organization that it is known as today.

Roberts unofficially called the tournament the Masters in the early years but that moniker did not become official until 1939.  The tournament became a success because of the work of Roberts and Jones.  Early April became the ideal time of year for the event.  The beauty of the trees and flowers that lent their names to the 18 holes was magnificent that time of year.  Moreover, recognition from the national baseball writers could be garnered in early April as they made their way North after spring training in Florida.  Many of them stopped in Augusta for a brief respite, the Masters tournament, and the hospitality of Roberts and Jones.  Additionally, no other major golf event occupied the calendar during that time of year.  All of these factors helped establish Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters as the golf venue and event known universally as golf’s finest!