Born in St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, in 1821, Tom Morris was a four time Open championship winner, as was his son after him, and is widely considered as the father of golf as we know it today. With a career that began at age 14, when Morris was hired as an apprentice to the world’s first professional golfer, Allan Robertson, Morris’s innovations redefined the sport of golf.
One of the most notable contributions made by Morris was the standardization of the number of holes on a golf course. Morris cut back the holes of the Old Course in St. Andrews, still the most famous golf course in the world, from 22 to 18. “When you think that every golf course in the world is based on his design, on the 18 holes that he thought a golf course should be,” says Lisa Cameron of the St. Andrews Links, “and when you also consider the 54 million golfers globally, that is certainly a sizable contribution to the world.”
While Morris was not born into a wealthy family, golf was almost solely a pursuit for the upper classes. But new technologies for the production of golf balls in particular, meant Morris was able to provide these at a considerably lower price than ever before, opening up the sport so it was more accessible to the common man. With the number of golf brands that exist today, it is hard to imagine the sport without one, but Morris was the first person to brand the golf clubs and golf balls that he made.
Morris was also the first person in the world to single-handedly design and build, a golf course from scratch. Hired by Prestwick Golf Club, a new start-up 100 miles southwest from his childhood home and soon to be the birthplace of the world’s first Open Championship, Morris journeyed for two days to reach the opposite coast of Scotland to begin work on the new course. “The autumn/winter 2014 collection is inspired by that journey to Prestwick,” explains Cameron, “and the course is still there to this day, so our look book and our campaign images are all shot there on location, the final destination of a two day journey, over one and a half centuries ago.”
But the Tom Morris brand had all but disappeared. Tom Morris’s shop overlooking the Old Course where he sold his products, had been sublet and sublet for centuries, but did remain under family ownership. The store was selling tourist merchandise with no ties to Tom Morris or the Tom Morris family. When the lease on the shop ended, Tom Morris’s great great great great granddaughter did not renew with the renters. Instead she sought out the people at St. Andrews Links, a charitable trust that manages the grounds of these golf courses. “We were asked to help restore the legacy of the store and the Tom Morris brand; to protect the name and everything that was important to the family,” explains Cameron. “The obvious option would have been to create a golf line, dress golfers, and sell golf clothes, but we thought that given it is the oldest golf brand in the world, and given everything he achieved, we felt that there was so much more than just golf, it was about the innovation, the achievement, and the legacy. We felt that simply creating a performance fabric-based golf line wasn’t what we wanted to do, so we thought about what the brand meant to us, the Scottish roots, and the heritage. Using natural fabrics, and staying true to the brand’s Scottish heritage, we’ve created a collection that anyone can wear regardless of whether they golf or not; we’ve tried to tell a bit of Tom’s story but in a fashion-conscious way.”
The brand, currently sold at over 100 golf clubs, country clubs, and department stores, is still based in St. Andrews, and the flagship is still the original 721 sq. ft. Tom Morris shop. “We ripped out all the shop fixtures and fittings — previous tenants had just built on top of what was originally there — and we found the original stonework underneath, the original fireplace, and all these mementos that had been buried under floorboards and such for hundreds of years,” say Cameron. “We actually found his locker that he had when he worked here.” To put that into perspective one of Morris’s golf balls recently sold for £250,000 last year. “We have that locker merchandised in the shop,” explains Cameron. “There’s such a rich history there and that is our flagship store which must be one of the smallest shops in the world, but that’s what makes it such an amazing story.”