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Letter from Europe

A new tribute to 'Old Tom' is coming to St. Andrews

Old Tom Morris

Old Tom Morris at St. Andrews Fife in Scotland. Photo was taken by famous American golf course architect, A.W. Tillinghast. (Copyright Unknown/Courtesy USGA Archives)

A.W. Tillinghast

December 18, 2023

At least before driving the green became almost routine for elite players, the clock face on the side of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club clubhouse that sits directly behind the first tee has been hailed as the optimum line off the 18th tee on the Old Course at St. Andrews. In other words, a wee bit left of center and well away from the out-of-bounds fence that runs up the right side of golf’s most famous closing hole.

Well, that long-established bit of local knowledge may soon be about to change.

If all goes to plan, a slightly “braver” target a few yards to the right of the clock will be an option for players in the AIG Women’s Open next August. Led by the Old Tom Statue Project Group (the clue is in the title), a monument to commemorate four-time Open champion Old Tom Morris will, subject to planning permission from Fife Council, be in place on The Scores embankment to the rear of the R&A clubhouse.

“The genesis of the idea came about by accident,” says Ronald Sandford, chair of the TSPG. “There was a move afoot a few years ago to hold an annual ‘Old Tom Morris Golf Day.’ Two friends and I volunteered to represent the Crail Golfing Society and did so at places like Tain, Lossiemouth and, maybe 10 years ago, Rosapenna in Donegal. It was at Rosapenna that we came across a magnificent statue of Old Tom.”

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This statue of Old Tom Morris at Rosapenna in Donegal helped inspire the addition of a similar tribute in St. Andrews.

Alison McLaughlin Image Mill

On his return to St. Andrews, Sandford, an R&A member, found no shortage of like-minded individuals enthusiastic about a similar tribute being erected to the man who is still the oldest-ever Open champion. But it was not until 2019 that a firm plan emerged to have the statue in place in time for the 150th Open the following year. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed those plans, of course, but a paper written by Sandford meant the project moved from “bar chat” into the public domain.

“This project has proved support from nerds like me who are into golf history,” says local historian and author, Roger McStravick. “Heritage societies in America have been particularly enthusiast. Old Tom, of course, is something of a phenomenon. He died more than 100 years ago, but here we are still talking about him, almost as much as people did when he was alive. As golf was exploding in the late 19th century, he was seen as something of a guru. He was a remarkable man who designed or re-designed over 100 courses and was, at one time, the best golfer in the world.”

Another paper from Sandford last March saw further support for a statue coming from the local preservation society, community trust, tourism board and, most crucially, the St. Andrews Links Trust. Stanford’s initial thought that the figure, designed in bronze by local sculptor David Annand, at a cost in excess of £60,000, might be sited near the Himalayas putting course (designed by Old Tom) that sits to the right of the first green on the Old Course. Further discussion, however, concluded that such a spot might be too busy and cause too much disruption.

So on The Scores became the preferred option for what will be Annand’s latest venture into golf. The sculptor’s previous world includes a statue of John Rattray on Leith Links near Edinburgh, venue for what is thought to be the world’s first golf competition (won by Rattray, a member of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, who are now based at Muirfield).

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The Old Tom Statue Project Group is targeting a spot on The Scores to put the new addition.

“The statue of Old Tom will hopefully sit opposite the Scores Hotel at the foot of The Scores on St. Andrews Common Good land,” says Sandford, a retired navy man.’ “That is owned by the preservation society and the community trust. But our formal application will go to Fife Council. We will provide a graphic design of the sculpture and a photograph to help that process.”

The cost of the statue, which will be fired at Powderhall Foundry in Edinburgh, will be met by private donations, local charities and, it is hoped, golfers around the globe. Any surplus will be allocated to bodies with “an interest in golf history.”

“There is an inherent modesty in Old Tom,” Sandford says. “Look at his grave. It is marked by what is little more than a flat stone. In contrast, Young Tom’s right next door is like a shrine. So this recognition is timely and one we are hoping to unveil on the eve of the Women’s Open.”

Sized at 110 percent of Old Tom’s five-foot, six-inch height, the statue will have the great man looking directly at the R&A clubhouse, down the 18th fairway and towards his shop and house, all the while providing a new target off the final tee for the slightly more ambitious golfer.