5 - Old Tom Morris plays in his 31st Open 1895


Young Tom Morris marries Meg Drinnen, a surprise choice

As the leading athlete of the day, Young Tom was highly visible and in demand. In those days, that meant constant exhibition matches versus all comers arranged by promoters primarily interested in the accompanying betting action. Unlike his father, Tom Jr. displayed the grace and charm of his upper class, private school upbringing during these matches, which further increased his already high popularity due to his on course success. And while no athlete then became wealthy, Tom was doing well financially since each match did have a purse. So he really was unique among his fellow professional golfers – well off, refined, and beloved by both the masses and the privileged classes. Clearly, he would have had many options for companionship and marriage.

His choice to marry Meg Drinnen in November 1874, however, raises some questions. She was 30, had a child outside of wedlock, came from a humble background and was working as a local house servant. This was an unexpected choice for the most eligible bachelor in Victorian Scotland with very religious, Bible-reading-and-quoting parents (especially Dad). Old Tom was clearly upset, and actually did not attend the wedding. This must have made headlines. What was Tom thinking?

Some whispered she trapped him with liberal affections. He would not be the first to succumb to this plan of attack. And she had clear motivations given her lowly status -   maybe she was merely a nineteenth century groupie or gold digger. However, wanting a way out of pedestrian life can hardly be strongly condemned. 

Maybe she was just good company. Tom was likable and affable, and he surely enjoyed being around lively, fun loving people. The thought of marrying one of his parents’ choices probably left him with a sick stomach, as they would be prim, proper, and religious, but also likely dull and self-righteous. Meg was religious, and had gone through a difficult penance period after her child’s birth to clear her and her child’s name and standing in the church. But those who have fallen and repented are generally much more pleasant to be around than those who deceptively feel they have never really sinned.

Or maybe this was another Matt Damon-type move. Celebrities who really do not enjoy their fame and visibility will almost always marry someone from a completely different walk of life, someone very much out of the spotlight. There is refuge in being with someone very “normal,” who is not mesmerized by the bright lights and prominence, or in constant pursuit of them.  Meg would be Tom’s escape to reality and every day life. 



Meg and Tom tragically die months apart  

10 months after their marriage, Meg and Tom were expecting their first child in September 1875.  The timing of this child, in the days before the timing could more easily be managed, suggests restraint during courtship, so a solid knock against the first theory above. And unlike today, immediate children would naturally have been the expectation, casting a different color on any marriage consideration.

At that time, promoters wanted to stage a 36 hole contest in North Berwick, across the Firth or sea inlet from St. Andrews, against the Morris’ fierce rivals – the Parks. Willie had been a bur in their saddle for years, starting with winning the inaugural Open at Prestwick in 1860. Talk about a party crasher. It was Old Tom’s idea and tournament, and Willie wins? He had won twice more by 1875, and his horribly-named brother Mungo had won in 1874. Willie and Mungo sound more like evil twins in a Pixar movie than championship golfers. From all accounts, they were aptly named.  Willie was a screeching self-promoter and an aggressive, overbearing player, a combination prone to capture headlines but few fans. He was the anti-Tom Jr. So when Tom and Tom had yet another chance to play Willie and Mungo, they jumped at the chance. Especially since they lost last year’s match. 

It is said Tom had reservations about leaving his wife so close to childbirth, but men were much more removed from the whole process back then. He probably thought he would be doing little but pacing and waiting if the baby did come while he was away, and he would be back in three days in any event. And this was a chance to beat and muzzle the Parks for a while. The scales were tipping towards going. It is very unlikely any woman in a similar situation would have made the same choice. Another exhibit confirming men and women are different, and that women generally operate on a higher plane.  Sigh. 

The Morrises and Parks were all square after 34 holes. With just two holes left, a messenger breathlessly arrives at the tee with an urgent telegram for Tom from Meg. “Come home now.” He does not know she has started labor, and is bleeding uncontrollably. He must have been very concerned and assumed his wife was in labor, but then does another typically male calculation:  there’s no train for a few hours, there’s only two holes left, and they would forfeit the 25 pounds ($825 in today’s dollars) and bragging rights for the year.  Plus, no way Dad would support me leaving now. I need to stay and finish. Again, hard to see a female doing the same decision tree.

They win the match, and to his credit, Tom does not wallow in the win, but urgently tries to figure out how to get back to St. Andrews faster. A train still won’t leave for a few hours to make the 6 hour trip back. A spectator steps forward, and offers to sail across the Firth of Forth. (Firth?  A great British word, up there with nil and mull.) They arrive at about 1 am after hours sailing in pitch black, and meet Old Tom’s second oldest son James at the dock. He first tells Dad, who then tells Tom the horrific news – both Meg and baby boy are dead. A second telegram with this news had actually reached North Berwick just after they took off in the boat, but the townspeople mercifully kept it to themselves instead of shouting it out to the boat. 

Your wife and child die within a year of marriage? My goodness. Tom was barely functioning for days after this, and Old Tom had to take care of signing the death registry and arranging the funeral. He started drinking heavily. Others kept encouraging him to play golf, to help take his mind off of a new life cut short, and he did play several matches over the next few months despite the worsening weather. 

On Christmas Eve 1875, Tom came and talked to his sick mother Nancy for a while, and said goodnight to his dad before turning in. He died in his sleep, and had a small stream of blood coming out of his mouth. The doctors concluded it was a pulmonary embolism, which meant an artery burst and filled his lungs with blood, which caused him to drown. He finally succeeded in drowning his sorrows, and reuniting with his wife and child.    

As a public and beloved persona, the town donated a large memorial for Tom for the St. Andrew’s cathedral cemetery, shown here. His epithet reads:

Deeply regretted by numerous friends and all golfers

He thrice in succession won the champion’s belt

And held it without rivalry and yet without envy

His many amiable qualities

Being no less acknowledged than his golfing achievements



Lore moment:  Old Tom plays in his 31st Open

Some say Young Tom died of a broken heart. Old Tom said if this was the case, he would have also died. This was like Earl losing Tiger, Elin and Sam. And he didn’t know how much more grief would come his way. His wife Nancy died the next year, and he lived 32 years as a widower. His remaining three children all died before him between 1893 and 1906. For such a religious person, he had to ask more than once what was the purpose and reason for such trials.

The admirable and incredible reality is he kept going in the face of one funeral after another. He skipped the 1875 Open, the year of Tom and Meg’s death, but continued to play in almost every Open until his last in 1895. He continued to care for and refine St. Andrews, designed many other courses around the UK, and mentored and influenced others that would go on to spread the game to the US and beyond. His ability to keep going in a productive, busy life is astonishing.  Where did the inner strength and resolve come from? Believers would say it was his faith in the divine and infinite, but wouldn’t such a belief “earn” less trials from a loving Creator? What’s the point of faith then?

Old Tom gives us a hint of his view. Later in life, when asked how he made it through his many trials, he said being gloomy was a bit of a sin because it suggested we know the Lord’s business better than He does. So somehow, he believed and trusted that his challenges were for his benefit and learning, not as a punishment for misdeeds or sins. That’s a much deeper than normal faith, so then the question is how is it developed, especially since it seems to be so rare.  Adversity usually neuters faith, not strengthens it. But maybe those with the most faith need the most difficult trials to reach their full potential.

Old Tom died in 1908 while making a wrong turn in the St. Andrews clubhouse. He fell down some stairs to the cellar instead of turning into the bathroom, and died instantly. He was spared the challenge of declining health and a prolonged illness before his death. Maybe the heavens felt he had suffered enough, and it was time to come home for a joyful family reunion.                


4 - Young Tom Morris wins a third Open in a row 1870


The original Tiger

1850 was the year everything turned on its head for Tom Morris. Besides being unfairly let go by his employer Allan Robertson, the head golf pro at St. Andrews (read more in "Old Tom returns to St. Andrews" post below), he and his wife Nancy lost their first child Tom. After moving across Scotland to Prestwick to become head pro and build a golf course, Tom and Nancy had another child they also named Tom in 1851. With infant mortality rates around 22% at that time, it is understandable why parents would reuse a name after a baby's death. These rates remained at this level until the turn of the century, when they would dramatically drop to 10% in a very short time. They are <1% today in First World countries.  

Young Tom had a very different upbringing than his father. He was not hired out as an apprentice at a young age, and didn't even work in his father's ball and club making shop. He also attended an expensive, prestigious private school in town - Ayr Academy. Since it seems very unlikely, given his strong religious background, that Old Tom was living beyond his means, the Prestwick job paid well. He must have had some glowing references from the member at St. Andrews who secured him the post after his dismissal. 

With easy access to a top notch course along with proper instruction and plenty of encouragement from Dad, Young Tom became an accomplished player at a young age.  One strength was he kept the ball in play. While long off the tee, he kept some power in reserve to minimize misses. He was also a creative shot maker, being the first to shape shots and hit high pitch shots (instead of low bump-and-runs) onto greens. He could putt for dough too - a golf historian wrote Tom missed fewer short putts than any other player he had seen. Supreme under pressure, and a gallery favorite with a pleasant, engaging personality, Tom was the complete player and person. In a different era, he too would have been a global star with a billion dollars in endorsement money. Hopefully, he would not have also been chased down his driveway by his wife swinging a golf club.


Lore moment:  Young Tom wins a third Open in a row

Young Tom first beat his dad in 1864 when he was 13. Since Old Tom was a fierce (but fair) competitor and accomplished player, this was not "let the boy win to build his self esteem." Young Tom then played in his first Open the next year. Wow. From beating Dad on a Saturday to teeing it up with the best in the game. Given his dad, there may have been raised eyebrows at junior being let in the field. But he held his own, and then finished ninth and fourth the next two years to show he belonged. He also won his first tournament against an Open-like field at Carnoustie in 1867 when he was 16. Results were beginning to match the potential.

Old Tom won his fourth and final Open, at age 56, in 1867. In his second Open win in 1862, Old Tom won by 13 strokes, the largest winning margin in major history until Tiger's 15 in the 2000 US Open. Asterisk alert:  there were only eight golfers in the field. The baton was then seamlessly passed to Young Tom, who won his first Open in 1868 at 17 (with a hearty ten in the field), still a record for youngest major winner. He also sank a hole-in-one, the first in recorded tournament history. Like the previous eight Opens and the next two, this one was played at Prestwick, so one pair of golfers had a clear local knowledge advantage that they successfully exploited.

 Showing his win was no fluke, Tom then won the next two Opens in 1869 and 1870. He was the first to break 160 in '68 and '69, and then broke 150 in '70. These odd scores came from the Open consisting of three rounds on the 12 hole Prestwick course, all played in a day. The Open was eventually doubled to its modern 72 holes in 1892.

With him lapping the field, the Tiger similarities never seem to end. One difference is the winner of the early Opens got to wear the Championship belt for the year - shown above around Tom's waist, and in the photo below. Maybe this is where boxing and rodeos got the idea. And how cool would a Masters' belt be instead of a jacket?


Interestingly, the belt could be permanently won - if someone won it three times in a row, they could keep it. Perhaps this is the best they could do in an era before prize money. And like a hole-in-one contest or a half-court basketball toss, they were probably not expecting anyone to ever do it. Tom did, and it sent such shock waves they did not hold the Open in 1871 for lack of a trophy. Really? They couldn't come up with something in the ensuing year?   


Claret Jug arrives to save the Open.  Sort of.

When the Open resumed in 1872, there was a new trophy and a new tournament format. The Open would now rotate among three clubs - Prestwick, St. Andrews, and Edinburgh - who would share in the expense and hassle of hosting the tournament, and also contribute prize money. Ah. So the missing Open of 1871 seems to be a lock-out with which the modern fan is all too familiar. The Prestwick members, and perhaps also Old Tom, pitched their plan to share costs as well as grow the Open to the other clubs. They likely felt their best leverage was to threaten to cancel the Open if the others didn't reach an agreement. It didn't work, and the 1872 Open was soon also at risk. Sigh. Not sure who wins in these cancellations, but it's surely not the players or the fans. Without many of either of these in those days, however, there was even less incentive to reach a compromise.

It is even more appalling when considering the amounts involved. The total prize money was under $50 in today's dollars, and would remain that low for the next twenty years. The Claret Jug cost about a grand. So they cancel the Open for about a thousand dollars. Nice. And from what we know about Old Tom, he was almost certainly against the cancellation. Thanks members.

 Agreement was finally reached in time to stage the 1872 Open, but this was eleventh hour stuff as Prestwick was once again the host, and the pledged Claret Jug was not yet available to award to the winner. Young Tom won his fourth in a row. Surprisingly, it was the last Morris Open championship. More on why in the next post. But it is very fitting the first name inscribed on the Claret Jug, done after the event, is Tom Morris. A great tribute to both father and son of the same name. 


3 - Old Tom Morris returns to St. Andrews 1865


Allan Robertson fires Tom Morris

Tom Morris was born in St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1821.  In his early teens, he became a champion street golfer, knocking a ball around the town's thoroughfares. Only the very wealthy could afford to play golf on a course. 

In 1835 when Tom was fourteen, his family used a connection to apprentice him ("sell him") to the head pro at St. Andrews Links - Allan Robertson (below). They signed a contract for 9 years: four as an apprentice, and five as a journeyman. No upfront bonus or option year.


Tom's job was to work in Allan's golf ball workshop at St. Andrews. They produced a ball called a feathery, which had been the standard ball in golf since the 1600s. Strips of cowhide were cut into two figure eight pieces like those used in making a baseball, and stitched together. A top hat full of goose feathers was boiled down into a slimy substance, stuffed into the ball, and sewed shut. After drying for a couple of days, the feathers would expand and harden, and the ball would be painted with three coats of white paint. The name "Allan" would be stamped on the finished product, making it the swoosh of the day. Typically, a ballmaker made 3 balls a day. Allan's shop produced about 2,500 a year.       


By 1850, Old Tom still worked for Allan. Over the years, Allan had taken Tom out to the course and taught him the game, likely to see if he had any talent that he could exploit. Tom became an accomplished player, and Allan and him formed an unbeatable team called "the Invincibles," winning virtually every betting match they played. Tom had also married Nancy Bayne and had a child, Tom Jr.  

At this time, a new type of ball began showing up called the gutta percha. Made of rubber, it was cheaper and more durable, and a threat to Allan's ball business. While he couldn't prevent it being played on St. Andrews, he forbid any of his employees to use it.  

One day while playing a friendly round with a member, Tom ran out of featheries. His playing partner gave him a gutta percha to finish his round. Allan somehow saw Tom playing the offensive ball, and fired Tom on the spot. After 15 years of employment, and dozens of winning matches where he kept almost all the winnings! Given his gamesmanship and fiery temperament over the years, it was not surprising what Allan did. This didn't less the blow.

Later that year, Tom Jr. died. He was only four years old. 1850 was a cruel, harsh year.   


Tom wins the Open.  Twice.

A kind St. Andrews member secured a greenskeeper job for Tom at Prestwick, a newly formed golf club on the other side of Scotland on its western shore. It was so new, it didn't yet have a course, just some land where people randomly hit balls. Tom and his wife Nancy moved there in early 1851.

Tom set up his own ball and club making shop, and set out to design the course. As Prestwick was one of the first courses to ever be deliberately designed, Tom picked up this valuable new skill on the job. He not only thought about the strategic elements of a hole and routing, but also developed innovative construction and maintenance methods.  

Amazingly, Tom began to play again with Allan Robertson. Was he just a very forgiving man given his deep religious beliefs? Or was he shrewd enough to understand his chances of winning were best with Allan? Nancy could not have been very pleased, despite them beating all comers during the 1850s. There was considerable debate during this time who was the best player. Sure, Tom and Allan were a great pair, but which one was the best? Or was it someone else like Willie Park, whom they had many great matches? Tom and the Prestwick golfers proposed a new championship to decide this - the Open. It was first held at, naturally, Prestwick in 1860. Eight golfers participated. Willie won, and claimed the championship belt - the first award before the later Claret Jug. 



While Willie winning was not a complete shock, it was a minor upset since he was so young. However, Tom restored order, and won the belt the next two years, and also again in 1864. As champion golfer, with three children (including another Tom Jr.), and with financial and critical success at Prestwick, Tom had made a very nice recovery from the calamities of 1850.


Lore moment:  Tom returns to St. Andrews

Allan Robertson died in 1859. He still had not been replaced by 1864. So the St. Andrews members voted to lure Tom back from Prestwick to take his place with a salary of 50 pounds for his greenskeeper role, a home, plus all he could make from ball and club making and lessons. Some members were outraged - they had paid Allan nothing for the greenskeeper job. Perhaps Tom had become as skilled in negotiations as he had in his golf career. Or maybe this was the real reason he kept playing with Allan - to keep him top of mind with the St. Andrews members. Old Tom was not just the original golf course designer, but one of the first networkers of the modern age.  

Tom and Nancy and family returned to St. Andrews in late 1864, and took up the post in early 1865. Leaving under a cloud of anxiety, doubts, and perhaps self pity, this return must have been particularly satisfying as he returned to old friends and extended family who knew he had been unjustly dismissed. But what deepened this feeling was he seemed to come back without the scarring emotional baggage of revenge and anger given his continued playing relationship with Allan Robertson. In fact, the key lesson may be challenges and tragedies often lead to new opportunities that would not open up without an unexpected change of direction. Ironically, Tom may never have developed the skills and reputation to secure this position without him being sadly sent on his way years before. And when you nobly accept unjust circumstances, life often will square the ledger later. Good things happen to good people.



2 - Reverend Paterson invents the gutta percha ball 1848


Featheries replace wooden balls

Most historians consider golf as we know it to have developed in the 15th century in Scotland, with shepherds hitting objects around with their crooks. They soon developed clubs and wooden balls to use instead. While a golf ban in 1457 by King James II is the first time golf appears in recorded history, the first golf ball mention is John Daly using a wooden ball in 1550. He was long off the tee with a great short game, but his personal life was a mess. Not really. But what are the odds of another John Daly surfacing in the mists of golf history? 

The wooden ball was used for a couple hundred of years until the beginning of the 17th century. A mishit with a modern soft ball stings - thinning a wooden ball must have produced screams. But who would admit it in the days of hand to hand combat, amputated limbs, and surgery without anaesthetics? It's unpredictable flight alone must have caused some to think about a better ball design. But this was not the age of Moore's Law, so innovation limped along.            


A new ball finally did appear on the scene in 1618, and comfort was probably a key motivation because soft royalty were now playing golf and not just tough shepherds. It was called a feathery - the name coming from the hatful of goose feathers that were boiled and stuffed into a leather cover. But this name may also have been an attempt by trembling subjects to assure their screaming rulers they had met the challenge of a more playable, forgiving ball, especially since the finished product was still quite hard after drying and painting. They likely anticipated the raised eye brows when they first unveiled their new product.  

Fortunately, any concerns quickly disappeared after a test drive. The new ball flew twice as far as a wooden one, and could be hit up to 200 yards. Wow. While the comfort improvement may have been minimal, the better performance was jaw dropping. Greenskeepers must have been sent scrambling. Tiger-proofing was child's play in comparison to feathery-proofing.  


Featheries' flaws fuel unrest

A ball with extreme distance and better feel surely had immediate high market demand. And amazing staying power, as the feathery became the standard golf ball for the next 200 hundred years. Apple would kill for that product life cycle. Maybe the real reason product innovation lagged is the manufacturers resisted it. This new high performance ball had a very nice feature - low durability. Besides losing their shape fairly quickly, the ball also fell apart fast in inclement weather. Golfers needed to constantly restock their inventory. There's a reason there are not indestructible tires or shoes. 

Also, the balls were labor intensive to produce with expensive raw materials, so they carried a high price tag. In the mid 19th century, this ball cost about $8 a piece in today's dollars, but the average income was only $2,500. So in relative terms, that's about $400 a ball for today's income levels. You would definitely spend more than 5 minutes looking for this ball if you hit it into the woods.  

It's not hard to see why the ball makers were happy. But even back then, this was a risky strategy. They were creating a large number of unhappy customers. 


Lore moment:  Reverent Paterson invents the gutta percha ball

Not surprising, innovation finally came from a place familiar to our modern world - a college campus. One disgruntled golfer was a student at St. Andrews University, Robert Adams Paterson, who was preparing to enter the ministry. It was hard to live across the street from the home of golf on a college student's budget and not be able to play very much. Especially since it wasn't the greens fees that kept him off the course, but being unable to afford ammo. Searching through gorse in off hours looking for strays was a painful, last resort option to be avoided if at all possible. And a future man of the cloth would not stoop to thievery.  What else could he use as a ball in the days before synthetic materials? 



The inspiration for a new ball came from an unlikely place. When unpacking an idol he had purchased from the Orient, the packing material seemed to hold some promise. It was a rubber-like material that was moldable when heated a bit, and then would nicely harden. He hand rolled some into golf ball size, let sit overnight, and headed out to the course to see how they did. He was on to something. The balls went almost as far as a feathery, and were more accurate and longer lasting. And of course, it was hard to beat the price.    


The packing material was gutta percha, a natural latex made from the sap of the Sapodilla family of trees found in tropical areas including the Malay peninsula. Newly introduced to the West, gutta percha became the primary insulator for telegraph wires. It is still widely used in dentistry today as a body-friendly filler. Plastic wood for the mouth.  

The first gutta percha balls - gutties - were smooth and black. Players then discovered they flew farther and truer after a few rounds when they had several nicks and cuts, so they started adding these to new balls  Later, they were painted white, probably for better visibility, and manufacturers started adding their name.  

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A final change was adding dimples, which initially were raised instead of the current recessed pattern. Shortly after introduction, gutties were also being produced in molds, either by hand or later by machines, were further improved their consistency and spherical shape.


The Haskell ball of 1898 (below) marked the end of the solid gutta percha ball fifty years after its introduction. This ball had a rubber thread wound around a solid rubber core with a gutta percha cover. Distance was its key selling point - it flew twenty yards farther than a guttie. The arms race continues to our day. The modern solid core ball replaced the wound ball around the turn of the 21st century, dashing the fun all kids had in opening a ball and throwing it around to unwind the rubber thread strung around the center.  And also the thrill and fear of opening the then liquid filled core, which would either explode or contained poison, two prevalent but untrue myths.   


Why golf balls fly farther with dimples seems counterintuitive. Shouldn't a smooth ball be able to cut through the air better and go farther? As seen below, a smooth ball does cut through the air better, but this creates a larger wake behind it, which increases drag. The higher friction caused by the dimples actually holds the air on to the ball for a little longer, which creates a smaller wake and less drag. This effect is much larger than the higher initial resistance caused by the dimples. Still seems odd. And likely a guess - no one really knows why an airplane flies either. Forget this before every flight, however.     


One question is how did golf come to adopt the guttie? As a religion student, Robert likely shared his new ball with all comers, and did not think about protecting his idea or creating a business. This wasn't his skill set or his inclination. He at least secured credit for his new ball if not any of the profits.    

A remaining question is why did Bob buy an idol? This required great effort in the days before Cyber Monday. Perhaps he wanted to make a splash with a visual aid for his comparative religion class, or maybe the frat house was looking a little bare. He may have been searching and going through a period of doubt as he was about to commit his life to religious service. Or maybe he simply felt inspired to buy it, and followed this feeling even though it made no logical sense to him. Perhaps heaven knew he was the type who would follow such a odd, out-of-place thought, and therefore crafted the path for him to end up in St. Andrews in the first place. But this then begs a more puzzling question - do the heavens really care about golf? Are they that involved in the details of life, and in the seemingly meaningless details like a leisure activity?


1902 New York Times

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1 - James IV becomes an outlaw golfer 1502


James II and James III ban golf 

James II (below) was crowned king of Scotland in 1437 at the age of six when his father James I was assassinated, but he was then prevented from assuming the throne by royal rivals since he was not eighteen. Until then, there were many attempts to wrest the crown away. His charming queen mother foiled a key group of conspirators by inviting them to Edinburgh Castle for a friendly dinner, and then beheaded them in what became known as "the Black Dinner." Black tie; lose the tie and your head. Nice work mom. James II became the ruling king in 1449.  



James' nickname was "fiery face" due to a birthmark on his face. Undoubtedly, he had many more colorful nicknames than that, including a few based on the attractive outfit above. Jimmy Page meets Sargeant Pepper a few centuries too early. 

In 1452, King James invited a powerful rival to the castle for a casual chat, and ended up stabbing him 26 times and throwing him out the window. Like mother, like son. You'd think word about the Black Dinner would have gotten around and set off alarm bells.  And did they really count the number of stab wounds? This feels like spiking the football, so no surprise that civil war ensued.  

In the middle of this unrest in 1457, James outlawed golf because he felt it was taking away time from archery practice. Of course, everyone in their free time headed out to shoot arrows to be ready for battle. Interestingly, this is the first recorded mention of golf in history, and it even used the modern spelling. But would a ban leave golf as a still born?  

James died in 1460 shooting the large cannon below called "the lion." What goes around comes around -  the misfiring of this cannon seems pretty suspicious, especially since he was probably invited to do it.  


His son James III was crowned in 1460 at age nine, and the old power struggles reemerged during his childhood. He ruled for almost thirty years, a time of constant civil wars, being in and out of power, and lust to expand his kingdom. Regarded as an unpopular and ineffective monarch, a wonderful combination, he died falling off a horse during a battle with rebels led by his son, James IV, in 1488. Before this, he confirmed his father's ban on golf with an official edict in 1470. This could not have helped his already low poll numbers. Hopefully, his painting below is more Picasso than realistic, and that he didn't always wear the rapper chains.  


James IV, the Renaissance man

From above, it's a good sign James IV led a rebellion against his father. And maybe even a better one that he felt some guilt over it - he wore a chilice around his waist annually during Lent (see below; think Da Vinci Code). Ouch.


Being a little older at fifteen when his father died, there didn't seem to be the immediate power struggles as when his father and grandfather became king as small children. But maybe he was just cut from a different cloth, and folks didn't have the same angry reaction.  

The black-and-white painting at the top of this post gives some good clues about James IV - plain dress, no wigs or bling, and a pleasant, almost humble expression. And an intelligent look about him. Evidence of his academic prowess and effort was he spoke seven languages in the days before Rosetta Stone. Impressive. He also established the first surgeon school, brought in the first printing press, and was an art patron. He sent two of his children away for two years to be raised by a mute to understand how we learn language. Whoa. A bit extreme, but what a curious mind.  

He had four children with his wife, and eight with four mistresses. Um. Maybe he felt he needed to spread his posterity around since a couple of them probably didn't really learn how to speak until much later in life.     

He did restate the ban on golf in 1491. As we'll see, he was likely just rubber stamping something put in front of him by a bureaucrat.  


Lore moment:  James IV becomes an outlaw golfer

In 1502, James IV signed a peace treaty with England, something he had sought for many years. Another indication of this man's quality. The same year, he bought some golf clubs for 13 shillings. Maybe the ban was against playing golf and selling equipment, but not against possession for personal use. Or maybe he had a medicinal golf license. And he surely had diplomatic immunity for such an act.  In any event, this is the first positive mention of golf in history. However, positive mentions were still down 3 to 1.      

Interestingly, this purchase was duly recorded by the Lord High Treasurer, who may have wanted some blackmail material. Or perhaps the King forgot using a credit card could be traced. Maybe he just wanted this to get out so he could eventually rescind the ban. He likely had his reasons since three more golf purchases, along with a wager and official match, were all recorded over the next four years. The King had become a golfer, leading the way to many millions of future addicts.


Besides his first purchase of 13 shillings, he also later spent 9 shillings for clubs and balls, and paid 42 shillings for a lost wager. The best estimate I found to convert this into today's dollars, and the most conservative, is based on a GDP estimate of the age. Using this, multiply the above amounts by 5,000 to get today's value. This works out to about $5 K for his first purchase, and $3.6 K for his second. Since he probably wasn't being gouged by opportunistic vendors who would not want to risk royal fury, this was an expensive game. Not sure a ban was needed if no one could afford it. Other conversion estimates work out to orders of magnitude higher amounts than these.  

His lost bet comes to about $17 K. Hopefully, the winner was not instantly jailed or sent to the front after being paid. We can assume not given what we know about James IV.  

He died in 1513 in battle against England, who had invaded France. He honored an earlier alliance with France, and joined them after England attacked. He must have been incredibly torn to have to break his long desired treaty with England. And maybe he took some time on the links to think through his decision. A fitting final resume entry for the first royal patron of golf. An admirable father for the game we love.