/
Close
Newsletters  | Mobile

Heartbreak

He was away that September afternoon, playing with his father in a challenge match against two of the Park brothers, Willie and Mungo, for the hefty prize of twenty-five pounds. The match was held in North Berwick, directly across the Firth of Forth from St. Andrews, and yet without a seaworthy vessel, it was in those days a tortuous nine-hour journey by train around the firth, through Edinburgh, and then back up along the east coast to North Berwick. Ironically, it was Margaret who insisted that Tommy make the journey when he'd expressed hesitation about leaving her so pregnant.

"No, on you go, Tommy," she is said to have told him. "That's twenty-five pounds you're going to win."

Such challenge matches were wildly popular events in the region, advertised weeks in advance in newspapers and on fliers with the kind of pumped-up rhetoric we now associate with World Wrestling Entertainment matches. "Big buildup," Joy told me in the St. Andrews Club. "It would be like: 'Young Tom and Old Tom versus the Park Brothers! Head to Head! North Berwick! 22 October! Be There!' And the crowds would be really charged. Things often got hostile. People shouting in the middle of your backswing. A lot of cursing. It was sort of tribal."

The Morrises were fan favorites, a flamboyant and usually favored tandem. The Park brothers, however, had brought along a huge throng of supporters from Musselburgh. It all made for a somewhat confused scene at the match's last hole, where the Morris men survived a late charge by the Parks to pull out a win. The victors were just exiting the final green to a decidedly mixed reception when a telegram was rushed into Tommy's hands saying that he had to get back to St. Andrews "post haste"—his wife was struggling with the child.

One of the match sponsors, a Mr. Lewis, immediately offered the use of his schooner and full crew to take Tommy and his father directly across the Firth of Forth. Unbeknownst to them, a second telegram arrived just as they were setting off, conveying the grim news that both Margaret and the child had died—of a ruptured uterus, it would later be determined by R. Moir, M.D., the brother of the doctor who'd perform Young Tom's autopsy—but it was decided not to call them back, sparing Tommy the dreadful news for the far shore.

The fishermen drying their nets in the St. Andrews town harbor that afternoon had to have been a bit bewildered by the scene: a doctor and minister waiting on the pier, staring out at the tiny rowboat that Young Tom's uncle George, his father's older brother, had taken out to the schooner anchored a few hundred yards off the pier's end, to meet his brother and nephew and relay the sorry news. It is said that long after the schooner had withdrawn into the distance, the rowboat sat bobbing all alone on the windswept bay for nearly an hour, George steadying the vessel with his oars as Old Tom tried to calm his grief-stricken, disbelieving son.

"I'll never forget that long, weary crossing." It was David Joy doing his Old Tom again, a good many of the St. Andrews Club members turning toward us at the sound of that voice. "And that frozen look Tommy had on his face all the way across, standing bolt upright. Just like the photographs of him, it haunts me still."

I had a little time to kill the following day so I grabbed a cup of coffee from the restaurant in the lobby of the Scores Hotel, where I was staying, just across from the R&A clubhouse, and went to sit on one of the benches there alongside the Old Course's first tee and home hole. Visible above Old Tom's shop is the little gabled window where he would often sit in his later years, watching over the familiar linksland and the game he'd done so much to shape.

Old Tom would outlive his entire family. His wife, Agnes, died just eleven months after Young Tom did. John, the paraplegic son, died in 1893, at age thirty-three; Old Tom's daughter, Elizabeth, in 1898, age forty-five; and son James in 1906, at age fifty. Two years later, on May 24, 1908, still going strong at eighty-six, Old Tom made his usual afternoon visit to the New Club (just down from the St. Andrews Club) for shots of whisky and a pint of Blackstrap ale. He then headed for what he mistook to be a bathroom door and tumbled to his death down a long flight of cellar stairs.

I'd been sitting out there by the Old Course for a half hour or so that day, watching golfers starting their rounds or wrapping them up, thinking about Old Tom sitting up above his shop, doing the same, when I thought I saw a curtain in that window move, and the faint, fleeting outline of a figure there. I mentioned it to David Joy when I met him later. He informed me that it was most likely Sheila Mould, who, I soon learned, is the great granddaughter of Young Tom's sister, Elizabeth.

"She can be a bit fiery," Joy said of Mould. "She's very protective of Young Tom's image. She's always scolding me about saying he'd taken to drink in the last months of his life."

Back at my hotel that afternoon, I found a directory and sure enough, listed at "#7 The Links," was a Sheila M. Mould. There was no answer the first few times I tried her. I thought of just running across the road and slipping a note under the door. But an hour later a voice answered the phone, firm yet with an airy note of frailty in it. I hastily introduced myself, explained what I was up to, and asked if she and I might meet.

"Yes," she said. "That would be fine."

We arranged to rendezvous the next morning in the lobby of the Scores Hotel at eleven o'clock. I came downstairs a few minutes early, and there she was, seated by the front desk, very prim and proper in a plaid wool topcoat, black slacks and knit top, a string of pearls setting off a perfectly coiffed head of light-colored hair. We repaired to the least Muzak-plagued corner of the hotel restaurant, whereupon Mould pulled a couple of books from a satchel and placed them on the table before us. One was a coffee-table tome about St. Andrews and golf with an introduction written by her late mother, Doreen "Bunty" Gray; the other was a chapbook biography of her great great grandfather entitled Tom Morris of St. Andrews: The Grand Old Man of Golf. Then, as though teaching a class on her own storied past, she launched into a methodical exposition of her family tree.

Advertisement

Sign Up


Connect With Travel + Leisure
  • Travel+Leisure
  • Tablet
  • Available devices

Already a subscriber?
Get FREE ACCESS to the digital edition


Advertisement


Advertisement

Advertisement

Marketplace