The History of Golf with David Joy

 

Interview with Artist, Author, Actor and Golf Historian David Joy

 

July 2009

 

 

Greg Rita

About David Joy

 

David Joy is a fourth generation born and bred St. Andrean. He is probably best known as "The man who plays Tom Morris" - a one-man show premiered during the 1990 British Open, which has since been televised and adapted as a commercial video and distributed world-wide under the name of Keeper of the Greens.

 

 

Q: How did you become involved in golf history?

 

I suppose I became involved in golf history by being part of it!!

I'm a fourth generation St. Andrean. My great grandfather was a registered caddie on the Old Course in 1892 and my grandfather was a club maker with Auchterlonies up until the transition from hickory to steel shafts in 1929. My father hand wrote the minute book as secretary of the Thistle golf club [founded in 1817] here in St. Andrews for over forty years. My work became more and more golf related through time - being best known today as "the man that plays Tom Morris." Between the four generations of Joys we have lived through major transitions in the evolution or development of the game here at "The home of golf."

 

Q: You have an extensive knowledge of golf history.  When was the game of golf created, and why?

 

Looking back over eight centuries of our famous linksland here in St. Andrews, King David XI bequeathed the land to the townsfolk to use for recreation or tending sheep! This piece of waste land was originally called "Muckross" six centuries before, which was a Pictish name for  "headland of swine or land of the wild boar." The game of golf evolved through mans competitive instinct to want to hit a stone with a stick further than, or to reach a duned area in fewer swipes than the next man. It may sound like folklore to say  that the game developed through this basic desire to show off but from early records this was the case!


As tracks were created through regular walk ways, linksland [the waste ground between the sea and the arable land] was the ideal area which lay dormant during the winter months when golf, "kolf" or "gouff" was played.


One of the first references to the game is when James XI in 1457 through an act of Parliament banned the playing of the "gouff" on a Sunday as it was interfering with the national defence when the populace should have been practicing their archery. At this time St. Andrews was the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland - a walled city with a much pilgrimised cathedral and the oldest university in the country, founded in 1412.


After the reformation and the plundering of its magnificent cathedral, St. Andrews was instantly bankrupt and became like a ghost town for three centuries till the Victorian era when recreation and leasure [golf] were to make it prosper again.

 

Q: How old is St. Andrews, and are there any other golf courses in the world that are as old?  Why is St. Andrews called, “The home of golf?”

 

This brings me to the time that Tom Morris was to the fore.
Born 1812 he became known as "the grand old man of golf" by the end of his career in 1902. In the stage show I portray him as an eighty-six year old reflecting on his life and times.

 

It's an unscripted presentation, he just gets a leg up onto stage and off he goes...it's as if it has nothing really to do with me! He is a great vehicle to explain the progression in the popularity of the game from his early work as a feather ballmaker up 'til 1849 when the gutta ball took over his trade. Suddenly the ball was affordable and the courses were accessible with trains linking up the linksland and golf started its dramatic rise.


Tom Morris was 13 years "Keeper of the Green" at Prestwick where the first British Open was held in 1860. He was runner-up to his great adversary, Willie Park who he had had many much publicised challenges against. Not thirty six holes, but thirty six rounds played over three weeks with just the two Sundays travel time between venues. A normal match at that time would be twelve rounds in six days.

 

Tom won four Opens in the 1860s and is still the oldest winner aged 46 in 1867 when along came his son Tommy as the youngest winner the following year aged seventeen and proceeded to win three in a row while still a teenager. It is one of the most tragic tales in golf when recording the sad demise of young Tom who died on Christmas day in 1875, just twenty four years old.

 

Q: How has the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews shaped how golf is played?

 

In 1864 old Tom had been invited back to St. Andrews as the custodian or keeper of the Old Course - a position he held for nearly forty years. He was responcible for all the major changes as tradition tried to fight off technology and technology  tried to overrule tradition [nothing new in that!] It was and has been a constant battle as the bounding Haskell ball added more  than forty yards to the average drive in 1902 as brassies, bulgers, niblicks and mashie niblicks had replaced long nosed spoons, baffies, cleeks and rutting irons.


The British Open Championship had become a national event. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St.Andrews was announced as the official governing body of the rules in 1896  - a far cry from the original thirteen basic rules laid down in 1748; for instance "if on breaking your club while striking the ball it will still be redeemed a shot."


Tom played in thirty six consecutive British Opens and laid out many famous courses in the twilight of his career. Many sought his advice including  a young Donald Ross who he took under his wing. There was a mass exodus from Scotland, as Ross, like many folk who claimed to be scratch golfers or would-be course designers immigrated to America to seek fame and fortune in the fastest growing sport.


Morris was always approachable and only charged £1 a day plus expenses for laying out a green; it was his way of giving back to the game which had been his life.

 

Q: You have played Tom Morris in The Keeper of the Greens.  Can you give a little history on Tom Morris and his role in golf?

 

 I like to think that old Tom, as he was in charge of the caddies in the 1890s, would have had many a chat with my great grandfather around the first tee or the shop that Tom ran to the side of the eighteenth green. This past year has been the 100th Anniversary of the death of Tom Morris and his "spirit" lives on....I hasten to add that it is still an hour and a half make up job for me to play him as an eighty six year old!