How to Design Your Own Tom Morris Golf Course

6 February 2015

Old Tom Morris reported to Mr Hope of Luffness that he often had differences of opinions with the R&A committees over what constituted good golf course design and like all golf course architects, considered their ideas amateurish and unsuitable. However, he was the supreme diplomat and head greenkeeper at St Andrews for 40 years, during which he significantly re-invented the golf course.

Old Tom laid out the first course at Prestwick, but he inherited the layout of the Old Course when he returned to St Andrews as 'Custodier of the Links' in 1864 and where he remained for the last forty years of his life. He over-saw the layout of the New Course 1895 and Jubilee 1897 at St Andrews.

He widened the Old Course, added a new first green, and was an early agronomist.  His solution to the greens' problem was apparently ‘mair sand’ (more sand), and he was an early adopter, if not the inventor, of the replacement of the ‘divot’. His main innovation was separate teeing areas in 1875 to speed up the flow of play and preserve putting greens.

He outlined his ideas on the laying-out a links in a letter to the Editor of Golf magazine, written in his later years:-


I see in your last issue that a gentleman (by name Mr Stevens) is anxious to get a little information regarding laying out a golf links. I hope you will allow me space in your valuable golfing paper to answer his questions as far as possible.

1        As to the length and breadth of links. If you have so many miles of ground, you can put holes down at, say, from 100 to 550 yards, varying them accordingly. The breadth may be from 50 to 100 yards.

2        Regarding the probable cost of preparing it. If the putting-greens had to be laid out it would require £5 for each green. Then, if the course had to be cleared of gorse bushes or whins, it would likely cost about £200.

3        Regarding the third question, the best way to form a Club would be to get as many of your friends together as possible and form a Club; then advertise that such a Club has been instituted. As to subscriptions, the scale of Club entry money runs from 2s 6d up to £10.

4        There is no necessity to have trees on a golf course; large sand-pits dug in the course, called bunkers, or a whin or two to serve as a hazard to all players.

5        With reference to the last inquiry, it would entirely depend upon what the rental of the ground was and whether it was depriving the landlord or tenant of any privilege which he may have let.

 I may state in conclusion that if the putting-greens require to be laid with turf, this is the best time of year to lay them.  But you can safely lay turf at any time of year, providing the ground is moist to let the turf get a hold.

I am, yours etc.

 Tom Morris

Old Tom travelled extensively for a man of his age in the early days of steam. Dozens of courses in Britain and Ireland benefited from his paid consultancy. Apart from Prestwick and St Andrews, of the courses on this website, it currently includes Westward Ho! 1860 and 1864, Leven 1865 and 1868, Luffness 1867 and 1892, Forfar 1871, Carnoustie 1873, Machrihanish 1879, Royal Dornoch 1886, Muirfield 1891, Perth 1892, Crail 1892 and 1896, Dunbar 1894, Elie 1895, Royal Burgess 1895, Cruden Bay 1899, Burntisland and Glasgow 1904. Most of these courses have been substantially redesigned since then. 

It was rare course that did not elicit an Old Tom endorsement, that it would 'make a fine course', comparing it favourably to one of the classics!

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