Ten Most Important People in the History of Golf
Old Tom Morris
You may not know him, but you’ve seen him. He’s that old man with the long grey beard in those black and white
photos. His image is unforgettable, but more importantly his contributions to the game are immeasurable. He was
one of the original competitors at the inaugural Open Championship in 1860. He ended up winning 4 Open’s and
finished runner-up in 4 others. Furthermore, he was the greens-keeper at the legendary St. Andrews Royal and
Ancient Golf Club from 1865 to 1904. During this time frame his innovations relative to the art of greens-keeping
were groundbreaking and many of his ideas are still used today. As fundamental as it seems two of his golf
innovations were standardizing the golf course to 18 holes and creating an out-going 9 and a returning 9.
Additionally, he is regarded by many as the world’s first golf architect. Some of the courses he had his hand in
creating or significantly contributing to are: St. Andrews, Muirfield, Prestwick, Carnoustie, and Askernish. As great
as these achievements are, Old Tom’s demeanor, class, and quality of character might be his most important
contributions to the game of golf as they set the example by which all true golfers should follow. He is said, by
Horace Hutchinson, to have an "unruffled serenity of temper" and to be "one of the most remarkable men and
best…golfer." Furthermore, Hutchinson said that Mr. Morris "has been written of as often as a Prime Minister, he
has been photographed as often as professional beauty (queens), and yet he remains, through all the
advertisement, exactly the same, simple and kindly."
Some people have had impacts on certain aspects of the game; Donald Ross was a great golf course architect,
Jack Nicklaus was a great player, Theo Havenmeyer was the first USGA President. But CB MacDonald was a
great man who wore many hats for the game of golf...and wore them well and historically. He discovered golf in
1872 (and indeed played along side Old Tom). Upon his return to the US, he became a driving force behind the
growth of the game. He was the architect behind epic and historic golf clubs, like Chicago Golf Club and The
National Golf Links of America. But in addition to that he was the winner of the first US Amateur golf tournament.
Furthermore, he was one of the founders of the USGA, a member of their original Rules Committee, he was also
member of the R&A's Rules Committee, and the liason between the two. Therefore, he was responsible for
bringing the game to the US, establishing the USGA, setting the rules of the game, keeping the game in lockstep
with the game played in Scotland, and he was an historic winner of an historic tournament.
Mr. Ouimet’s win in the 1913 US Open is perhaps the most improbable win in the history of golf. A former caddie
who taught himself golf in his backyard takes to the links in one of the most important golf tournaments in the
world using a 10 year old boy as his caddy. He competes against the greatest players of his time and one of the
greatest players of all-time, Harry Vardon, and Mr. Ouimet wins! Golf in America experienced a huge upswing in
popularity. Because of his victory many more people took an interest in the game and began playing. Due to this
huge influx of people playing the game, more courses were needed. This would kick off what would be the
“Golden Era” of golf courses design.
The total prize money that the PGA Tour will award in 2009 will be $275 million. Each and every player that
cashes a check this year needs to say a thank you to Walter Hagen. You see, Mr. Hagen almost single handedly
garnered respect for the professional golfer at a time when the amateur golfers were the first-class citizens. From
that point on, the status and prestige of the touring pro rose and rose and rose to finally reach the point we are at
Just about the time television began to sweep across the US, Arnie started to dominate the golfing scene. This
helped recruit members to “Arnie’s Army” and America fell in love with golf. Just about the time the Open
Championship was loosing its luster, Arnie won it and the world embraced it. He and his Army rejuvenated golf
across America and then they rejuvenated it across the globe. His game was great (62 wins and 7 major
championships), but his charisma was even greater. And he came along at a crucial time in golf history and may
have saved the game.
The decade of the late 80’s and early 90’s was known for the best player not coming through when he was
pushed and not performing up to snuff on a consistent basis. However, that set the table for Tiger to “shock and
awe” the golfing world. He would blow people out and he would win the close ones. He broke race and color
barriers and he took pay-outs and purses to unheard of levels. He put golf in the mainstream as he became one
of the most recognizable people on the planet. Tiger’s dominance was not limited to the links, he dominated the
hearts and minds of sports fans across the globe. And because of this, the game has reached unprecedented
It seems like just about the time the LPGA tour needed a boost along came Nancy Lopez. Her game was
excellent, she won LPGA rookie of the year in 1978 along with 9 wins (including 5 in a row) and a major. But as
good as her game was her charisma was even greater. America seemed to fall in love with her just like it had
fallen in love with Arnold Palmer. Her win totals and major championships may not stack up next to the other
golfing greats, but it is vitally important to understand that during the prime of her career (1983-1990) she gave
birth to her 3 children. Perhaps this added to America’s love of her…she valued family over career, but when she
competed she won. Either way, she seems to have saved the LPGA.
During the good times and bad Bobby Jones was there for golf and America. But his biggest moments came
during the Great Depression. When the Stock Market Crash of 1929 led the world into the Great Depression,
Bobby Jones began his epic run towards the “Impregnable Quadrilateral”, or the Grand Slam as we call it today. It
gave America something good to think about, something to take their minds off their troubles. Then his creation
of Augusta National and The Masters helped deepen America’s love of golf and gave them even more times of
enjoyment to distract them for the economic woes that troubled everyone. Because of him the game of golf is in
better shape, but I would argue that the world is better off because of Bobby Jones’ contributions.
It seems that the LPGA goes through periods of time without an identifiable star. From the time Nancy Lopez
stepped away from the game until Annika hit the scene was one of those times. But when she hit the scene, my
goodness what an impact she had. She dominated the game like few others have every dominated any Tour.
She is a Hall of Famer and a truly great golfer. It is my opinion that she carried the LPGA for many years after
Lopez did her share. Now that Annika is away from the game, we need another superstar to step up to fill the
dramatic gap she has left.
Jack didn’t arrive on the golfing scene when times were tough. Arnold Palmer piqued the world’s interest in golf,
so the arrival of Jack just made it that much more interesting. Add in a bunch of characters and future Hall of
Famers and Jack’s time on Tour may have been the most competitive in the history of the game. He played with
the likes of Arnie, Gary Player, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Seve, and Tom Watson…to name a few. But the thing
in my mind that makes Jack an even more important person in the game of golf is what he did on top of his
legendary competitive career. He became the first golf star celebrity designer, he became a recognized author,
he set up a top-notch tournament, and, in short, he laid the ground work for the elite golfer to have an annuity-like
business which uses their competitive success to capitalize on business opportunities.