Doughtie Sr. on Golf (March 2012)

When discussing the exploits of golfers in the bygone days,one tends to concentrate of the Morris'of St Andrews and the Parks of Musselburgh who between them won 15 British Opens in the first 30 years.We tend to forget another great St Andrean dynasty....the Straths....and in particular the Open of 1876.

Alexander Strath who settled in St Andrews in 1810,who supplemented his meagre income as a farm worker by caddying for the Gentlemen members of the R and A,together with wife Susan Reid,created the roots for this distinguished golfing family.

Son Andrew(b 1838)finished 3rd in the 1st Open in 1860,4th in 1863,2nd in 1864,before victory in 1865.This broke the duopoly of Morris and Park and at 162(3 rounds of 12 holes)posted a record score.he died at 32 and lay in an unmarked grave at Prestwick GC,home of the first 12 Opens,where he replaced Old Tom Morris as Keeper of the Green in 1864,until members unvieled a plaque to his memory in 2008.

Brother Willie arrived in 1842 and was better known for his skills at theft and assualt than for finishing 6th in the 1864 event and 8th a year later.Bad Willie died on board a ship off the West coast of Scotland in 1891,suffering a blow to the back of the head from a blunt object......

The 4th brother (the 1st ,John,had no records of any golfing exploits attributated to him)George,saw the light of day in 1844 and followed his older siblings to the Links,although he was the first to receive any formal education.From his base at Glasgow GC he participated in 5 Opens,with a best finish at 14th in 1886.He is better remembered for his excellent club-making skills.Such clubs are now very rare and fetch upto $10.000 when they emerge at auctions(get hunting through grandmother's zolder.......)He is often referred to as being the first professional to leave Scotland for the US,arriving in Brooklyn in 1889.He spent a considerable time coaching Lady golfers and helped Miss Hecker to various titles including the US Ladies Amateur in 1901 and 1902.He was the longest survivor of the Strath clan reaching 75 when passing away in 1919.

It was ,however David Strath(b 1848)who was the finest of the golfing Strath's that gained much greater fame,although due to an unfortunate circumstace.Davie was a street-playing pal of Young Tom Morris before taking a clerk's job in a local legal firm,without any proper education............some things never change.....

Tom and Davie toured the country playing exhibition matches ,which produced far bigger earnings than the Championships at that time.Young Tom's death on Christmas Day 1875 put a tragic end to that source of income.David Strath was Open runner-up on 3 occasions.however it is the 1876 event for which he is best remembered.

That year the the Championship attracted 26 entrants,the largest field for any tournament to that date.As usual play began immediately after the R and A members had completed their Autumn Medal,early September.The organisation of the Open Championship is best descibed as a shambles.Old Tom Morris who took care of the arrangements, was nursing his sick wife and ,perhaps ,due ,to the presence of Prince Leopold,Captain that year,the R and A forgot to reserve starting-times for the event ,which was being contested on a Saturday,for the first time.As a consequence the members teed-off ,alternatively, with the Open participants as the chaos developed.Things only got worse for the 2nd round in the afternoon as members of St Andrews GC joined in the melee at the 1st tee.Matters further deteriorated when large crowds arrived to witness the Prince's play and remained to observe the professionals.

After heavy rain the scores were high.Strath shared the 1st round lead with fellow St Andrean Bob Martin on 86(this was the 1st time the British Open was played over 2 rounds of 18 holes)giving them a 4 shot lead over the field.There was no leader-ball in those days and so Martin commenced the final round much earlier and recorded a 90.With no score boards or other means of communication,only by word of mouth could anyone get an idea of standings.

David reached the 14th tee having hit the ball 71 times as a large gallery formed.James Hutton a local cabinet maker was playing the adjacent 5th ,when he was hit on the head by Strath's errand 2nd shot.This upset his rythmn and he dropped shots there and at 15.After a par on 16 he stood on the famous 17th Road Hole tee needing 10 shots for victory.He looked certain to achieve his goal as he played his 3rd shot on to the green.Reports of what happened next vary.......Some say he played the approach too strongly and others observed that he hit a perfect niblick(8 iron) into the heart of the putting surface.However all agreed that the ball made contact with the group ahead,who were still holing out and were not part of the Open Championship.This stopped the ball rolling off the green on to the dreadied road.He made a bogey 5 and a double bogey 6 at the last to tie with Martin on 176.

A play-off should have been commenced,but a protest had been lodged that Strath should be disqualified due to his deliberate "ungentlemanly conduct" at the 17th.No such rule existed and it was accepted that this was a 'rub of the green"(rule 19.1)With no proper organisation and reports coming in about the incident at the 14th,together with claims about Strath's marker's accuracy(previous Opens were controlled by independent scorers....another thing the organisor's forgot to arrange).A committee was appointed and met immediately,but adjourned until the Monday after being unable to reach agreemment, but ordering the play-off to be contested "under protest"pending their decision.

Strath was not prepared to play under such circumstances and did not show at the designated hour for the 18 holes decider.Bob Martin was declared the 1876 Open Champion,but not before he was forced to complete the 18 holes...alone......David Strath collected the runner's up medal and increased his bank balance by 5 pounds.

To this day ,most local St Andrews golfers feel that David Strath should have been the Champion

Thereafter his health suffered and on doctor's advise emigrated to the better climate of Australia.He became ill on ss Eurynome halfway there and it had been assumed that he died prior to arrival and was buried at sea.

However after painstaking research by St Andrews historian Dr David Malcolm it was discovered that he did disembark at Melbourne in 1879 ,but did pass away 20 days later on January 28th.During 2005 his unmarked grave was located in the Church of Scotland graveyard and one year later,thanks to donations from St Andrews Golf Clubs and the Australian Golf Society a proper headstone was unvieled....a fitting tribute to a great golfer of his time.

The Strath family are honoured by having a bunker on the Old Course named after them.This gaping cavity guards the Par3 11th and has in it's time become the "unmarked graveyard"of many a golfer.

 
   
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