Doughtie Sr. on Golf (November 2012)


When discussing famous golfing dynasties of 150 years ago,we tend to concentrate on the Morris family of St Andrews and their great rivals across the Firth of Forth,.....the Parks of Musselburgh... and forget another golfing family,who lived a bit in the shadows of the others.

Alexander Strath moved to St Andrews in 1810 and he and wife Margeret,a local lass ,set about creating their family.First son,Alexander lived to the ripe old age of 94,a rare feat in those days.He married Susan Reid and it is from this branch of the family tree that the golfing sons arrived.Little is known of him except that he supplemented his meagre earnings as a farm labourer by delivering post and caddying for members of the R and A.

Their first son ,John died aged 32 .Nothing is recorded of any golfing exploits.Second born,Andrew first saw the light of day in 1838 and became a clubmaker at the famous shop of Robert Forgan at premises adjacent to 18th green(which is today the large Links Trust shop).

The first 12 British Opens had been played at Prestwick,which many claimed gave local Keeper of the Green(caddymaster,professional etc) Old Tom Morris,a slight advantage.Andrew Strath took over that task when Morris returned to St Andrews in 1864 and won the contest the next year, breaking the duopoly of Morris and Willie Park.However the 2 stalwarts won all the next Opens at Prestwick,until it transferred to StAndrews for the 1st time in 1873 and was won by Tom Kidd.

With prize money at that time around 10 pounds for the victor,the players were forced to play challenge matches for large stakes of upto 100 pounds.Andrew Strath and Tom Morris played many such matches against the Parks.Andrew died at 32 and lay in an unmarked grave in St Nicholas Churchyard,near the 1st tee until members of Prestwick Golf Club unvieled a plaque in 2008 for the man who finished in the British Open top 4, 5 times.

Another son,Willie,was only famous as a small time thief and once received a jail sentence for stealing a club and 3 balls from his employer, Tom Morris.He died on board a ship off the west coast of Scotland after being hit on the head by a blunt object......Next came George.He became the 1st professional at Glasgow Golf Club,which he helped to design.He moved to Troon in 1884 before setting sail for the US in 1889.He was involved in many golf projects until he passed away in 1919.

However ,it was David Strath,known as Davie,who was the best of the golfing brothers,who achieved golfing fame,albeit for the wrong reason.Davie got a formal education and became a clerk in a local Law firm,thereby avoiding hard labour and having enough time to improve his game....somethings never change.....

He had been runner-up in The Open on 2 occasions before he contested the 1876 Championship,which produced the strongest ever field and one of the strangest climaxes ever ,which still causes heated discussion in St Andrews to this day.

That year the event attracted the largest entry of any tournament to that date,with 26 players.This was the first time the Claret Jug would be held over 2 rounds of 18 holes(previous matches were played over 3 rounds of 12 holes).Play began after the R and A had completed their Autumn Meeting that day , early September.

The organisation was later described as "chaotic".Whether it was because Keeper of the Green,Old Tom's wife was gravely ill or the presence of Prince Leopold,the R and A captain that year,which generated extra excitement or the general increased interest, no-one really knew.In anycase the R and A forgot to arrange starting times for the competition which was being held on a Saturday for the first time.

Their members teed off alternatively with the The Open participants as the chaos developed.The 2nd round ,played in the afternoon ,was no better as members of St Andrews Golf Club played their weekly matches and joined the melee at the 1st tee.It got worse as crowds assembled to watch the Prince and the professionals.Persistent rain had made the course heavy and scores were high.David Strath and fellow St Andrean Bob Martin were level on 86,giving them a 4 shot lead.

There was no leader ball in those days as Martin went out earlier and recorded a disappointing 90.With no scoreboards or communication means,Strath had no idea where he stood in the Championship.At the 14th his tee-shot hit James Hutton of the local club,who was on the parallel 5th hole.Strath,openly upset,dropped shots at that hole and the 15th.He stood on the 17th tee,knowing ,from the growing crowd that he needed to finish 5,5 to win the trophy.He looked certain to achieve his goal as he played his 3rd shot to the Road Hole green.

Some observers say he played the shot a bit too strong,while others remarked that he hit a perfect niblick(iron)to the heart of the green.However,all agreed that his ball made contact with a player in the group ahead,who were not part of The Open,which stopped in running over the green on to the road.He made a 5,but needed 6 shots at the 18th,missing a short putt ,to tie with Martin on 176.

A play-off should have been held,however,a protest was lodged,demanding Davie's disqualification,on the basis that he had played onto the 17th green,before the others had completed the hole,deliberately.No such rule existed.It was a "" rub of the green".The organisers should have dismissed the claim and arranged for the play-off.

Due to the lack of organisation,which had troubled the tournament,and reports of the incident with Mr Hutton surfacing, it was decided to appoint a committee.There was even accusations as to the accuracy of Strath's marker.Previous Opens at Prestwick were controlled by referees with each flight.Something else the the hosts had forgotten to arrange.

The committeee meeting was adjourned till Monday after no agreement could be found and ordered that"the tie for 1st place should be played under protest",awaiting their decision.

Strath reacted to this ruling by refusing to play until a decision was taken.He did not appear on the 1st tee at the appointed hour and Bob Martin was declared Champion,but only received the trophy and his 10 pounds winners cheque ,after he had completed the 18 holes...alone....Incidentially,David Strath was presented the 2 nd prize of 5 pounds.

His career never recovered and ill-health forced him to emigrate to the warmer climate of Australia.Twenty days after his arrival in 1879 at Melbourne,he died aged 31.

Until 2005 it had been assumed that he had passed away on board the ship and was buried at sea,but after much research his unmarked grave was discovered in the Church of Scotland cemetry.In February 2006 a headstone ,provided by donations from Golf Clubs of Australia and St Andrews was unvieled.

The family is perhaps best remembered and honoured by the bunker named after them,which guards the 11th green on the Old Course........a gaping cavity which has become,itself a graveyard for many.......

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