HE WAS the pioneer of golf who established the reputation of St Andrews as the home of the modern game in Scotland and around the world.
As well as winning the Open Championship four times in the 1860s, the legendary Old Tom Morris was also a visionary course designer and greenskeeper who made his mark on many links courses across the country.
Now a collection of photographs which have been dubbed the “golfing version of Tutankhamen’s Tomb” are going on show to the public at the St Andrews Golf Festival, and later in New York and at the Open in July at Royal Lytham.
The 24 images - valued at around £350,000 - not only depict Old Tom but also his son Tom Jr (better known as Young Tom Morris) - also a famed golfer - and several of his main rivals, such as Willie Park, the first Open winner, and Allan Robertson.
They were discovered in the early 1990s after the original owner phoned a well-known English golf collector about selling a bag full of old hickory clubs. A few weeks later he visited the owner at her home just outside St Andrews.
He was accompanied by a collecting friend from the United States who was in Scotland on holiday. The clubs were rusty and of no value. The trip seemed like a waste of time but just before they were about to leave, one of them asked if she had anything else. She replied: “Nothing really - just some old photos in a potting shed in the garden... I think they may be golf...”
Heading down the garden, they pulled open the wooden door which hadn’t been opened for decades. In one corner they found a group of framed photos piled one on top of each other. The glass on the frames was so dark with dirt and dust they had to wipe it away with a wet rag just to see the image below.
The first image was a head and shoulders portrait of Old Tom himself. Hiding any excitement they felt they carefully wiped each one with the rag and each one was more exciting than the last.
Asked how she came to own them, she said that they belonged to Old Tom Morris and were passed down to her family after he died in 1908. Some of the photos were still in the black funeral frames they had been placed in after his death.
Months of negotiations followed before the two collectors finally bought the collection between them, and over the next decade they were studied and restored.
In 2006 the American collector died and his part of the collection was returned to the English Collector as per their longstanding agreement. Today they are housed in the Old Golf Images Archive.
After the public exhibition it is hoped they will be bought by someone who will put them on permanent display.
• The St Andrews Golf Festival runs from 28 March to 1 April. Visit www.standrewsgolffestival.co.uk/ for more information.