History of The Open
The Park Family
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A lasting legacy at The Open Championship
The Park Family Legacy The Open

When thinking of famous family affairs at The Open, most will instantly associate the Morris relatives, both Old and Young Tom, with golf’s original major.

But in fact, the early days of The Open Championship were dominated by not one, but two families of Champion Golfers.

This second family was the Park family, which included Willie Park Snr, the man who became the first Champion Golfer of the Year in 1860.

To celebrate the 160th anniversary of The 1st Open at Prestwick, we look back at the Park family, and how between three relatives they were able to amass seven Open titles and leave a lasting legacy throughout the golfing world.

The Park family’s journey in the game of golf began when Willie Park Snr and his younger brother Mungo Park took up the game as young men in the 1830s and 40s.

Speaking to The Open in 2016, the great-grandson of Willie Park Snr, also named Mungo Park, discussed his ancestor's start in the game.

“The history of the first Open is probably more complex than I’m able to describe,” Mungo said. “This professional tournament was for the Champion Golfer, the best golfer in the world.

“Willie (Park Snr) was a young man, he started off as a ploughman’s son, and would have become an agricultural worker, except that his father moved down to Musselburgh, just across the road from the links. And so he became a very proficient golfer.”

Alongside Mungo, the pair became two of golf’s finest players across all of Scotland. While Mungo spent nearly two decades at sea in the middle part of the 19th century, Willie Park Snr would travel to Prestwick to compete in The 1st Open Championship.

“I think (Old) Tom Morris was the favourite to win,” said the junior Mungo Park, “because obviously he had a home advantage, and so it was something of a surprise when the interloper from Musselburgh won The Open.”

Willie Park Snr’s victory at Prestwick in 1860 meant he became the first ever Champion Golfer of the Year, following the previous year's death of Allan Robertson, the man acknowledged as the finest player around prior to The Open's creation.

The victory sparked a rivalry between Park Snr and Old Tom Morris, and between them they would go on to win six of the next seven Open Championships.

When Mungo Park returned from his naval services, he won in his first Open Championship appearance in 1974 at the Parks' home of Musselburgh, with Willie Park Snr winning his fourth title the following year at Prestwick.

Combined with Young Tom Morris’ unrivalled feat of four straight Open Championships, the Park and Morris families had combined to win 13 of the first 15 Opens ever played.

The rivalry between the two families was fierce, but after Young Tom’s tragic death in 1875, which was pre-empted by grave news delivered to him during a match between the four titans of the game, neither the elder Morris or the two Park brothers would win an Open Championship again.

“A man who can putt is a match for anyone.” Willie Park Jnr

Whilst the legacy of the four men who so dominated golf's original major in its burgeoning years stands true to this day, a younger member of the Park family was yet to have his own success at The Open.

Willie Park Jnr, the son of Willie Park Snr and Mungo Park’s nephew, became a wonderful young golfer as his father and uncle were winning their last Open Championships. In 1880, at just 16 years of age, he made his debut in the Championship, finishing 16th.

Less than a decade later, in 1887 and 1889, Park Jnr would win at both Prestwick and Musselburgh, the two sites accounting for all five of the Park family's previous triumphs.

Park Jnr’s legacy however, is remembered far beyond the playing of the game, as he became somewhat of a golfing Renaissance man in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Park Jnr was the first professional to write a book on the sport, with ‘The Game of Golf’ published in 1896, and he became a successful writer in the early 20th century for Golf Illustrated.

Park has written many iconic phrases and terms that are still used today, including “a man who can putt is a match for anyone”. He also coined the name ‘The Postage Stamp’ for the famed 8th hole at Royal Troon.

But it is perhaps Park Jnr’s golf course design that is his most tangible legacy. Having contributed to over 150 layouts across Britain, Ireland, Europe and North America, Park Jnr was prolific in his design of courses and was one of the first pre-eminent professional architects in golf.

Some of Park Jnr’s most famous designs include Sunningdale Old, Olympia Fields and the Evian course in France, and his work, much like that of Old Tom Morris, has inspired countless architects in the near century since his death. 

In the history of The Open, there can be little doubt that the Morris family legacy has left a prolonged fixture in the fabric of The Championship, but there can also be little doubt that the Park family legacy has done so as well.