WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATT HOOPER
LAST WEEK, THE WEEK OF THE 150TH OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP, WAS ALL ABOUT CELEBRATING THE HISTORY OF GOLF, AND MARKING 150 EDITIONS OF GOLF'S ORIGINAL CHAMPIONSHIP, WHICH VISITED THE OLD COURSE, ST ANDREWS FOR THE 30TH TIME. WHEN LOOKING AT THE HISTORY OF GOLF WHERE BETTER TO BE THAN ST ANDREWS? AND WHO BETTER TO SPEAK TO THAN ROGER MCSTRAVICK?
PERHAPS NO AUTHOR HAS TOLD THE STORY OF ST ANDREWS GOLF IN QUITE THE DEPTH OR WITH QUITE THE RICHNESS OF LANGUAGE THAT ROGER MCSTRAVICK HAS, AND HIS BEAUTIFULLY PRODUCED WORKS HAVE RECEIVED UNIVERSAL ACCLAIM FROM READERS ACROSS THE GLOBE, AND HAVE EARNED THE NORTHERN IRISHMAN SEVERAL AWARDS. LATE LAST YEAR I MET UP WITH ROGER AT HIS HOME FOR A PHOTOSHOOT, WHICH ILLUSTRATES THE INTERVIEW, THE SHOOT TOOK PLACE INSIDE THE "PLACE WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS", OTHERWISE KNOWN AS ROGER'S STUDY, SO I HAD TO START BY CHEEKILY ASKING HIM IF HE HAD TIDIED IT YET!!
"Certainly not. How would I find anything? My study is filled with 18th and 19th century books, littered everywhere but I know where everything is and can place my hand on a volume should it be needed. My prize book of my collection is my 18th century copy of George Martine’s book on St Andrews. I also have a book that was owned by David Hay Fleming himself. "
DESPITE BEING RENOWNED FOR HIS ASSOCIATION WITH ST ANDREWS AND ROLE AS A GOLF HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR, THE ROGER MCSTRAVICK STORY BEGAN ACROSS THE IRISH SEA.
"I was born in Lurgan, NORTHER Ireland and lived IN A HOUSE overlooking the golf course. In the midst of the troubles, Lurgan Golf Club was a superb place to wile away the long school summers. Golf was our religion and if anyone veered onto religious bigotry in any way, they received a stern letter from the secretary. My friends were from both sides and it set my open outlook on life", SAYS ROGER. IT'S CERTAINLY TRUE A PERSON'S UPBRINGING AND THE SETTING OF THEIR EARLY YEARS CAN SHAPE THEM AS A PERSONALITY, BUT IT IS ALSO TRUE OF A LOCATION SUCH AS ST ANDREWS, WITH SO MUCH HISTORY AROUND, PLUS THE GOLF AND THE SEA. "I came to St Andrews in 2008 to work at Fairmont St Andrews as Pr and Marketing Manager. It was a beautiful place to work."
UNSURPRISINGLY MCSTRAVICK ALSO LOVES THE OLD COURSE. "I played the Old Course back in 2001 when I was doing my MSc in Golf Course Architecture in Edinburgh. I think it takes a lifetime playing on the Old Course, to begin to understand it. I am still studying it. My passion is the history, so I am looking at how the course used to be like. That is a course I would love to play, especially the 22-hole layout."
OVER THE LAST 14 YEARS ROGER HAS GROWN TO HAVE A DEEP CONNECTION WITH THE TOWN OF ST ANDREWS THROUGH GOLF AND HISTORY, BUT IT WASN'T INITIALLY SOMETHING HE SET OUT TO BE. "(I BECAME A HISTORIAN/AUTHOR) BY ACCIDENT. I went to see a show at the Byre Theatre by David Joy, actor, historian and artist, where David as Old Tom was interviewed by Peter Alliss. Having grown up in the 1980s, I went to see Peter and to hear his funny stories. Old Tom walked on stage alone, much to my disappointment. However, as soon as he (David) started talking, I was gripped. It really touched me more than any other talk I had ever seen" SAYS ROGER.
"After the show, I wanted to know more, so started reading history books starting with Tulloch’s biography. From there I started doing my own research and found out things that had not been printed before. I could never have guessed my life would take this turn and am truly grateful to St Andrews author Michael Tobert, for inviting me to the Byre that night."
WHILST IT TOOK UNTIL THAT NIGHT IN THE BYRE THEATRE FOR ROGER TO REALISE HE COULD BE A HISTORIAN, HE HAD ALWAYS ENJOYED WRITING. "In the past in previous jobs, it was the writing part that I enjoyed be it ghost writer for a pro golfer in The Scotsman or penning articles for magazines. At school, I was at my best when writing essays about ancient Roman or Greek heroes, biblical figures or writing a poem in my English Literature class. Writing simply resonated with me and I am truly grateful that I make my living from doing something I love."
HISTORIANS STUDY SUBJECTS WHICH THEY FIND FASCINATING, BUT ROGER EXPLAINS THAT IT IS PEOPLE THAT FASCINATE HIM. "It is the people of St Andrews that fascinate me. I love to discover what life was like for them, what they came through and how they achieved greatness or coped with great sadness. That is why Old Tom fascinates. Not only his skills on the links or designing new courses but how he coped with the terrible grief in his life. He was a remarkable man."
IT IS THIS FASCINATION, ABILITY TO NETWORK, RESEARCH AND TELL A STORY THROUGH WORDS THAT HAS HELPED ROGER CREATE ARGUABLY ONE OF THE MOST MAGNIFICENT PIECES OF WORK IN GOLF LITERATURE EVER SEEN - ST ANDREWS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OLD TOM MORRIS.
ST ANDREWS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OLD TOM MORRIS WAS PUBLISHED IN 2014, THIS BEAUTIFULLY DESIGNED BOOK (BY CHIC HARPER) IS A WORK OF ART AND A BOOK WHICH I COME BACK TO TIME AND AGAIN TO REFERENCE INFORMATION ABOUT ST ANDREWS, AND JUST TO EXPERIENCE THE BOOK, BECAUSE IT IS AN EXPERIENCE IN ITSELF READING THIS BOOK AND FLICKING THROUGH ITS 278 PAGES. THE BOOK ESSENTIALLY TAKES YOU THROUGH ST ANDREWS DURING THE LIFE OF OLD TOM MORRIS, BRINGING TO LIFE THE STREETS, LANES AND PROPERTY WHICH PLAYED A PART IN THE LIFE OF THIS MOST FAMOUS OF ST ANDREWS RESIDENTS.
WE LEARN ABOUT OLD TOM'S FAMILY, FRIENDS AND ASSOCIATES AND THE PLACES THEY LIVED AND WORKED, AND IT HAS ESSENTIALLY BECOME A FANTASTIC SOURCE OF INFORMATION ABOUT EVERY PART OF THIS HISTORIC TOWN, FROM HAMILTON GRAND TO THE LINKS, FROM NORTH STREET TO SOUTH STREET, FROM MARKET STREET TO THE SCORES AND FROM THE CASTLE TO THE CATHEDRAL. THE BOOK BASICALLY DOES WHAT IT SAYS - IT TAKES YOU ON A TOUR OF ST ANDREWS, IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OLD TOM MORRIS.
SINCE PUBLICATION IT HAS BEEN GIVEN WIDESPREAD ACCLAIM AND ROGER HAS RECEIVED THE HIGHEST OF ACCOLADES, BY BEING NAMED THE HERBERT WARREN WIND BOOK OF THE YEAR WINNER BY THE USGA IN 2015, AN AWARD HE WOULD RECEIVE FOR THE SECOND TIME, IN 2020, FOR HIS BOOK ' St Andrews: The Road War Papers'. EACH BOOK, BUT ESPECIALLY THIS ONE, TAKES A HUGE COMMITMENT OF TIME TO RESEARCH AND PUT TOGETHER, AS ROGER EXPLAINS:
"Three years (OF RESEARCH FOR ST ANDREWS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OLD TOM MORRIS). St Andrews has fantastic research facilities in terms of the original material available at The R&A World Golf Museum, University of St Andrews Special Collections and the St Andrews Preservation Trust. I could not have achieved the success I have without these organisations. They have been wonderfully kind to me" ROGER SAYS.
THIS BOOK TELLS ME A LOT ABOUT ST ANDREWS WHICH I DID NOT KNOW PRIOR TO PUBLICATION, AND THE PROCESS OF RESEARCHING IT ALSO SAW THINGS POP UP WHICH SURPRISED ROGER TOO:
"I was surprised to find that Tom Morris was eighteen when he started working for Allan Robertson. He was never the boy apprentice. They are only five years apart and were more akin to close brothers than the narrative written to date. He was by then one of the best golfers in town. He already knew how to mend a featherie – he would have needed to. The fact that they made up quickly after briefly falling out over the new guttie ball, is a sign of the depth of their friendship."
THE BOOK HAS GONE ON TO BE ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL GOLF BOOKS, AND CERTAINLY ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL PIECES OF WORK RELATING TO GOLF IN ST ANDREWS AND OLD TOM MORRIS, ROGER IS UNDERSTANDABLY HAPPY, BUT TYPICALLY MODEST ABOUT ITS SUCCESS:
"I would have been happy with one copy being printed, so the sale of thousands of the books is a wonderful surprise."
FOLLOWING UP A MASTERPIECE LIKE ST ANDREWS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OLD TOM MORRIS WOULD BE DIFFICULT FOR MOST OF US, BUT IT IS THE FASCINATION WITH PEOPLE, AND HIS ABILITY TO WRITE VARIED STORIES ON A SIMILAR TOPIC WHICH HAVE HELPED ESTABLISH ROGER AS THE PRE-EMINENT GOLF HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR OF OUR TIME. REMARKABLY ROGER FOLLOWED UP THIS SUCCESS WITH AN EVEN MORE POPULAR BOOK. "Little Tommy Morris, which is based on the life of Tommy Morris. It took an hour to write but has sold more than all my other books combined" HE SAYS. "I wrote it for my son as I was tired of reading The Gruffalo and wanted something golf related. After I wrote it, I sent it to Peter Crabtree to see what he thought and he was more vociferous about it than anything I have ever written! The brilliant New York artist Maria Randall lived in St Andrews at the time and kindly did the artwork. Di Dougherty read it during lockdown and it has had 254k views to date. I am in talks with a producer to have it made into an animated movie, ironically like The Gruffalo."
IT WOULD BE QUITE SOMETHING TO SEE LITTLE TOMMY MORRIS ON THE SMALL SCREEN, AND MAYBE EVEN ST ANDREWS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OLD TOM MORRIS. THE AWARD-WINNING BOOK COULD CERTAINLY BE A SUCCESS AS A NETFLIX OR PRIME VIDEO SERIES.
IN SPITE OF THE INCREDIBLE SUCCESS OF LITTLE TOMMY MORRIS AND ST ANDREWS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OLD TOM MORRIS, IT IS 'St Andrews, The Road War Papers' THAT ROGER SAYS WAS THE MOST REWARDING TO WRITE. "IT was a joy because it highlighted the precognition statements at the time. Therefore, instead of talking about Tom Morris, this was Tom and many other legends in their statements talking about their lives in their own words" HE SAYS.
"The statements provided detail on lots of St Andrews history and especially the landscape around the eighteenth green. Carters who built dumped the town rubbish onto West Sands and covered it with topsoil to create the land for the first hole or folk who remembered the first house being built by Clarke on ‘East of the Wynd’, that became Granny Clarke’s Wynd in time, vividly create 19th century St Andrews."
HAVING SUCCESS WITH THE BOOKS HE HAS, AND KEEPING MOTIVATION REQUIRES TO CARRY ON WRITING ABOUT THINGS WHICH ARE INTERESTING TO HIM AND OF COURSE, POPULAR WITH AN AUDIENCE, TO A DEGREE. I ASKED ROGER HOW HE DEVISED IDEAS FOR THE BOOKS AND WHAT HE WAS KEEN TO WRITE ABOUT IN THE FUTURE.
"Usually, it is what interests me at the time. That is when I write best. My next book is on Allan Robertson. I do feel a great responsibility to get it right, so am taking my time. It should be finished by 2024. That book came to me when a close friend, Bill Williams, who had started his research, died and his family asked me to take over. It was an honour to be asked and I am loving the research as a new Allan Robertson is appearing."
BEING A WRITER, AUTHOR AND CREATIVE PERSON IS NOT EASY, AND AS I KNOW ALL TOO WELL, IT CAN BE EASY TO BECOME CONSUMED BY AN IDEA OR A TOPIC, NEGLECTING OTHER AREAS OF LIFE OR OTHER TOPICS TO WRITE ABOUT OR CREATE CONTENT ABOUT. I ASKED ROGER WHAT HE THOUGHT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF BEING A GOLF HISTORIAN/AUTHOR.
"Finding time to work on my own books and balancing family life" HE SAYS. AS ROGER SAID EARLIER, ST ANDREWS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OLD TOM MORRIS TOOK THREE YEARS TO RESEARCH. "If I spent the rest of my life researching St Andrews, I would probably cover 1% of what I am interested in. I could spend a lifetime looking at the St Andrews connection to Hexham, the naming of St Andrews and the true origins of St Andrews."
HAVING WRITTEN TWO QUITE DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT BOOKS, IN LITTLE TOMMY MORRIS AND ST ANDREWS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OLD TOM MORRIS, IT CERTAINLY TAKES SKILL TO PRODUCE SUCH DIFFERENT BODIES OF WORK, AND ROGER CONSIDERS THE FOLLOWING TO BEING KEY TO BE A SUCCESSFUL HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR:
Essential qualities for a quality historian are:
be a good researcher
look at primary sources whenever possible
never take anything for granted no matter how many people have said it before
reflect your passion in your writing.
AS A GOLF WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER MYSELF I TAKE INSPIRATION FROM A WIDE RANGE OF PEOPLE INCLUDING THE LIKES OF DAVID CANNON AND KEVIN KIRK IN GOLF PHOTOGRAPHY, BUT ALSO OTHER INDIVIDUALS FROM OTHER FIELDS OF MEDIA INCLUDING THOMAS HEATON, NIGEL DANSON AND SKY SPORTS GOLF COMMENTATOR EWEN MURRAY. I ASKED ROGER WHO HIS INSPIRATION WAS AND WHICH OTHER HISTORIANS WORK HE TOOK INSPIRATION FROM.
"St Andrews own David Hay Fleming, is my favourite. The level of his research is incredible. I also like many 19th and early 20th century books especially by Andrew Lang, Charles Lyon, Leslie Balfour, HSC Everard and Andrew Kirkaldy, that bring the town and links story to life.
I love the late Dr David Malcolm’s work, not only Tom Morris the Colossus of Golf that he published with Peter Crabtree but also his recent book on the Strath family. He has the ability to make history interesting and accessible, which is a gift that many historians lack. That is what I aspire to do with every book that I write and avoid sending folk to sleep."
I CAN CERTAINLY VOUCH THAT ROGER'S WRITING DOES NOT SEND ME TO SLEEP, THAT IS PERHAPS BECAUSE I SHARE HIS PASSION FOR GOLF AND FOR ST ANDREWS. ROGER KINDLY SIGNED HIS BOOK 'ST ANDREWS - A COMFORT BLANKET FOR THE HAPLESS GOLFER' TO "MATT, THE KING OF ST ANDREWS." WHILST I VERY MUCH APPRECIATE THE KIND WORDS, THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT THAT THROUGH HIS OUTSTANDING WORK, IT IS ROGER DESERVING OF THAT TITLE, AND I VERY MUCH LOOK FORWARD TO READING HIS FUTURE WORKS, UNCOVERING MORE HISTORY AND TELLING THE STORY OF GOLF.