Willie Park of Musselburgh (1833 -1903)
Willie Park was born in Wallyford, East Lothian, Scotland.
Like some of the other early professional golfers, Park started out as a caddie. He later ran a golf equipment manufacturing business.
On the course, he made his money from “challenge matches” against rivals such as Old Tom Morris, Willie Dunn and Allan Robertson, which were the most popular form of spectator golf in his era.
Willie Park - a brief history
Who was Willie Park?
Willie Park was a tall, strong man, was a very long hitter and an excellent putter, but sometimes got into trouble through overly aggressive play.
A public challenge in 1853
He had surpassed the older Willie Dunn by age 20, and travelled to St Andrews Links to play and learn that course. He issued a public challenge in 1853 to Alan Robertson, generally recognised as the best player, which was, however, not taken up. Custom of the time allowed the best player to refuse a challenge of this sort without damage to his reputation.
Park further fuelled controversy through his aggressive self-promotion, but this did lead to increased interest in golf rivalries, more press coverage, and more matches and tournaments being set up, developing the professional game and increasing the incomes of players such as Park, Tom Morris, and Alan Robertson.
He married Susanna Law in Inveresk, Scotland, on 29 March 1860. The couple would have ten children.
A family of golfers
Park’s brother Mungo and his son Willie Jr. both also won the Open Championship. Mungo’s victory came in 1874 and Willie Jr. had two wins, in 1887 and 1889.
His greatest rival – Tom Morris
Willie’s greatest rival was Tom Morris of St Andrews They played countless matches together over thirty years. Both men won the Open championship four times each, and grew to respect each other, Willie Park would say off Tom Morris ‘I aye liket best to play against Old Tom’.
Tom was quoted on Willie ‘there is no disguising the fact that William Park is as good a player as ever lifted a club’. They inspired and respected each other.
Four open championships as part of his legacy,
Park died on 25 July 1903. He is primarily best remembered as the winner of four Open Championships, including the inaugural event in 1860, when the field was just eight strong.
His other victories came in 1863, 1866 and 1875. Park was the co-holder of the record for most wins in the tournament until James Braid picked up his fifth win in 1910.