Willie Park Sr
Birthday: June 30, 1833
Died: July 25, 1903
Birthplace: Musselburgh, Scotland
Willie Park Sr. is one of golf’s “Founding Fathers” and the inaugural winner of the Open Championship.
Born in Musselburgh, Scotland in 1833, Park was introduced to the game as a caddy. Park was born into an era when “challenge matches” were the way ordinary citizens began to watch the game of golf. At 20 years of age, Park challenged Willie Dunn and Old Tom Morris to a big money challenge match. Morris declined and his brother played Park instead, losing by four holes in a 36-hole match.
The young Park’s great distance off the tees intimidated these older, more established players. Besides his tremendous length, Park was also an excellent putter – a deadly combination tour golfers still strive for today. In fact, Golf Illustrated writer A.H. Doleman said in 1903, “He (Park) was not merely good, not merely excellent, but brilliant. So deadly was he when within three or four yards of the hole.”
The rivalry between Park and Morris was an important part of the Open Championship’s early history. During the first 8 years of the British Open, Park won 3 times and Morris won 4 titles.
When Park won the first title in 1860, the Claret Jug had not yet been created. Park was presented with a “Championship Belt.” In his final victory in 1875, Park was given the Claret Jug – the trophy still presented to Open Champions today.
Park and his wife had 10 children, including a son named Willie Park, Jr. who would go on to be a famous golfer in his own right, winning 2 Open Championships during his career. Park Jr. also would go on to be a noted golf course designer. He designed Olympia Fields in Chicago, Illinois, the course that hosted the 1928 and 2003 U.S. Opens.