Old Tom Morris can never match Jack Nicklaus’ sheer breadth of accomplishments. But then, who could? Over nearly 50 years in the game, first as a player then as an architect, Nicklaus’ numbers—18 majors, 117 wins, 300 design credits—are dizzying.
Certainly, Old Tom’s four British Opens aren’t shabby. Although he will be remembered as golf’s first great champion, his more lasting contributions lie with the grounds he helped shape, among them the Old Course, Carnoustie and Muirfield in Scotland, and Ireland’s Royal County Down and Lahinch.
Morris also was St. Andrews’ longtime greenkeeper as well as a renowned clubmaker in an age in which the craft truly was art. In short, Old Tom was the very image of golf as its popularity grew throughout the British Isles and abroad.
“As St. Andrews became increasingly a mecca of golfers, so, too, did the sturdy patriarchal figure and bearing of Old Tom come to symbolize all that was finest in the Scottish character and in the ancient Scottish game,” wrote James K. Robertson in St. Andrews, Home of Golf. “His kindly, yet capable and gentle nature enshrined him a good many years before his death as the authentic Grand Old Man of Golf. To generations of people all over the world his name and his picture epitomized the game.”
Nicklaus has held a similar position, on a much larger scale. Like Morris, Nicklaus is a Renaissance man: Without equal on the course, he has been able to parlay his stellar game into successes in areas of equipment, teaching and most notably architecture in a way no top player before him could—not Bobby Jones, not Ben Hogan, not Byron Nelson.
In doing so, the indefatigable Nicklaus has remained one of golf’s most important and influential figures for nearly five decades. More than 20 years after his last major win, Nicklaus remains a giant. His opinions still matter, and he is as relevant today as he was as a player.
While Morris’ role as a pioneer is significant, his status in golf and achievements were made easier because he was working with a nearly blank canvas. In comparison, Nicklaus dramatically shifted long-entrenched standards of a player’s influence, both on and off the course; he has altered the golf landscape, to the benefit of both contemporaries and subsequent generations, including Tiger Woods. Ultimately, Nicklaus’ achievements are more impressive.