Characters: David Joy

St. Andrean David Joy brings other worlds to life with his art and his portrayal of Old Tom Morris

My life changed on July 12, 2010, when I went to see Peter Alliss Meets Old Tom Morris at the Byre Theatre in St. Andrews. Having grown up listening to Alliss, I was looking forward to hearing his stories. I was disappointed when around 7 p.m., David Joy—dressed as Old Tom Morris—meandered on to the stage.

From the get-go, the Grand Old Man of Golf was engaging. He shared exciting tales of how Tom, with his fierce battles against Willie Park Sr., became the Champion Golfer. When he talked about son Tommy, his incredible career but tragic early death, I was completely gripped. Many in the audience, including yours truly, had tears in their eyes.

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David Joy’s Old Tom Morris in St Andrews (photo by Mark Alexander)

My lifelong friend and Joy’s on-stage caddie, Jimmy Bone, said, “Nothing was scripted. On stage that evening or on any other occasion during the 15 years I acted as caddie to Old Tom, the history of golf had to remain true.  Never, in all the hundreds of performances David gave, did I ever hear the same tale told the same way twice.”

Like a tuning fork, David’s show resonated with me. I wanted to know more about Tom Morris and began my own research. Six books, along with multiple articles, movies, podcasts, and documentaries later, it is safe to say that David’s performance was the turning point.

David is the fourth generation of Joys born in St. Andrews. His great grandfather Willie caddied for Tom Morris in 1892. His father Duncan was Secretary of the Thistle Golf Club for decades. In 1958, a nine-year-old David was in the audience at Younger Hall as Bobby Jones got the Freedom of the City award in St. Andrews and sang Will be no came back again? with fellow locals who felt such a close bond with Jones.

He is the very definition of a renaissance man. As an actor, he shared the screen with John Cleese in advertisements for Titleist. A self-proclaimed “smarty pants,” he is the closest I have come to meeting a genius. Not only did his Old Tom show inspire a generation of writers and historians, but his art, produced in his home studio, is extraordinary.

His latest book, The Joy of Golf, to be released later this year, contains 960 sketches of all the Open winners. His painted landscapes are beautiful and seem to change as the light ebbs in a room. The Scrapbook of Old Tom Morris and the official Open books that he wrote for the R&A are sublime reads.

David has held court in The Dunvegan bar on many a night. His cheeky humor lights up a room but is never cruel. Like Old Tom, he can mix equally with caddies and gentlemen golfers, making both cry with laughter. In 1995, he founded Keepers of the Green, “to promote the game of golf and to improve lives through powered mobility,” transforming hundreds of lives with powered wheelchairs.

A few years ago, David made himself a cup of coffee, but when he tried to lift the cup, it fell from his hand. The doorbell rang, and David answered, confused about what had happened. He had suffered a stroke. The paralysis was down his left-hand side, but being David, he taught himself to paint with the right hand as the left side recovered.

He remains as cheeky and irreverent as ever. Plans are being made to resurrect Old Tom for the Open. As he stands facing you, whispering the words of Old Tom again, you are transported to the magical world of yesteryear. I don’t know how he does it, but he gets me every time.

St. Andrews resident Roger McStravick is a golf writer and historian. Two of his books have won the USGA’s Herbert Warren Wind award.