A collection of golf autographs from the game’s 19th and early 20th century pioneers is about to be sold.
The check that “Old Tom” Morris used to purchase the building and shop on Links Road in St. Andrews, the ancestral home of golf, and the most famous course in the world will be part of Heritage Auction Galleries’ April 22-23 Signature Sports Memorabilia Auction.
The Morris check is just one item in the Mark Emerson collection that will be up for bid. The check with “Old Tom’s” signature is one of very few known copies of the legendary golfer’s autograph. It is estimated at $6,000-$8,000.
“The autographs, photos and related ephemera that constitute the Emerson Collection are, in most every instance, the finest known examples available,” said Mike Gutierrez, Consignment Director for Sports Memorabilia at Heritage Auctions and longtime PBS’ Antiques Roadshow appraiser.
Emerson, a lifelong fan of the game, tirelessly pursued each instance and assembled the collection over the course of the last few decades.
“Old Tom Morris was golf’s first impresario and the foremost player of his day, winning four British Open Championships 1861-1867,” said Gutierrez. “This exact item, a cheque for 800 pounds, gave him outright title to the building and shop on Links Road in St. Andrews that bears his name to this day.”
Also included in the auction is an early 1920s Bobby Jones signed photograph that’s considered one of the best signed Jones photos in existence. It is estimated at $8,000-$12,000. Jones won 13 major championships in eight years and helped found the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters.
Another important American golfing icon, Walter Hagen, is represented with a 1924 signed letter, written on Royal Liverpool stationery with a full fountain pen signature just after Hagen’s British Open victory. It is estimated at $4,000-$6,000.
"On behalf of Mrs. Hagen and myself,” he wrote, “I thank British golfers for the great and cordial reception and many kindnesses we have received while with you to play in the Open Championship. I did not come to win it but to try for it and to enjoy the sportsmanship and friendship which has always been extended in such abundance. With my fellow countrymen I look to the Little Island as the home of golf and it is always a joy to play amongst you. I shall try to come next year and defend the title I am so proud to win. Sincerely yours, (signed) Walter Hagen."
British golf fans who know their history beyond “Old Tom” and “Young Tom” Morris will be intrigued by the inclusion of an exceedingly are 1865 Andrew Strath handwritten and signed wage receipt, possibly the only Strath signature in existence, estimated at $10,000-$15,000.
Strath became the "Keeper of the Greens" at Prestwick in 1865, following “Old Tom” Morris’s resignation and move to St. Andrews, and promptly won the Open Championship at his new home course. He was a brilliant player in golf’s infancy with four other top four finishes in the Open. Sadly he died of tuberculosis in 1868, making this signed and dated receipt for wages the rarest of the rare in major golf championship memorabilia. Remarkably, his unmarked grave was recently discovered and now a commemorative plaque identifies the forgotten Champion.
Further highlights of the collection include:
1918 Johnny McDermott Signed Photograph: In 1911, Johnny McDermott became the first American-born player to win the National Golf Championship and, to this day, McDermott is the youngest US Open Champion of all time at age 19. All previous US Open winners (1895-1910) had been born in the U.K. In 1912, McDermott won again, but shortly after being rescued from a ship accident in 1914, McDermott blacked out at his host club in Atlantic City and he spent the balance of his life in mental hospitals. This is the only known signed photo of McDermott known to exist. Estimate: $2,000-$4,000.
1894 A.F. MacFie Signed Scorecard: The first British Amateur Championship was held in 1885 at Hoylake and was won by MacFie. Nine years later, young Freddie Tait, who himself would win the Amateur twice (in 1896 and 1898) played a challenge match at The Old Course against “Old Tom” Morris and shot a then course record 72. In Tait’s own hand, he wrote down his scores on this sheet and had it attested by none other than A. F. MacFie. This is the only known signature of the first British Amateur Champion. Estimate: $3,000-$5,000.
1888 John Ball, Jr. Handwritten Signed Letter: John Ball Jr. is the most prolific winner of amateur titles in the history of golf. From 1888-1912 he captured the British Amateur Championship no less than eight times and in 1890 he won the Open Championship. Estimate: $3,000-$5,000.