Willie Park’s Magic Putter

Willie Park's Magic Flatstick

It turns out that Park Place was on the greens, where Willie Park Sr. had his own monopoly.


Willie Park Sr. (Open Champion of 1860, 1863, 166, and 1875), also affectionately known as the “Assassin with a stick,” is one of my personal favorite personalities in golf’s anthology. Tales about Park as told by various historians paint a terrific picture of a character I’m surprised hasn’t appeared with more frequency in modern golf books or even the big screen.

Consider the following:

Maybe it came from growing up on a farm and competing with seven siblings, or watching the finely dressed gents that he caddied for, or just an inescapable fire within, but Willie Park Sr. only wanted one thing — to be champion of all golfers.

Born in Musselburgh in 1833, Park Sr. learned how to play golf with a “shinty” (a hooked stick) at nights on the course after caddying. Tall and lanky, he used it for all shots, which helped him master both a long and straight drive and an unshakeable putter.

In a Golf Illustrated feature upon his death in 1903, A.H. Doleman wrote:

 “And now I come to Willie as a putter. Here he was not merely good, not merely excellent, but brilliant. …So deadly was he when within three or four yards of the hole.“
Earlier, in 1854, as a brash 21-year old, Park Sr. burst onto the golf scene when he traveled to St. Andrews to challenge Allan Robertson, then thought of as the world’s best golfer, to a match that  offered a £100 purse. Robertson said that he would consider it after Park Sr. took on another pro golfer. Park then beat Tom Morris’s Sr.’s brother George, and subsequently shocked the golfing world by beating a 35-year-old Tom Sr. too.

In the first match of what would be a see-saw rivalry spanning more than thirty years, laying the groundwork for the popularity of the sport, Park also found time to build a club making business in Musselburgh, augmented by the funds he won from many challenge matches. In 1860 Park beat Old Tom by two strokes to take the FIRST-EVER Open Championship at Prestwick. He won three more times, in 1863,1866, and 1875, coming in second to Morris Sr. four times.

Park suffered from ill health in the later years of his life, but his son Willie Jr. took over as club maker and champion, keeping Park’s name synonymous with championship golf for another generation.

As part of the 150th anniversary of the Open Championship in 2010, the St. Andrews Golf Co. created as precise and authentic a reproduction of Park’s original putter available anywhere. It is a detailed and authentic recreation of the very same putter Willie Park Sr. used to win that first Open Championship at Prestwick G. C. in 1860.

STAG created just 174 individually numbered Park putters for the milestone, with the full run being planned to recognize Park’s winning score over 36 holes in 1860.

The big hoorah(!) for LinkedGolfers members? A small number of these putters are still available for purchase. (I myself purchased #11 to add to my own collection.)



Sean T. Kelly
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