The Anderson Family
(Source: © 2003 - 2020 Douglas MacKenzie)
The Anderson family of St Andrews begins, in clubmaking terms, with David ”Old Da” Anderson born in 1819. He worked as a feather ballmaker in St Andrews and was a caddy on the Old Course. When Tom Morris left the town to take up the post of keeper of the green at Prestwick in 1851, David Anderson took on that role for the Old Course until resigning in 1855. There are certainly some longnose clubs marked “D Anderson” made by him rather than his son.
In his later years he would take a barrow of food and drink, and golf balls for sale, down to the 4th hole of the Old Course. This is commemorated in the present name of the hole. Ginger Beer, although tradition has it that far headier brews were sold to fortify golfers.
This picture of the Ginger Beer cart was taken in 1893. The golfer seated is Peter Anderson (no relation). Playing out of St Andrews University, he was Amateur Champion that year at Prestwick
As the family tree/business tree of Old Da’s descendants shows, there were two distinct lines. The eldest son, Jamie Anderson, and his family went one way; David, sometimes in association with Willie, went another. Both lines illustrate the importance of family businesses in nineteenth and early-twentieth century clubmaking and, a problem common still in Scottish family businesses, sustaining the firm beyond one generation. Both too show the importance of Robert Forgan in St Andrews clubmaking: Jamie Anderson was the first assistant Forgan employed. He returned there after his own business ventures came to an end, two of his three sons worked there and the third worked for Robert Forgan’s brother, Andrew, in Glasgow. Auld Da’s other two sons probably also learned their clubmaking there. Even James’ (Jamie’s eldest) two sojourns to the United States as professional at the Onwentsia club may have a Forgan connection as David R Forgan, son of Robert, was one of the founding members of that Chicago club.
Auld Da’s eldest son was born in 1842 and, after Robert Forgan’s uncle, Hugh Philp, died in 1856, and the business became his, young Jamie was the first assistant he hired. Forgan was, presumably, not too hard a taskmaster as Jamie found plenty time to caddy on the Old Course and to play golf. He knocked on the door when the Open came to St Andrews in 1873, finishing in second place, a shot behind Tom Kidd, after a nine on the Heather Hole during his second round. Three years of glory began in 1877 at Musselburgh with a two shot win ahead of Bob Pringle. A dramatic finish at Prestwick the following year saw him finish the last four holes in 13 strokes with an iron shot holed at the 15th and a hole in one on the 17th. The following year, back on his home course at St Andrews, he won for a third time. Leading after the first round, ahead of Andra Kirkaldy. Tom Kidd and Jamie Allan, he played the second round calmly. ‘the presence of the multitude did not in any way disturb his equanimity’ and he won, relatively easily, by three shots
A very popular player in Fife, he was followed all over the course at Elie by a small boy during a match in 1879 who, when Anderson was not too busy, showed him the shots he could play. Jamie watched and told him that, if he stuck in at golf, he too would one day be Open Champion. That day was the abiding childhood memory of the wee boy who recalled it in an article in Golf Illustrated in 1905. That wee boy was James Braid who recalled the event in print after his second Open win in 1905 shortly before Jamie's death.
After his Open wins, Jamie began making clubs on his own account. This started on a small scale, away from St Andrews, while he was professional at Ardeer and then, in the North Port in Perth where he took over from Peter Stewart about 1889. Peter Baxter, writing ten years later, noted what a shot in the arm Anderson’s famed presence gave Perth golf: he lengthened holes on the North Inch and was the first to keep it open for golf all year round. ‘But he hungered for his native St Andrews’ and returned in 1892 and, as his boys grew older, he brought them into the business as James Anderson and Sons in 1893. This metamorphosed into The Golf Company the following year and then the Kilrymont Golf Company. The clubs must have been good as they advertised their success in exhibiting at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 but the business did not endure. A year or so later and father and two sons were back working for Forgan, which rather confirms they were good clubmakers, and the third son was working for Robert Forgan’s brother, Andrew, in Glasgow. It is not known what blighted the career of Jamie Anderson but it must have been a downward spiral hereafter. Sadly, and, today, unbelievably for a three time Open Champion and winner of many high-stake matches, Jamie ended his days in the Poor House at Dysart.
Two of the sons headed south after a spell with Forgan. David went from Andrew Forgan’s shop in Glasgow to Peter Paxton, the great Musselburgh clubmaker, working then in Tooting Bec, and served as the professional to the now defunct Bromley and Bickley Golf Club. Paxton’s passion for inventing new clubs must have spread to his protege as David Anderson produced his own version of an approaching cleek in 1901. He was recognised as one of the most promising playing professionals in England but illness put an end to his competitive golf. He spent two years in America then returned to London to teach golf. He joined the Royal Flying Corps at the start of World War I and became a test pilot. After the war he started a golf school in London but in 1926 took a holiday in Australia for health reasons. He was persuaded to become professional at Cottesloe then at Royal Perth in 1928. It was during his time with the Perth club he died in 1939,
There was a Paxton connection for brother Willie also, taking over Paxton’s post at Hanger Hill in 1905. He spent three years there and held various posts as professional to London area clubs until, at least, the end of WWI.
After James, the eldest’s, two spells as a professional in the United States, he returned to St Andrews and established the clubmaking firm of Anderson and Blyth with David Blyth (yet another former Forgan clubmaker) in 1908. They seemed to prosper up until the outbreak of the Great War producing the Invincible driver, a range of irons with bi-level backs, branded Wemyss, (probably forged for them by Tom Stewart) and some very well-made traditional scareneck putters. Blyth died in 1913 and bad debts and the war caused the business to fail in 1915, James returned to work as a clubmaker at Forgan’s and a newpaper article celebrating his 50 years of service with the company (obviously not unbroken) in 1937 commented that his wooden putters were still prized possessions. His ability to copy favourite clubs is also noted with a customer list including Andrew Kirkaldy, Arnaud Massy, Fred Robson and George Duncan.
Despite the familial connections with golf through his father, Auld Da and brother, Jamie, this was clearly not David Anderson’s first choice of career. He is described on the birth certificate of his early children as a plasterer. It is only with the birth of Margaret in 1876 that he is described as a clubmaker and, on the records for James and Andrew in 1878 and 1879, as a journeyman clubmaker, suggesting he began an apprenticeship around 1876 when he was already in his mid-30s. Given the fact that both his brothers worked there, it is likely his skills were learned, once again, in the Forgan workshop.
As there are clubs marked “D Anderson” from the 1880s, we assume he made at least some on his own account at this time. The first record of him going into business was a partnership with brother, Willie, in 1888, as D & W Anderson. Willie may have returned to work at Forgans and, from 1893, Slaters directory shows entries for the new firm of D Anderson & Sons.
Much is made of the fact that David Anderson had five sons to go into the business but, in its heyday, around the turn of the twentieth century, the youngest, John, was still at school. The 1901 census shows the four older boys working with father in the business as clubmakers and his eldest daughter, Margaret, employed as a clerk there. A piece in Golf Illustrated in February 1904 records twelve clubmakers. David’s eldest son, another David, was foreman of the works and was an excellent golfer too. He tied for second in the 1888 Open at St Andrews when, infamously, Jack Burns was declared the winner after it was found the total of his rounds – all two of them – had been added incorrectly.
Their original premises were at 5 Ellice Place, now the cigar store with the cigar store Indian outside but, for a time, they occupied the black railway sheds which gave the line to the 17th, the Road Hole, on the Old Course. The sheds were demolished when the Old Course Hotel was built but replicas are now in place to recreate the blind drive.
The firm was not particularly groundbreaking in terms of club technology. Indeed, probably their most famous ‘innovation’ was a step back in time. By the end of the 1890s hickory had been the favoured wood for shafts for almost one hundred years. At this time, David Anderson re-introduced ash as a shaft wood under the brand name Texa ash, the significance of the name and the supposed benefits of the material both being unclear. Unclear is perhaps too kind. The Courier of 23 November 1897 reported, ‘A Manchester golfer submitted his texa to a well-known clubmaker. That worthy, after a close inspection, declared it to be “naething but guid auld Scotch ash” and said the extra price charged was a “blanketty blank swindle”.
The Triumph putter, however, was an influential design with its offset blade and peak. Most also had an ovoid hosel. The Excelsior putter, a heavy head with a concentric back also seems to have originated from David Anderson. As neither model was patented, these forms can also be found from other makers. The Glory series of irons and putters used the contemporarily popular ‘diamond back’ form, which was intended to increase the weight behind the sweetspot.
Another Golf Illustrated article (in 1903) stresses the importance of the export trade to the firm. Clubs such as the one illustrated for Calcutta would be sent out to Fifers and Dundonians running the jute trade in India and there was also a healthy export business to the United States. In London, as the advertisement shows, John Wisden, who stocked only the best-made clubs, served as their agents.
And, if they were not particularly innovative in club design, they were in mechanisation. Plans were approved at the Dean of Guild Court in July 1907 for a workshop and mill to accommodate five electrically-driven machines which the local press, with more than a touch of hyperbole claimed, ‘would convert the rough tree into the finished article’.
The firm survived David senior’s death in 1912 and the First World War. Perhaps there were problems with the next succession. After all, the three oldest sons would all have been in their 70s in the 1930s. Perhaps their traditions of craftsmanship (they made beautiful wooden putters in the late 1920s and early 1930s) held them back in the metal-shafted era. I have not yet managed to establish the precise date the firm went out of business (Henderson and Stirk say ‘start of WWI’ [a new firm was created after David’s death but this was a legal nicety only] and Olman says 1926 both of which are wrong) but Peter Georgiady’s ‘beginning of WWII’ seems right. Once a more precise date is established, it may be possible to determine the reasons for the business's demise. The premises at 5 Ellice Place were advertised for sale as a clubmaker’s business with stock and plant, ‘due to the death of the owner’ in February 1945.
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