The 7th Open | 1866 Prestwick

Park brothers take first and second

When thinking of famous family affairs at The Open, most will instantly associate the Morris relatives, both Old and Young Tom, with golf's original major. However, the early years of The Open were dominated by not one, but two families of Champion Golfers.

Continue reading

The second family was the Park family, which included Willie Park Snr, the man who became the first Champion Golfer of the Year in 1860. 

In 1866, two of three prodigious Park brothers finished first and second, one of only three times this has ever happened in the Championship's history. 

We look at how four relatives in all were able to amass seven Open titles and leave a lasting legacy throughout the golfing world.

The 1st Open

The Park family's journey in the game of golf began when Willie Park Snr and his younger brother Mungo Park took up the game as young men in the 1830s and 40s. 

Speaking to The Open in 2016, the great-grandson of Willie Park Snr, also named Mungo Park, discussed his ancestor's start in the game. 

"The history of the first Open is probably more complex than I'm able to describe," Mungo said. "This professional tournament was for the Champion Golfer, the best golfer in the world. 

"Willie (Park Snr) was a young man, he started off as a ploughman's son, and would have become an agricultural worker, except that his father moved down to Musselburgh, just across the road from the links. And so he became a very proficient golfer."

Both Willie and Mungo became established among the finest players across all of Scotland. While Mungo spent nearly two decades at sea in the middle part of the 19th century, Willie Park Snr would travel to Prestwick to compete in The 1st Open Championship. 

"I think (Old) Tom Morris was the favourite to win," said the junior Mungo Park (pictured below), "because obviously he had a home advantage, and so it was something of a surprise when the interloper from Musselburgh won The Open."

Mungo Park

Willie Park Snr's victory at Prestwick in 1860 meant he became the first ever Champion Golfer of the Year, following the previous year's death of Allan Robertson, the man acknowledged as the finest player around prior to The Open's creation. 

The victory sparked a rivalry between Park Snr and Old Tom Morris, and between them they would go on to win six of the next seven Open Championships. 

The Championship in 1866, however, was truly a Park family affair.  

Siblings first and second

Davie Park, the younger brother of both Willie and Mungo, was a fine golfer in his own right. He played in The Open in 1861 and 1863, finishing fourth and third respectively, before making his wishes to play in The 7th Open in 1866 be known. 

A large contingent of Musselburgh golfers had also made their intentions clear, but the rules from the inaugural Championship stated that no more than three professionals could compete from any one club. 

As such, entry into the Championship, particularly from a club with so many gifted professionals as Musselburgh, was difficult. To make matters more problematic was the expense of such a trip from Musselburgh to Prestwick. 

Therefore, members of Musselburgh decided to raise funds for prospective competitors to make the journey over to Prestwick, and a competition was held at the club to determine which three players would earn the sponsorship to play in The Open. 

Willie Park claimed top spot through 27 holes, with Davie two strokes behind, tied with James Hutchinson. Davie then beat Hutchinson in a play-off to determine the order, and the three qualified for the funding to go to Prestwick.  

But little did the members know just how good the Parks' showing would be. In round one, Willie took a four-stroke lead over his brother with a round of 54 over Prestwick's 12 holes. He then added to that advantage with a second round of 56. Davie's scores of 58 and 57 respectively left him in sole second place, five shots adrift. 

Intriguingly, the play in the Championship was described as 'indifferent throughout', and at a time where players were rapidly improving seemingly with each passing year, spectators, onlookers, journalists and even the players themselves were unimpressed with scoring in the event. In fact, the Fifeshire Journal proclaimed that 'never were there more disasters to golfers of mark'.  

The level of play notwithstanding, it appeared the Challenge Belt was returning to Musselburgh, and more specifically, to a Park, after 24 holes. With a 56 in round three, ensuring a stroke improvement each round, Davie finished with a total of 171, and ensured Willie could shoot no worse than 60 to win. 

However, Willie produced a solid round of 59 to win The Open once again, claiming the third of his eventual four victories. And in finishing first and second, the Park brothers became the first pair of siblings to achieve that feat in The Open, with the only pairs matching them since being Hugh and Andrew Kirkaldy in 1891 and Harry and Tom Vardon in 1903. 


Mungo's triumphant return

Davie and Willie would not be the only Parks to have success in The Open, however. When Mungo Park returned from his naval services, he showcased his immense talent by winning in his first ever Open Championship appearance in 1874 at the Parks' home of Musselburgh. It was Mungo's sole triumph in golf's original major.  

Davie came sixth in that Championship and Willie finished 13th, before the latter won his fourth title the following year at Prestwick.

The Park and Morris families were dominant in the mid to late 19th century, and had combined to win 13 of the first 15 Opens ever played as their rivalry remained true and fierce. But after Young Tom's tragic death in 1875, which was pre-empted by grave news delivered to him during a match between Mungo, Willie and the Morrises, neither the elder Morris, nor any of the Park brothers, would win an Open Championship again. 

Junior's time to shine

Whilst the legacy of the men who so dominated golf's original major in its burgeoning years stands true to this day, a younger member of the Park family was yet to have his own success at The Open.

Willie Park Jnr, the son of Willie Park Snr, and Mungo and Davie's nephew, was becoming a wonderful young golfer as his father and uncle Mungo were winning their last Open Championships. In 1880, at just 16 years of age, he made his debut in the Championship, finishing 16th.

Willie Park Jnr

Less than a decade later, in 1887 and 1889, Park Jnr would win at both Prestwick and Musselburgh, the two sites accounting for all five of the Park family's previous triumphs. 

Park Jnr's legacy, however, is remembered far beyond just the playing of the game, as he became somewhat of a golfing Renaissance man in the late 19th and early 20th century. 

Park Jnr was the first professional to write a book on the sport, with 'The Game of Golf' published in 1896, and he became a successful writer in the early 20th century for Golf Illustrated.

"A man who can putt is a match for anyone" - WILLIE PARK JNR

Willie wrote many iconic phrases and terms that are still used today, including "a man who can putt is a match for anyone". He also coined the name 'The Postage Stamp' for the famed eighth hole at Royal Troon. 

But it is perhaps Park Jnr's golf course design that is his most tangible legacy. Having contributed to over 150 layouts across Britain, Ireland, Europe and North America, Willie was prolific in his design of courses and was one of the first pre-eminent professional architects in golf. 

Some of Park Jnr's most famous designs include Sunningdale Old, Olympia Fields and the Evian course in France, and his work, much like that of Old Tom Morris, has inspired countless architects in the near century since his death. 

Park Jnr and Park Snr are only one of two father-son duos to have won The Open. The other duo was unsurprisingly, the Morrises. Coupled with Davie and Mungo's exploits in The Open, the Parks had quite the successful run in golf's original Major. 

And while there can be little doubt that the Morris family has left a prolonged fixture in the fabric of the Championship, there can also be little doubt that the Park family has done so as well.