Willie Park Jr. was one of golf’s first true Renaissance men – two-time Open champion, golf equipment maker, golf writer and one of the world’s best golf course architects. Born in Musselburgh, Scotland, near Edinburgh, Willie was the son of his famous father – also a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame – who won the Open Championship four times. Willie Sr. also ran a very successful golf equipment business that his son later expanded.
In fact, given the depth of their activities within the game, it may be said that the Park family of Willie Sr. and Jr., along with Willie Sr.’s brother Mungo – who won the Open Championship in 1870 – was a legitimate rival with Old Tom and Young Tom Morris of St. Andrews for the title of “first family of golf.”
"A man who can putt is a match for anyone."
Willie Sr. set the mold for his son, rising from the caddie ranks and winning the inaugural Open Championship at Prestwick in 1860. Playing in his first Open Championship in 1880, Park Jr. was already established as one of the best players in Scotland at the ripe old age of 16. But it took him seven long years to finally win his first Claret Jug. It wasn’t easy, as he faced a five-shot deficit entering the final round of the 1887 Open but rallied to beat Bob Martin by one stroke at the 12-hole Prestwick course.
In 1889, Park. Jr. returned to his home course at Musselburgh. Again, the road was difficult, but Park Jr. defeated Andrew Kirkaldy in a playoff to earn his second Open title.
The Open Championship expanded from two rounds to four rounds in 1892. Park Jr. had a razor-sharp short game, but his long game was a bit erratic. Like Walter Hagen after him, who relied on a brilliant short game, Park Jr. was known to remark: “A man who can putt is a match for anyone.” In total, that short game would help him earn 12 top-10 finishes in the Open and cement his legacy as one of its great early players.
There are only six known Park Royal golf ball – a ball Park patented in the 1880s – left in existence.
As a businessman, Park Jr. also excelled. In an era when golf professionals did not make a living from tournament earnings, Park Jr. earned money through playing challenge matches against other leading players; many times partnering with his father or his uncle Mungo against their rivals Old Tom and Young Tom Morris. Rounding out his pallet, Park Jr. also patented several golf club designs, as well as developing an export business selling golf implements overseas as the game grew.
Adding luster to his ever-expanding golf interests, Park Jr. became the first professional golfer to write a golf book, “The Game of Golf.” And, given his notoriety and ability on and around the greens, his second book, The Art of Putting, was published in 1920.
Park Jr. was also active as a golf course architect, designing more than 150 courses in the United Kingdom, Europe, Canada and the United States. Although not as prolific as Donald Ross, he did design such noted layouts as the Maidstone Club in the New York area, the North Course at Olympia Fields near Chicago, Weston Golf and Country Club in Toronto, Royal Quebec Golf Club in Quebec and the famed Old Course at Sunningdale outside of London. Park Jr. was credited with “laying the foundation stone of course architecture.”
While it is his golf course designs that provide his long-lasting legacy, Willie Park Jr. was much more indeed. He seemed to do it all, providing a model for today’s top-notch players expanding their interests and activities in the game.