Allan Robertson (1815 - 1859)
Born St Andrews, Scotland, Robertson is recognised as the first great golf professional.
The culture surrounding golf back in the 19th century was totally different to what it is today. Golf was a gentleman's game and elitist. This was due to the high cost of hand-crafted clubs and balls. It was amateurs who were held in esteem rather than professionals.
Professionals made a living from playing for bets, caddying, ball and club making and tuition. Robertson was the most famous of these pros. Tradition has it that Robertson himself was never beaten as an individual when playing for money. He sometimes played less than his ability in order to minimise the odds he had to give to opponents. Roberston is generally regarded as being the best golfer between 1840 and 1845, even after the arrival of the Park and Morris families. Indeed he was the first to score below 80 on the Old Course, St Andrews.
Robertson was considered the premier ball and club maker of the time and exported all over the world. It was a lucrative trade with an ever increasing market. The business was originally set up by his grandfather who passed it down to his son before Robertson himself finally inherited it. Today a Robertson ball carrying his stamp 'Allan' is highly prized by collectors.
Old Tom Morris worked in Robertson's shop and it is said that were never beaten when playing as a pair. Their relationship soured when the 'Guttie' ball was introduced. Robertson attempted to suppress the popularity of the new and cheaper ball which spelt the end of his own 100 year old business. Morris accepted the march of progress and felt obliged to leave Robertson and set up his own workshop. The 'Guttie' ball revolutionised golf and Roberston's business did indeed collapse.
Robertson died a few months after an attack of jaundice. A measure of the esteem in which he was held can be judged from the fact that the R&A issued a statement on his death exalting his contribution to golf and organised an annual collection to provide for his widow. Robertson's portrait is proudly displayed in the R&A's gallery. We remember him because he personifies what it was to be a professional during the previous era of golf.