Bio of British Open Winner Willie Fernie

Willie Fernie was a successful British Open competitor in the late 19th century, including one year as champion, and also contributed to golf as an architect, teacher and clubmaker.

Full name: William Fernie

Date and place of birth: May 7, 1855, in St. Andrews, Scotland

Date and place of death: June 24, 1924, in Glasgow, Scotland

golfer Willie Fernie

Tournament Wins by Willie Fernie

The one win that Fernie is known by is his victory in the 1883 Open Championship (more on that in the next section). The Troon Golf Club's website states that Fernie "won many other tournaments," but those wins appear to have gone unrecorded. Fernie was perhaps better known in his playing heyday as a competitor in, and frequent winner of, challenge matches — matches in which only two, three or four golfers competed, playing head-to-head.

Fernie in the British Open

It is Fernie's Open performances that produced his most-lasting fame. Fernie's win in 1883 is notable for multiple reasons:

  • He ended Bob Ferguson's three-year winning streak (and did so on Ferguson's home course, Musselburgh).
  • Fernie beat Ferguson in the first contested playoff in Open history. The tournament proper was 36 holes, and the playoff was 36 holes.
  • And Fernie won that playoff despite reaching the 18th tee one stroke down. But Fernie sank a long putt from the edge of the green on the last, scoring a two, while Ferguson managed only a four. A two-stroke swing for the win on the final hole.

Fernie was runner-up the previous year, in 1882. He also finished second in his title defense in 1884, plus in 1890 and 1891.

His first Open appearance was in 1873, his last in 1906. He recorded 18 Top 10 finishes over that span.

Notable Notes About Willie Fernie

Fernie was born in St. Andrews and competed against the Morris and Park family clans, both in tournaments and challenge matches. The Fernie clan was impressive in its own right: Willie's brother George was a pro; his sons Peter, Tom and Harry were pro golfers and Open competitors.

Willie Fernie stepped into the pro's life at an early English club, Aldeburgh, as its first club pro. As he gained notice for his Open finishes, Fernie moved on to Felixstowe.

A big opportunity came when George Strath left the pro position at Troon Golf Club in 1887. Fernie returned to Scotland and took over that job, holding it for 37 years, until 1924. He retired only a few months before his death.

Like most club pros of the era, Fernie was a jack-of-all-trades: He taught golf, he designed golf courses, he built golf clubs. Fernie-made clubs are impressively collectible items today.

As a course designer, Fernie's most notable work included making alterations to The Old Course, designing the original Ailsa course at Turnberry, and making changes at Troon.

The Troon website calls Fernie "a pioneer of indoor teaching."

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