How Old Tom Morris inspired a wickedly spicy new hot sauce
Spiciness is to Scottish cuisine what laying up is to Bryson DeChambeau. There isn’t much of one in the other.
So it may come as a surprise to learn of a new hot sauce that is named in honor of the most famous Scottish golfer in history, Old Tom Morris, who probably would not have known a jalapeño from a habanero if both had sprouted from his beard.
Only when you hear about the origins of this hot sauce does its existence start to make sense.
The man behind it is John (Woody) Woodman, 50, a former assistant golf pro who for years has earned his living as a salesman in the lighting industry.
Three years ago, Woodman, a golf history buff, was sitting at home in Southern California, reading a book about Old Tom Morris, captivated not only by the Scot’s biography but by images of him and other golfers of the era.
“They are just from such a different time,” Woodman says. “When you’re looking at them, it’s like you’re watching Downton Abbey.”
So striking were the pictures of Old Tom that Woodman snapped a photo of them and, just for kicks, texted them to a professional illustrator friend in Seattle.
A short while later, his friend texted back with an Old Tom Morris sketch of his own.
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And that’s when it hit Woodman: Old Tom Morris would make a great character in a children’s book!
At this point, you may be asking: What does this have to do with hot sauce?
Bear with us. Like the heat in some peppers, this one takes some time to build.
The more Woodman thought about an Old Tom Morris children’s book, the more he was convinced that he should write that book, and that his buddy in Seattle should illustrate it.
The only catch was, he wanted to pay his pal a fair wage for that work.
Maybe now you can see where this is headed.
Aside from his wife, his daughter and golf, one of the abiding loves in Woodman’s life is hot sauce. Before the pandemic, he traveled often, and everywhere he went, he would sample different versions of the spicy condiment.
In the course of his sampling, he came across a company in Texas that produces private label hot sauces. Of that company’s sauces, Woodman discovered one that he liked the best. It wasn’t even close. It was the standout sauce.
It happened to be made with Scotch bonnet chilis.
The Scotch bonnet chili is a fiery little devil, a relative of the habanero, that takes its name, as Woodman learned, from the article of clothing it resembles: the tam o’shanter, the traditional Scottish cap otherwise known as the Scotch bonnet.
There are pictures of Old Tom Morris wearing one.
Now, we’re really getting warm.
But we still need to add another key ingredient.
Last summer, shortly after relocating to Florida, Woodman visited the World Golf Hall of Fame. During his tour of the museum, he noticed that Old Tom Morris was born on June 16, 1821. Doing some quick back-of-the-scorecard calculations, Woodman further noted that the bicentennial of Old Tom’s birthday was approaching in 2021.
A major milestone for one of golf’s most fabled figures.
And yet Woodman hadn’t heard a single mention of it anywhere.
Surely, something should be done to mark the date!
Something, maybe, like a commemorative hot sauce.
Woodman still had his friend’s Old Tom illustration, which he sent to the hot sauce company in Texas.
And voila: his first private label batch of that Scotch bonnet hot sauce, contained in five-ounce bottles, each emblazoned with his buddy’s drawing.
With that, Woodman says, “Old Tom Hot Sauce was born.”
Using Old Tom’s image was not an issue, as most legal protections of personal likeness expire 100 years after a person’s death.
But the crowded hot sauce market was a challenge in itself. Woodman realized he could not compete for shelf space with Tabasco, Tapatio, Chalula and the like. Not traditional shelf space, anyway. Nor did he want to.
Though his days as an assistant golf pro were long behind him, Woodman kept close tabs on the industry. Over the years, he’d watched as merchandise in pro shops had taken an increasingly lifestyle driven bent.
“I was in a pro shop recently, and they were selling underwear,” Woodman says. “I’ll tell you this much — hot sauce is a lot more interesting than underwear.”
And so it was decided: He would sell his golf-themed hot sauce exclusively at golf courses.
The plan checked all the boxes: a whimsical tribute to Old Tom that would help support the golf industry Woodman loved while also serving as a Kickstarter campaign for his Old Tom children’s book.
About that book. It is called A Champion. It centers on the relationship between Old Tom Morris and his son, Young Tom Morris, and it teaches life lessons through the prism of the rules of golf. Woodman has already written the text. Now he needs to pay for the illustrations, along with other publication costs. He figures that he’ll need around $25,000.
So far, he’s made retail inroads at a handful of Florida courses, including King & Bear, at the World Golf Village, in St. Augustine, where the executive chef plans to use Old Tom Hot Sauce on a menu item, most likely chicken wings, as a teaser for by-the-bottle sales in the pro shop.
“Kind of like getting off the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride at Universal Studios, entering the gift shop and buying a stuffed minion,” Woodman says. “Only you can eat it, and it’s spicy.”
Other courses have expressed interest in doing the same, Woodman says.
Whether he’ll get the book published before Old Tom’s bicentennial, Woodman can’t be sure. And either way, he hopes that the hot sauce takes on a life of its own, finding a secure place in golf course restaurants and pro shops.
If the story of his hot sauce has revealed anything, it’s that you never know where fate will take you. Or your condiments.
Earlier this week, Woodman got wind of another twist: The World Golf Hall of Fame had agreed to place a bottle the hot sauce on display above Old Tom Morris’s locker in the museum. The Old Tom exhibit has always been a cool one. But the hot sauce really kicks it up a notch.