RENSLOW: A look back at the British Open’s roots | TheUnion.com
John Renslow
Golf Columnist

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RENSLOW: A look back at the British Open’s roots

We call it the "British Open."

It is the open golf championship played annually in Great Britain. Similar to the United States Open Championship played at Erin Hills, Wisconsin a few weeks ago, the British Open Championship is available to virtually all comers (granted, if a player doesn't have a scoring average less than 75 for 18 holes, they cannot try to qualify, but anyone with a legitimate chance can give it a go).

It is known to European golfers as "The Open." For us, this simple title will translate to the U.S. Open, but for our friends across the pond, there is no ambiguity. We give them a pass on this prideful moniker, because theirs is the world's oldest golf tournament. Ever. The first Open Championship was played on Wednesday, October 17, 1860.

The prize was the Challenge Belt, paid for by members of Prestwick Golf Club. Clubs around England and Scotland were each invited to send three players to compete in the event, which was held over three rounds on the twelve-hole links course. If a player won the tournament three years in succession, the belt was his to keep.

According to the rules of the new golf competition: "The party winning the belt shall always leave the belt with the treasurer of the club until he produces a guarantee to the satisfaction of the above committee that the belt shall be safely kept and laid on the table at the next meeting to compete for it until it becomes the property of the winner by being won three times in succession."

Old Tom Morris, the "Keeper of the Green" at Prestwick, was the local favorite, but Willie Park took the first Open Champion with a score of 174 (remember this was for three rounds and there were only twelve holes). Then, 10 years later in 1870, Young Tom Morris (that would be "Junior") won The Open for the third time and took possession of the Challenge Belt.

Young Tom would win again in 1872. Unfortunately, the Earl of Eglinton (good 'ol Earl), who had provided the Challenge Belt, decided against any more belts. Perhaps he thought no one would win three in a row.

So, several members of the Prestwick Golf Club donated some money for a new prize. In 1873, the Golf Champion Trophy, now commonly referred to as the Claret Jug, was made by Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh. The first Open Champion to receive the new trophy was the 1873 winner, Tom Kidd, but Tom Morris Jr.'s name was the first to be engraved on it as the 1872 winner.

This year, the event starts Thursday and is being played on the northwest coast of England at Royal Birkdale, which has hosted the Open nine times since 1954.

We have a complement of old guys and young guys. For the young guys, it will of course be fun to watch Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day.

Yet, there will be a lot of old guys giving chase. It could be historical for Phil Mickelson, at age 47, Padraig Harrington (45 and won here in 2008), Darren Clarke (48), John Daly (51), Steve Stricker (50) and Mark O'Meara (60 and won here in 1998).

It would make Old Tom Morris proud as he won his final Open at the age of 46. But, they will need to bring their 'A' game with the world's best players all having designs on the Claret Jug. Television coverage begins before dawn (don't forget that 9-hour time difference) and it will be fun to watch.

John Renslow is a PGA Class A Professional and Instructor at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at jrenslow@yahoo.com.