GET INTO GOLF: A look back at the British Open’s roots
We call it the “The British Open.”
It is the open golf championship played annually in Great Britain. Similar to the United States Open Championship played at Pebble Beach 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 12-hole links course. If a player won the tournament three years in succession, the belt was his to keep.
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 began on Thursday with the final two rounds today and tomorrow. The site is the tip of Northern Ireland at Royal Portrush Golf Club. Royal Portrush has two courses and the championship will be played on their Dunluce Links.
Ironically, Royal Portrush hosted the first Open Championship outside the island of Great Britain in 1951, yet has not been played their again until this year.
As you can imagine, the boys from the UK, specifically Ireland have a ‘home field’ advantage. Northern Ireland’s, Shane Lowry has the lead and England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood are just one shot back.
We have a complement of old guys and young guys. For the young guys, it will of course be fun to watch Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, and J.B Holmes.
Yet, there will be a number of old guys in the mix. The aforementioned Westwood is 46, Jim Furyk is 49, and two-time winner Ernie Els is also 49 years of age.
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 professional, VP of Yugi Golf Management, and provides golf instruction at local courses.
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