GET INTO GOLF: A look back at the British Open’s roots |

GET INTO GOLF: A look back at the British Open’s roots

Today is round three of the year’s third major tournament.

In fact, due to location, coverage began this morning at 4:30 a.m. on Golf Channel. 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 (U.S. Open) played at Shinnecock Hills, New York, 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 simply known to European golfers as “The Open.” For us, this might be confused with the U.S. Open, but for our friends across the pond there is no ambiguity. We give them a pass on this exclusive moniker because theirs is the world’s oldest open championship. 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.

According to the first rule 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 Championship 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, there is another “old” guy playing well as Bernhard Langer, at age 60, was off to a good start and will play the weekend. He will need to continue to bring his “A” game with the world’s best players, gathered at Carnoustie, in Scotland, nipping at his heals. With nearly dawn to dusk television coverage, 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

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