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Now browsing: Hometown News > Golf > James Stammer


The history of the British Open
Rating: 2 / 5 (2 votes)  
Posted: 2014 Jul 25 - 08:54

When you win The Open Championship, you become "Champion Golfer of the Year" and your name is engraved on The Golf Champion Trophy, or as it is more commonly known, The Claret Jug.

The Open Championship, or as we Yanks call it, The British Open, is our sport's oldest championship. The Claret Jug is probably our most recognizable and desired trophy. However, when the first Championship took place in 1860 at Prestwick, this wonderful trophy wasn't even in the back of anyone's mind.

The original prize was the Challenge Belt. Made of Moroccan leather and embellished with a silver buckle and emblems, it looked very much like something you would see worn by a huge, muscle-bound guy on a televised wrestling match instead of a golf championship.

The Earl of Eglinton, who was key in setting up The Open Championship, came up with the idea of a belt to christen the winner of golf's championship. Since he had a keen interest in medieval pageantry, the belt made perfect sense to him. He sold the original Challenge Belt to the members of Prestwick Golf Club, hosts of the first Open.

The very first rule of the new competition was, "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."

Apparently the club thought that the likelihood of anyone winning three successive championships and keeping the belt, thus leaving them with no real trophy for the winner, were pretty slim.

It didn't take long for them to realize their folly. In 1870, just 10 years after The Open Championship began, Tom Morris Junior won his third consecutive Open and became owner of the belt.

In 1871, St. Andrews, Musselburgh and other clubs wished to join in hosting The Open and it was discussed that they should all chip in for the purchase of a new belt. No final decision was made and with four or more clubs planning to host The Open it was decided by the members of Prestwick that it was not expedient for them to provide a belt to be played for solely at their club. The resulting debate meant that there was no Open Championship in 1871.

The following year The Royal and Ancient Golf Club's green committee decided to get together with the other clubs and revive the Championship with a view on also reviving the Championship Belt. They were authorized to contribute a sum not exceeding 15 toward the belt.

On Sept. 11, 1872, an agreement was finally reached between the three clubs that were to host The Open - Prestwick, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club. They decided that the winner would receive a medal and that each of the three clubs would contribute 10 toward the cost of a new trophy, which would be a silver claret jug. Instead of another belt, The Open Champion would now hoist proper trophy. Its name was to be "The Golf Champion Trophy."

Unfortunately these decisions came too late for the trophy to be presented to the 1872 Open Champion, who was once again Tom Morris Junior. Instead, he was awarded the first Gold Medal with the inscription "The Golf Champion Trophy."

What is now commonly referred to as the Claret Jug was made by MacKay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh and was hallmarked 1873. The first Open Champion to hoist the new trophy was the 1873 winner, Tom Kidd. However, Tm Morris Junior's name was the first to be engraved on it as the 1872 winner.

In 1920 all responsibility for The Open Championship was handed over to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. Following the 1927 Open, which was won at St. Andrews by Bobby Jones, the club's Championship Committee made the decision to retain the Claret Jug and in future years present the winner with a replica.

Unlike the Claret Jug, which must be returned in time for the next Championship, the Gold Medal is kept by the winner. The early medals were in fact silver gilt with an oval design showing crossed clubs and a shield with "Golf Champion Trophy" inscribed around the edge.

During the late 1880s and 1890s the medal underwent several changes. In 1893 the basic size and shape became the circular design we see to this day. Up until 1929, the value of the medal, 10 until 1919 and 25 thereafter, was deducted from the winner's purse. Since 1930, no winner has had to "pay" for his medal. Somehow, I doubt today's winner would mind.

James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. He hosts the Thursday Night Golf Show on WSTU 1450-AM. Contact him at stammergolf@yahoo.com.




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