There is no single event that more greatly epitomizes the pageantry of professional golf than the British Open. Professional golf, like tennis, includes four “major” events-the US Open, the Masters, the PGA Championship, and the British Open. Of these four, the British Open is the oldest, and arguably, contains the richest history.
The special character of the British Open is undoubtedly at least partly due to its geographic proximity to the birthplace of golf-Scotland. Exactly when the sport of golf (or something closely resembling it) began is uncertain, but sports historians generally agree that the beginnings are to be found in late 16th century Scotland.
As for the British Open, the event dates back to 1860, marking this year’s Open as the 150th anniversary of the. At that time, there was no prize purse, there were less than a dozen contestants, and the winner got to sport a silver buckled belt.
Today, the British Open sports 156 competitors and a total prize purse of US $7,000,000.
Here are a few little known facts about the British Open:
• The record for most Open victories belongs to Harry Vardon, who won 6 times, the last of which was in 1914.
• Tiger Woods holds the record for the lowest total score against par, at -19.
• Golfers from the United States have won 11 of the last 15 British Opens.
• Scottish golfers won the tournament the first 29 times, but have only won twice in the post-World War II period (Sandy Lyle in 1985 and Paul Lawrie in 1999).
• The winner’s prize has increased an astounding 882% in the past 20 years, from 85,000 British pounds in 1990 to 750,000 today).
The recent history of the British Open has included a bevy of dramatic moments. Padraig Harrington won back to back titles in 2007 and 2008, and was the first golfer from the Republic of Ireland to ever take the top prize. Tiger Woods won back to back titles in 2005 and 2006. Two years before that, a relatively unknown 26 year old American golfer named Ben Curtis won the title; the odds on Curtis winning were 300-1.
This year’s British Open is sure to pack plenty of drama as well. The tournament will run from July 15th to the 18th.
The official British Open web site. http://www.opengolf.com. Accessed 6/23/2010.
The Ultimate Golf Book: A History and a Celebration of the World’s Greatest Game. David McCormick and Charles McGrath. Mariner Books. 2006.