The Early Years
How old is the British Open? When the first Open Championship was played, Abraham Lincoln was still one month away from becoming the 16th U. S. President. Before the competitors competed for the Claret Jug, the victor won the “Challenge Belt,” much like boxers and wrestlers wear today. The Open was played exclusively at Prestwick in Ayrshire, Scotland through 1872, with Tom Morris, Jr. and his father Tom Morris, Sr. winning eight of the first 12 events. Beginning in 1873, The Open began a rotation among Prestwick, Messelburgh and legendary St. Andrews. After Tom Morris, Jr. won his fourth straight Open in 1872, he was allowed to keep the Challenge Belt and a new trophy was awarded; the Championship Cup or, as it is often called, “The Claret Jug.”
The Open Expands Beyond Scotland
In 1890, amateur John Ball of England became the first man outside of Scotland to win The Open. And in 1894, Royal St. George’s hosted The Open, the first time the championship took place outside of Scotland. It was also during this decade that Harry Vardon of England, the greatest Open champion of all time, began his dynasty. In 1896, Vardon won at Muirfield for his first Open title. Over the next 18 years, Harry Vardon would win five more championships, for a total of six, the most ever. Due to the outbreak of World War I, The Open was not played from 1915-1919.
The United States Invades Britain
When The Open resumed in 1920, George Duncan of Scotland won at Royal Cinque Ports. Little did anyone know that the U. S. would go on to dominate The Open over the following 13 years. In particular, Walter Hagen won four titles and Bobby Jones won three. What was remarkable about Jones’ victories was that he won the Claret Jug each time as an amateur, the last amateur to win The Open. According to George White of thegolfchannel.com, Jones was the second and last man to win both the British Open and British Amateur in the same year, 1930. At The Open that year, Jones broke the course record at Hoylake by 10 strokes. This era between the world wars saw The Open expand to more venues such as Royal Troon, Carnoustie and Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Sadly, the last Open was played at Prestwick in 1925.
The Modern Era
When The Open resumed in 1946 after several years off due to World War II, more men began to win that would be recognizable to today’s fans. While America failed to make much of an impact in the 40’s and 50’s, Peter Thomson of Australia won five Opens. The resurgence of The Open in America began in 1961 and 1962 when the popular Arnold Palmer won two years in a row. This made other Americans interested in the Open. In subsequent years, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson would win several Claret Jugs. Perhaps the most famous British Open of all time was the 1977 “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry when Watson and Nicklaus played superb golf over the final two rounds with Watson coming out on top by one stroke. Perhaps the biggest meltdown ever came in 1999 at Carnoustie when Jean Van de Velde blew a three shot lead on the 72nd hole and lost in a playoff. Tiger Woods has won the Claret Jug three times. But perhaps the greatest moment in the history of all professional sports nearly happened in 2009 when Tom Watson, at age 59, lost in a playoff at Turnberry to Stewart Cink.
George White “The World Open Has Humble Beginnings” thegolfchannel.com
All other information found at “The Open’s” official website