The Five Open Championships
Willie Park Senior 1834 – 1903
Born Musselburgh, Scotland, Park is remembered as one of the greatest golfers of the last century. His story and the story of his brother, Mungo, and son, Willie, are an integral part of golf’s heritage.
Park was fortunate to grow up in an environment in which golf was undergoing a metamorphosis into a worldwide sport. Although the game was typically the preserve of the wealthy, due to the cost of hickory shafted clubs and ‘feathery’ golf balls, there was still opportunity for ordinary folk to enjoy the game.
Park came from the caddy ranks to become a golf professional. Although he later set up his own ball and club making business, he made his money from challenge matches. He was a great adversary of Old Tom Morris, Willie Dunn and Allan Robertson. In 1860, Park beat a field of eight including Old Tom Morris, to win the inaugural Open Championship. He won again in 1863, 1866 and 1875 and was runner up four times. However, back then, challenge matches were more keenly followed than the Open. Matches between Old Tom Morris and Park were especially popular with large crowds attending.
Park Wins First Open – Report
Prestwick, on the west coast of Scotland, was the venue for the first Open Championship. The prize was the Challenge Belt, subscribed for by members of Prestwick Golf Club. Clubs around England and Scotland were each invited to send not more than three professional players to compete in the competition, which was held over three rounds of the twelve-hole links course. There was no prize money, but the winner received custody of the Belt for the year. If a player won the Belt three years in succession, it would be his to keep.
The first Open Championship was played on Wednesday, 17th October in windy conditions. Tom Morris, the Keeper of the Green at Prestwick, was the local favourite, but Willie Park took the first round lead with a score of 55, three shots better than Morris. Both Park and Morris did the second round in 59 strokes, so Park maintained his lead. In the final round, Morris could only make up a single stroke when he shot a 59 to finish on 176, so Willie Park, who went round in 60, was the first Open Champion with a score of 174.
Mungo Park – 1835-1904
Mungo Park was brother to the famous Willie Park Senior. He was born at Quarry Houses in Musselburgh. He learned golf as a boy, but then spent 20 years as a seaman. On returning to his hometown in the early 1870s he won the 1874 Open, the first to be held at Musselburgh. His winning score was 159 for the 36 holes. He spent his later life working as a teacher, golf course designer and clubmaker.
Mungo Park’s brother, Willie, and his nephew, Willie Park Jnr., both won The Open Championship.
Mungo Park Wins the First Musselburgh Open – Report
The Open Championship was held over the nine-hole links at Musselburgh for the first time in 1874. Many of the 32 competitors were local players but a strong contingent also travelled from St Andrews. The rain and hail of the morning had cleared by the time play began at 12 o’clock on April 10, but a stiff breeze blew throughout the four rounds of nine holes.
Local player Willie Park, the first Open champion in 1860 and already a winner three times, was paired with Tom Morris Junior, four times a champion. Not surprisingly they took the biggest crowd of the day with them, but neither was at his best. Young Tom missed the second fairway by such a margin that his ball finished on a road and both players completed the first 18 holes in 83.
That left them eight shots behind Willie’s younger brother, Mungo Park, whose 75 put him well ahead of the field. His putting touch deserted him over the closing 18 holes, but an 84 established a 159 total that set a tough target for the rest. Willie Park slipped further and further out of contention, adding an 87 for the second 18 holes to finish 11 shots behind his brother and only Young Tom had any chance of catching the leader. But he missed a short putt at the penultimate hole and dropped two shots at the last when he drove through the green. Despite a 78 for the final 18 holes, he finished two shots behind new champion Mungo Park.
Bob Ferguson – 1848 – 1915
Bob Ferguson, the Musselburgh golfer won a hat-trick of titles at The Open Championship in 1880, 1881 and 1882. He was especially noted for his putting. He is one of only four men who have won The Open three years in a row. In fact, the only other to accomplish the feat since was Peter Thompson. Incredibly Bob’s prize for his first win was only £7.
Ferguson started caddying at the age of eight and played his first competition at Leith when he was eighteen. His playing career was cut short by a bout of typhoid, and he retired from competitive golf to became Custodian of the Links.
Bob Ferguson Wins His First Open Title
The morning of the 9th of April, the day of the 1880 Open Championship held at Musselburgh dawned bright and warm and the weather stayed this way for the duration of the day. Notably Jamie Anderson, winner of the past three Open Championships was absent from the competition this year. Thirty competitors entered, and the good weather ensured healthy crowds. The largest crowd followed Tom Morris Senior and Bob Ferguson and both players rose to the occasion. The second hole posed a problem for Ferguson as his second shot landed on the road. Attempting to play back to the green, he hit a telegraph pole causing the ball to rebound backwards. Despite excellent driving and iron play, Old Tom putting was inconsistent and by the end of the second round he was trailing Ferguson by 6 shots.
In the third round Ferguson again found the road at the second hole, but this time he recovered safely and reached the green in four shots. He managed a 42 for this round while Morris scored 43. Paxton scored an excellent 39, tying with Ferguson, and Cosgrove was only one shot behind them both going into the final round.
Andrew Kirkcaldy of St Andrews stirred the crowd when he scored a hole-in-one. Amazingly he nearly repeated it during his next round, missing the hole by only half an inch. Bob Ferguson was always a man to rise to a challenge and his final round was the best round of the day, finishing with a total aggregate of 162. Bob Ferguson won his first Open Championship. In the following two years he would go on to win again and be champion golfer for three years in succession.
David ‘Deacon’ Brown
David Brown who was often known as ‘Deacon’ Brown, was a roofing slater by trade and keen golfer. In 1886 he was working in Musselburgh when The Open Championship was about to be played. John Anderson, Secretary of the Musselburgh Club at the time, invited him to play and provided him with a pair of striped trousers, a frock coat and a lum hat to wear. It would seem not out of place in a Charles Dickens novel! He, however, shocked the professionals by winning the event and turned professional himself.
Brown moved to England to become club professional at the Malvern Club. He played in the Open Championship regularly and featured prominently. At the turn of the century, he moved to Boston in the United States. In 1903 he tied with Willie Anderson for first place in the U.S. Open after 72 holes but lost the playoff. Brown enjoyed playing the stock market but lost most of his wealth during the Wall Street Crash in 1929 and returned to Musselburgh, where he died the following year.
Little Known Golfer David Brown Takes the Open Title – Report
The 1886 Open Championship was played at Musselburgh on the 5th of November. No favourites were drawn together so spectator interest was divided over what game to follow. Bob Ferguson, Willie Fernie and Willie Park Junior were all expected to do well. Play started shortly after 10am and although the weather began sunny and bright, within an hour heavy rain was falling.
The pairing of Mungo Park, Open Champion of the first Musselburgh Open of 1874 and favourite Willie Fernie attracted much interest. Park began by hitting poor drives but putted well. David Brown scored 38 in his first round. Willie Campbell of Musselburgh played steadily despite the weather conditions and scored 39.
Scores were close going into the third round with Willie Campbell and Lambert leading on 78, and Brown, Fernie and Ben Campbell on 79. It was still expected Fernie would take the title. Brown had continued his early good form and returned an excellent 37 for his third-round while Willie Campbell’s steady play produced another 39.
Going into the fourth round Brown had a narrow one-stroke lead over Campbell. During his round, Campbell was distracted by movement in the crowd and found several bunkers. He scored 42 and this cost him the championship, with a final total score of 159. As Fernie slipped away, Brown played steadily through his final round and scored 41, winning the competition with a total of 157 strokes.
Willie Park Junior – 1864 -1925
Born Musselburgh, Scotland, Park is remembered as one of the greatest golfers and course designers of the last century. His story and the story of his father, Willie, and uncle, Mungo, are an integral part of golf’s heritage.
Park was fortunate to be born the son of Willie Park Snr who was one of the most prolific golfers of his time. His father won the Open four times and had a successful ball and club making business. Park carried on in his father’s footsteps and won the Open in 1887 and 1889. His long game was sometimes poor but he had an excellent short game which more often than not compensated and brought him victory.
In 1899, he played Harry Vardon in a challenge match at North Berwick which attracted a crowd of 10,000 thus necessitating extra trains to be made available. Vardon refused to play Park at Musselburgh because of the ‘rowdy nature’ of the crowd.
Park’s enduring legacy is the collection of excellent golf courses which he designed and built around the world. He was a pioneer of parkland courses at a time when golf courses were traditionally built along the coast. Park designed approximately 170 courses in Europe, America and Canada including Sunningdale, Berkshire.
A great golfer, an outstanding designer and pioneer, Wille Park’s place in golf’s history is assured.
Play Off Decides 1889 Open Champion – Report
Musselburgh was again the venue for the 1889 Open, held on Friday 8 November. Play began at 10.30am and to avoid large numbers of players finishing their rounds in the dark, those who were far behind after three rounds were offered 5 shillings not to play in the fourth round. Weather conditions were perfect, and a large number of spectators turned out to watch the favourites Willie Park Junior, Willie Fernie, Archie Simpson, Ben Sayers, Willie Campbell and Andrew Kirkaldy play.
The players had mixed fortunes in the opening rounds. Simpson scored a disappointing 89 for the first 2 rounds. His play improved in the third round, and he scored 37 but had dropped too far back to make up ground. Kirkaldy began with only a few supporters following his game, but after a total of 77 in the first two rounds, crowd interest increased. The biggest spectator group followed Willie Park and his partner A.M. Ross. Park scored two 39’s and he was just one behind Kirkaldy going into the third round.
Only two other players were also in contention – Ben Sayers with 79 and the amateur player John. Laidlay, on 81. The third round saw no changes to the placings and the fourth round was eagerly anticipated. Kirkaldy played a steady round, scoring 39, meaning his total aggregate was a low 155. Willie Park played an excellent final five holes and came from 2 shots behind at the 4th to threaten to win. His ball lipped the last hole, and he finished on 155, to tie with Kirkaldy.
The playoff was held over 36 holes on the following Monday. Kirkaldy had an unsettling start, finding a bunker at the first hole, and his final putt lay on the edge of the hole for 30 seconds before dropping in. Park went ahead, and the two played evenly. Kirkaldy went ahead during the second round, but Park recovered well to go three strokes in front by the end of the third round.
A crowd of about 1,000 followed the action and officials found it difficult to keep the green clear. Park played a magnificent final round and finished ahead of Kirkaldy by 5 strokes. Both players were given an excellent reception and Park was declared the Open Champion of the year.,