The Open Championship
and the Claret Jug
The Open Championship
A stroke play competition that was open to professionals may seem obvious now, but it was not self-evident back in the mid 1800’s. Professional match-play challenges were the vogue and more exciting for players and spectators alike. Quite often prize money could reach £100, and spectators were never slow to take bets on the outcome, often resulting in rowdy confrontations, which Musselburgh became infamous for. Stroke-play it was thought, made for dull wagering, especially with a strong favourite such as Tom Morris Senior competing.
The Open was initially called the ‘General Open Competition’ and had its origins in the rising enthusiasm for golf at Prestwick. These natural west coast links had lain largely unused, as golf was primarily a winter game played on the east coast. In 1860, The Prestwick Golf Club believed it time they organised a tournament themselves, the originator and founder of the competition was J.O. Fairlie, an Ayrshire landowner and a regular player on the east coast.
The prize for the winner would be a handsome red Moroccan leather belt in the fashion of a prize-fighter’s boxing trophy. The seeds of the world’s greatest golf tournament were sown.
Since there was no prize money for the first three years of the Open, we might suspect that winning the tournament was not the top priority, as the players had other reasons for attending. The Professionals’ tournament was attached to the Prestwick club’s own domestic competition that same week. The attending professionals, who played for the trophy would also earn a few days’ work caddying for the less gifted but rich gentlemen.
The Open competition was held over Prestwick Links up to and including 1870, when the champions belt became the property of Tom Morris Junior after winning three times in succession. In 1871 there was no competition. From 1872 to 1892 the Open Championship was played alternately between St. Andrews, Prestwick, and Musselburgh Links. The competition was always played over 36 holes in one day, which involved 2 rounds of 18 holes at St Andrews, 3 rounds of 12 at Prestwick and 4 rounds of 9 at Musselburgh Links.
The Claret Jug
The now famous Claret Jug, officially known as the Golf Champion Trophy, was paid for jointly between the Royal Ancient Golf Club, the Prestwick Club and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, who were based at Musselburgh Links. Each of these clubs contributed £10 towards its cost. Young Tom Morris won the Championship Belt three times in succession from 1868 to 1870 and it became his property outright. There was no competition in 1871 as the Clubs rallied to find a new fitting trophy.
The 1872 Open at Prestwick, saw the Claret Jug being contested for the first time, well not quite! Incredibly Tom Morris Junior won the competition again and became the first winner. Unfortunately the decision to replace the belt with The Claret jug had been taken too late and the trophy could not be presented to him at the conclusion of play. Instead, he was awarded with a medal inscribed ‘The Golf Champion Trophy’. His name would be engraved upon the Claret Jug before play began for the 1893 Open at St. Andrews.
The other significant change would see the competition be played not just at Prestwick but also St Andrews and Musselburgh Links with Musselburgh Links holding its first Open on 10th April 1874.
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 took the decision to retain the Claret Jug in future years and to present the winner with a replica.
In 1990 a further replica was made for display in the new British Golf Museum at St Andrews and in 2000 a third was made for use in travelling exhibitions. A fourth followed in 2003 for the same purpose.