This year marked the 150th Anniversary of the first Open Championship, and we were delighted welcome the competition back to St Andrews, the home of golf.
To prepare, I took a visit to the British Golf Museum to learn about the history of this famous golfing event. They have some incredible objects on display to help tell the story of the Open from its beginnings in 1860 right up to the present day. To whet your appetite, here are a couple you might recognize…
When the Open Championship was first established in 1860, the top prize was a beautiful red leather and silver belt: the choice of the Earl of Eglington. The Earl of Eglington played a major role in helping Prestwick Golf Club establish the Championship, and inspired by his love of mediaeval pageantry, he suggested awarding ‘the Challenge Belt’ as a trophy.
Sadly, the beautiful challenge belt was only the Open’s trophy for a decade before Tommy Morris Junior took ownership of it after he won three consecutive Open Championships between 1867 and 1870. The loss of their prize trophy led Prestwick Golf Club to have a serious discussion about how to maintain the championship.
Thankfully, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers offered to support the Open Championship, and it restarted in 1872. By 1873, the familiar Claret Jug trophy had been presented for the first time, in the first of the new towns hosting the Open: St Andrews.
Having learned their lesson with the young Tommy Morris, the organizers removed the rule stipulating that the winner would retain the trophy after three wins in a row. This change kept champions Jamie Anderson, Bob Ferguson and Peter Thomson from winning their own Claret Jug in the century that followed.
Since 1928, the Open’s Championship Committee decided to be even more cautious, and only award a replica Claret Jug to Open winners. Now, the original Golf Champion Trophy (as it is officially called) is on permanent display in the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse, while a copy sits in the British Golf Museum, and two more travel the globe for golfing exhibitions.
"Why is the trophy in the shape of a claret jug? One story goes that golf was a sport on which the wealthy liked to wager. A common bet for winning a golfing competition was a large quantity of claret, so a jug was a very practical award!"
If you are lucky enough to be in Scotland this summer, look out for the Claret Jug on Scottish banknotes – it featured on both the 2004 and 2005 Royal Bank of Scotland five-pound note.
We’ll be featuring more famous golfing memorabilia from the history of the Open Championship as July 18th draws closer; why not use the comment box below to suggest objects or other questions you’d like us to answer in this section?
Written and contributed by Beth Craggs
Many thanks to the British Golf Museum with their generous help in researching this piece.