A brief history of The Open
9 July 2019
The first Open
As we wait to see who will win the 2019 Open and lift the Claret Jug at Royal Portrush, let’s take a look back at where it all began. Prior to the first Open Championship, Allan Robertson was widely accepted to be the best in the sport, dominating the game in the 1840s and 50s. After his death, Prestwick Golf Club decided to hold a competition to see who would replace him at the top of the sport. Five golf clubs, Perth, Bruntsfield, Musselburgh and St. Andrews in Scotland, as well as Blackheath in England, were invited to send their best players to compete for the title over three rounds of 12 holes. Willie Park, Sr. was the first ever Open winner, beating Old Tom Morris by 2 shots. The winner received a leather belt with a silver buckle, but no cash prize money.
How The Open grew
The Open grew quickly from here, with amateurs welcomed in the second year; a prize fund of £10 was introduced for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishers two years later, and a huge £6 prize for the winner was introduced in 1864. Today that prize fund stands at $10.5M, with the winner taking $1.5M. The famous Claret Jug was first introduced in 1972, after Tom Morris, Jr. was allowed to keep the original silver-buckled belt, having won it three times.
The Open began to attract an international field; the first overseas winner was Jock Hutchinson, who, though born in St. Andrews, was a naturalised American. He led the charge from across the Atlantic, with the Americans winning every year from 1922 to 1933, despite them not liking the smaller British golf balls (nevertheless, these remained in place until 1974). Soon players were flying in from across the globe, with winners from Europe and South Africa joining the party and Peter Thompson becoming Australia’s first winner with a four-win streak between 1954-58. The tournament was increased in duration to four 18-hole rounds over two days in 1892, and the cut was introduced in 1898; the tournament did not become a four-day event until 1966.
Today, The Open is watched around the world and considered by many to be the very pinnacle of the sport. It is loved by the public, too, thanks to the links course challenge opening the way for lower-ranked players to win (such as 396th-ranked Ben Curtis). Who knows what the 148th Open will bring, but as its rich history proves, it will certainly be worth watching