English Summer Sports Series: The Open Championship

If you missed last weeks segment that’s part of our new ‘English Summer Sports Series’ you can find it here.

Since 1860, The Open has established itself as the oldest and most international championship in professional golf and its trophy, the Claret Jug, is one of the most distinguishable trophies in all sport. For more than 150 years, the greatest players in the world have faced the unrelenting challenge of The Open across some of the UK’s most famous courses. 

However, the coveted trophy wasn’t actually the original prize –  it was a belt.

When the Championship began at Prestwick in 1860, the winner was presented with the Challenge Belt, made of rich, red Moroccan leather complete with a silver buckle and various emblems. If a professional won the championship three consecutive times, they would become the owner of the belt, which is exactly what happened when Tom Morris Jr won for the third time in 1870. The tournament was cancelled in 1871 since there was no trophy to be won but returned the following year after Morris Jr won for the fourth time and was presented with a medal. It was cancelled because the golf clubs who organised the championship hadn’t reached any final decisions about the trophy by the time it needed to be presented. The trophy was completed for the following Open Championship in 1973, but Tom Morris Junior’s name was the first to be engraved on it as the 1872 winner.

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The iconic Claret Jug.

For a long time, including post-World War II, the Open was mostly won by Scottish, English and Commonwealth nationalities. It wasn’t until ‘The Big Three’ era of golf between charismatic superstar rivals Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Palmer, in particular, created significant hype around the Open when he was the first player that Americans saw winning the tournament on television. His high profile led to many other American golfers making The Open part of their schedule, rather than an optional detour. From there, the Open became synonymous with some of the finest duels in golf history. One, in particular, was in 1977 where Nicklaus and Watson were involved in a battle that went down to the final shot before Watson emerged as the Open champion for the second time. Their battle was so famous, it was named “The Duel in the Sun.” The Open has also seen the most amount of albatrosses, otherwise known as a rare hole-in-one, the rarest score possible in Golf.

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Tom Watson thanking fans as they follow him to the trophy presentation ceremony in 1983.

The Open has also been the backdrop for a rather poetic moment in Golf as the ageing Jack Nicklaus, playing in his penultimate Open, watched a young Tiger Woods break his record by two years after Woods became the youngest ever to win all four of golf’s major championships. Nicklaus would later bow out at the 2005 Open Championship, retiring at the age of 65.

The Open Championship is one of the highlights of Golf season, particularly since it’s the only major outside the United States and one of the oldest major championships. From its humble origins between eight professionals playing to determine the Champion golfer to being the backdrop of defining moments in the history of Golf, here’s to hoping we get a memorable Open this year. Be sure to check in next week for our third British Summer Sport, Wimbledon. 





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