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Open Championship History

The first Open Championship was played over three rounds of Prestwick’s 12-hole course in October 1860. The event was inspired by the Earl of Eglinton and Colonel James Fairlie and at their instigation the members of Prestwick Golf Club contributed funds for an extravagant belt of red leather adorned with silver buckle and decorations.

It was only at the beginning of the month that letters were sent to leading clubs inviting them to send up to three of their best caddies, who were the first professionals, to take part in the event. Just eight men played in that first challenge and Willie Park of Musselburgh beat Tom Morris by two strokes with a score of 174 to become the first Open Champion. No prizes were awarded until 1873 when Willie Park again triumphed and received £10.

Although the following year's championship was declared “open to the whole world” the number of contestants rose to only 12, and this time Tom Morris took the honours. He and his son, Young Tom Morris, were to dominate the event, winning four times each by 1872.

Young Tom was awarded the belt outright after winning three in a row from 1868, achieved with ever decreasing scores. His 36-hole total in 1870 was 149 - 13 strokes better than any other champion’s winning score. The event had always been played at Prestwick until this point, but in raising funds for a new trophy the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Musselburgh) were invited to contribute and to stage the championship in turn. It was at this point that the famous silver claret jug replaced the belt as the Open trophy.

It was not until 1894 that other venues were added to the rota and Royal St George’s, at Sandwich in Kent, became the first non-Scottish club to enter the history of the Open, followed in 1897 by the Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake in Cheshire.


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