Myth Trivia: A brief history of golf’s original “Open”

Anything as old as the "Open" comes with plenty of history and trivia.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 19, 2017 – American’s generally call it the British Open, but that’s a misnomer in the UK where golf was born. In Great Britain, it is simply the “Open” and today our trivia looks at some of the Open’s interesting history.

The Open is usually alternated each year between Scotland and England with what is known as the “Rota” or the “rotation.” This year the competition is being held at Royal Birkdale in England for the 10th time.

To be endowed with the honor of using “Royal” in the name, a course typically invites a member of the Royal family to be a patron or an honorary member, or they must apply for the title. Approval is ultimately granted by the reigning monarch.

St. Andrews, more formally known as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, was founded in 1754 and granted Royal status in 1836 by King William IV.


Today there are 64 courses in the world that have the bona fide right to use “Royal” in their name. All but four of those clubs are located in the United Kingdom (34) or the Commonwealth (26).

The exceptions are:

  • Royal Dublin (Ireland) awarded the title in 1891 by Queen Victoria
  • Royal Curragh (Ireland) granted the honor in September 1916
    Marianske Lazne Golf Club (Czech Republic) was a favorite venue for King Edward VII after opening the course in August, 1905
  • Royal Homburger (Germany) received its award in April, 2013 in honor of the role English visitors and members of the Royal family who played a role in the founding of the club in the town of Homburg.

Today there are 9 courses in the Open rotation with six others course, where the tournament was previously played, no longer on the list. Among those is Royal Prestwick in Glasgow, Scotland which hosted the event for the first 11 Opens and 13 more times until 1925.

No course has played host to the Open more times than Royal Prestwick except for the Old Course at St. Andrews.

The first Open, inaugurated on October 17, 1860, was restricted to professionals with eight contestants playing three rounds on the 12-hole layout in a single day. Willie Park, Sr. edged out Old Tom Morris for the trophy, which, at that time, was called the “Challenge Belt.”

Amateurs were allowed to play the following year doubling the original field. When two other professionals joined the roster, there were 18 competitors playing for the “Belt.”

Golf enthusiasts and historians might conclude that Royal Prestwick was removed from the Rota because it had become too short to accommodate the increased driving length and skills of the players. However, the real reason was the overwhelming size of the crowds and the lack of sufficient numbers of marshals to control them. Patrons sometimes disrupted play out of sheer numbers, causing golf writer Bernard Darwin to comment that he doubted the tournament would ever be held at Royal Prestwick again. Thus far Darwin’s prediction has proven to be accurate.

Patrons sometimes disrupted play out of sheer numbers, causing golf writer Bernard Darwin to comment that he doubted the tournament would ever be held at Royal Prestwick again. Thus far Darwin’s prediction has proven to be accurate.

It was the Earl of Eglinton who was responsible for the original winning trophy known as the Challenge Belt. The Earl, who had a keen interest in medieval pageantry believed the winner’s prize should be equal in stature to the prestige of the tournament in order to gain international recognition for the Open. As such, the original Challenge Belt, made of the finest quality Moroccan leather and embellished with a silver buckle, was purchased by the members of the club.

As such, the original Challenge Belt, made of the finest quality Moroccan leather and embellished with a silver buckle, was purchased by the members of the club.

The trophy was not without restrictions, however. According to the first rule of the new competition, “The party winning the belt shall always leave the belt with the treasurer of the club until he produces a guarantee to the satisfaction of the above committee that the belt shall be safely kept and laid on the table at the next meeting to compete for it until it becomes the property of the winner by being won three times in succession.”

“The party winning the belt shall always leave the belt with the treasurer of the club until he produces a guarantee to the satisfaction of the above committee that the belt shall be safely kept and laid on the table at the next meeting to compete for it until it becomes the property of the winner by being won three times in succession.”

The Claret Jug – By Dan Perry – originally posted to Flickr as World Golf Village, St. Augustine, Florida, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10596396

By 1873, a new trophy known as the Golf Champion Trophy was designed by Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh. While The Golf Champion Trophy remains the official name, most people refer to it as the Claret Jug because, in the simplest of terms, it is a typically used for the famous French wine from the region of Bordeaux.

All responsibility for the Open Championship was handed over to St. Andrews in 1920 with the decision made in 1927 that the club would retain the Claret Cup in the future with a replica being presented to the winner.

As for the Open Rota, St Andrews plays host to the tournament every fifth year and, of course, it is the only golf club that is designated with such an honor.

So there you have some interesting facts about the Open. Did we hear someone say “It’s time for ‘tee.’?”

About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)

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