Established in 1860, the Open Championship (or just the Open as it’s commonly known) is the oldest and most prestigious of the four major championships within golf - the others being the US Open, the PGA Championship and the Masters.
The inaugural tournament was first played at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland on the 17th October 1860. At the time, only professionals were allowed to play, all eight of them. The challengers played three rounds of twelve holes in the one day, with Willie Park Senior winning with a score of 174. It was the following year that the tournament was open to amateurs, with another 8 amateurs joining ten professionals.
For the first three Opens there was no prize money, however, in 1863 a prize fund of £10 was introduced. Between 1860 and 1870 the winner received a Champion’s Belt, which was red leather with a silver buckle. This was to be retired after Tom Morris won the tournament three consecutive times. After 1872, when Morris won for a fourth time in a row, they gave him a medal, and then set about creating the famous Golf Champion Trophy, which is better known as the Claret Jug.
After Prestwick Golf Club administered the Open for ten years, in 1870 they decided to organise it in conjunction with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. By 1892 the event had doubled in length to 72 holes, and golfers were permitted to complete four rounds of 18 holes, just as we know it today. By this point the prize fund had reached £100, considerably more than the £10 in the tournament’s origins. By 1898, because the championship became so large, a cut had been introduced after two rounds; and in 1920, The Royal & Ancient Golf Club took full responsibility of the Open.
In the early years it was predominantly Scottish golfers who dominated the winner’s board of the Open. In all of its history, the tournament has been mainly won by professionals, with only six amateurs taking the prize between 1890 and 1930. By the end of the 19th Century, a few Englishmen were amongst the winners, with the first non-Brit winning the tournament in 1907, a Frenchman by the name of Arnaud Massy. In fact, along with two Americans by the names of Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, who won the Open in 1930 and 1922 respectively, these golfers were the only winners outside Great Britain up until 1939.
After World War Two, an American called Sam Snead took the Open in 1946. It was then dominated by golfers from the commonwealth. Bobby Locke from South Africa and Peter Thomson from Australia won the Open a staggering nine times between 1948 and 1958. Due to a conflict of scheduling with the PGA Championship, great golfers such as Ben Hogan were left out. However, the one time that Hogan did play, 1953 at Carnoustie, he took the Claret Jug. He even had the sixth hole renamed in honour of his audacious play, ‘Hogan’s Alley’.
The Modern Game
The late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were dominated by the ‘big three’ – Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklas. Along with other great names who had won the Open during this time, such as Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and a plethora of others, the ‘big three’ were the talk of the Open, as the Championship began to rise in popularity. American golfers dominated the tournament up until 1983 when Tom Watson’s final win brought a curtain down on their dominance. Europe and the Commonwealth then dominated the next 11 years with Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle and Nick Faldo amongst the household names.
By 1995, the Open had become an official part of the PGA Tour. Between then and 2006, only Paul Lawrie of Scotland and Ernie Els of South Africa won the Claret Jug, with American golfers such as John Daly, Justin Leonard and the mercurial Tiger Woods completely controlling the game. Since 2007, it’s been a little more even, and as we approach the 2012 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club , the tournament is still as exciting as ever.