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This History of The Open Championship

From somewhat humble beginnings, The Open Championship – or British Open if you’re from the States – has grown into one of golf’s most prestigious events.

The Open returns to historic Muirfield this year as one of the premiere events on the summer sports calendar. However, the current-day experience is a far cry from the tournament’s beginnings more than 150 years ago.

The first British Open was played on Oct. 17, 1860, at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland and had a field of just eight professionals. They played three rounds on Prestwick’s 12-hole course in one day and Willie Park Sr. became the first winner of golf’s oldest major championship.

At the time, Park was presented not with the Claret Jug, but with the Open Championship’s original prize, the Challenge Belt. Made of  leather and adorned with a silver buckle and emblems, the Challenge Belt was given to the winner of the Open Championship until 1872.

Ernie Els hoists the famous Claret Jug after his Open Championship victory at Lytham last year. Photo by Sky Sports

The Claret Jug, sometimes referred to as The Golf Champion Trophy, has been presented to each year’s winner of the Open Championship since 1873, the first recipient being Scottish golfer Tom Kidd. The Claret Jug was made by Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh and Tom Morris, Jr.’s name was the first to be engraved on it as the 1872 winner.

This will be the 16th Open Championship contested at Muirfield, the last being in 2002 when Ernie Els won the first-ever four-man, four-hole playoff in Open Championship history. Only St. Andrews (27) and Prestwick (24) have hosted more Open Championships than Muirfield.

Considered one of the greatest Open Championship venues, Muirfield boasts an impressive list of champions. Harry Vardon, James Braid, Ted Ray, Walter Hagen, Henry Cotton, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els have lifted the Claret Jug at this historic venue.

Golf was first played at Muirfield in 1891 on 16 holes laid out by Old Tom Morris which was extended to 18 holes for the Open the following year.

Golf was first played at Muirfield in 1891 on 16 holes laid out by Old Tom Morris, which was extended to 18 holes for the Open the following year. Photo by Carr Golf

Muirfield has undergone some changes to ensure it remains as challenging as ever to the world’s best players. New tees on the 2nd, 4th, 9th, 14th, 15th, 17th and 18th holes have added approximately 158 yards to the course, while tightening of some bunkers around the greens will require players to be more precise on approach shots.

If you are inspired by the action taking place at Muirfield this week, which you can keep up on at, but not bound for Scotland any time soon, there are some stateside courses you can play to get that ancient links feel.

Nags Head Golf Links (Nags Head, NC) – Nags Head Golf Links offers players a Scottish links-style course that is built into and takes advantage of the sand dunes and rugged coastline of the Outer Banks.

Sandestin Resort and Club, The Links Course (Destin, FL) – This Tom Jackson design is set against the backdrop of the Baytowne Marina and the Choctawhatchee Bay. Five holes run along the bay that make accuracy and proper club selection crucial against the prevailing Gulf Coast winds.

Royal Links Golf Club (Las Vegas, NV) – Las Vegas’ Royal Links features a links-style course that has holes inspired by eleven different courses in the Open Championship rota, including the “Road Hole” and “Hell Bunker” from the old course at St. Andrews and the “Postage Stamp” from Royal Troon. Other courses that inspired the design include Carnoustie, Turnberry, Royal Liverpool, Prestwick, Royal Lytham, Muirfield and Royal Birkdale.

Wicked Stick Golf Links (Myrtle Beach, SC) – Open Championship winner John Daly teamed up with with course architect Clyde Johnston to design this links course that includes dune-like mounds and ‘Daly’ tees on several holes to test long hitters.

The Golf Courses of Lawsonia, Links Course (Green Lake, WI) – Most holes on the Links are replicas of Scottish & English golf course holes and it’s layout resembles that of an Open Championship course. In 2000, the Links course had 150 trees removed as part of an architectural restoration plan, making wind more of a factor due to green elevation and the open fairways.



Featured image of Muirfield courtesy of Golf Vacations UK

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