The Claret Jug, or to use its proper name, The Golf Champion Trophy, is presented to each year’s winner of The Open Championship. Yet it is not the original prize. When the Championship began at Prestwick in 1860, the winner was presented with the Challenge Belt, made of rich morocco leather, embellished with a silver buckle and emblems.
The Silver Claret Jug
The impetus to provide the Challenge Belt had come from the Earl of Eglinton and derived from his keen interest in medieval pageantry. He was pre-eminent in encouraging sport throughout the social spectrum and was a leading light in setting up The Open Championship. The Earl donated many trophies for competition, including a gold belt for competition among the Irvine Archers. The original Challenge Belt was purchased by the members of Prestwick Golf Club.
According to the first rule of the new golf 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 Search For A New Trophy
In 1870, just 10 years after The Open Championship began, Tom Morris Junior won for the third consecutive time and became the owner of the belt. The future direction of the Championship was discussed at Prestwick Golf Club’s Spring Meeting in April 1871, during which a key proposal was put forward by Gilbert Mitchell Innes: “In contemplation of St Andrews, Musselburgh and other clubs joining in the purchase of a Belt to be played for over four or more greens it is not expedient for the club to provide a Belt to be played for solely at Prestwick.”
The motion was passed, but no final decisions were reached about venues or the involvement of other clubs, with the result that The Open Championship was not played in 1871. Moves to revive the competition resumed the following year. The minutes of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, dated May 1, state that the green committee had been “empowered to enter into communication with other clubs with a view to effecting a revival of the Championship Belt, and they were authorised to contribute a sum not exceeding £15 from the funds of the club”.
Agreement was finally reached on September 11, 1872 between the three clubs that were to host The Open — Prestwick, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club. They decided that the winner would receive a medal and that each of the three clubs would contribute £10 towards the cost of a new trophy, which was to be a silver claret jug, instead of another belt. Its proper name was to be The Golf Champion Trophy. These decisions were taken too late for the trophy to be presented to the 1872 Open Champion, who was once again Tom Morris Junior. Instead, he was awarded with a medal inscribed ‘The Golf Champion Trophy’.
The Golf Champion Trophy
The Golf Champion Trophy, now commonly referred to as the Claret Jug, was made by Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh and was hallmarked 1873. The first Open Champion to receive the new trophy was the 1873 winner, Tom Kidd, but Tom Morris Junior’s name was the first to be engraved on it as the 1872 winner.
In 1920 all responsibility for The Open Championship was handed over to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club. Following the 1927 Open, which was won at St Andrews by Bobby Jones, the club’s Championship Committee took the decision to retain the Claret Jug in future years and to present the winner with a replica. In 1928, Walter Hagen won the third of his four Open titles and accepted the replica Claret Jug, having already been presented with the original in 1922 and 1924. During the half-century in which the original Claret Jug was used, twenty-eight different players held it aloft, including Harry Vardon on a record six occasions.
The first time a medal was given to the winner was in 1872, when no trophy was available. Unlike the Claret Jug, which must be returned in time for the next Championship, the Gold Medal is kept by the winner. The early Gold Medals, which in fact were silver gilt, were large ovals with a central design of a shield and crossed clubs. Around the edge was the inscription ‘Golf Champion Trophy’. During the late 1880s and early 1890s, the design of the medal underwent several changes. The circular medal was first introduced in 1893 and the basic size and shape has not changed since then.
That same year, the medal was assigned a value of £10 and this was deducted from the advertised purse for the winner. In 1920, the value of the winner’s medal was increased to £25 and again deducted from his share of the prize fund. This practice stopped after the 1929 Open Championship and from 1930 onwards, the winner no longer had to ‘pay’ for his medal.
The Leading Amateur
It had been suggested as early as 1922 that some recognition should be given to the leading amateur in The Open, but it was not until 1949 that a silver medal of the same size and design as the winner’s medal, was presented. It bore the inscription ‘Golf Champion Trophy’, with the addition of the words ‘First Amateur’. Frank Stranahan of the United States was the first to receive the silver medal and he went on to win it again in 1950, 1951 and 1953.
From 1972 all amateurs, other than the leading amateur, who have played on the final day of The Open Championship, have received a bronze medal.