For more than 160 years, the world's best players have faced the unrelenting challenge of links golf at The Open, golf's original and most international Championship.
On 17 October 1860, eight professional golfers assembled at Prestwick for a tournament to determine who would be the Champion Golfer.
The winner was to receive the Challenge Belt, a prize crafted from red Moroccan leather and worth £25. The competitors played three rounds of 12 holes, with Willie Park Snr. beating Old Tom Morris by two shots. A year later, Prestwick announced that the tournament shall be open to all the world.
The Claret Jug, or to use its proper name, the Golf Champion Trophy, is presented to each year's winner of The Open.
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 Moroccan leather, embellished with a silver buckle and emblems.
1860. History Created.
In 1870, just 10 years after The Open began, Tom Morris Jr won for the third consecutive time and became the owner of the Challenge 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 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 Champion 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 Champion Golfer, who was once again Tom Morris Jr. Instead, he was awarded with a medal inscribed ‘The Golf Champion Trophy’.
“It's the coolest trophy that our sport has to offer” Jordan spieth, 2017 Champion Golfer
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 first time a medal was given to the Champion 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 Open in 1929 and from 1930 onwards, the winner no longer had to ‘pay’ for their medal.
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, have received a Bronze Medal.
In recognition of the growing challenges facing our natural environment, The Open is committed to conserving the natural links landscapes which play host to the Championship. Taking into account specific site sensitivities and wildlife considerations, great care is taken to protect nature throughout the entire event staging process. Working closely with an appointed ecologist and the host venue, The Open ensures that the links is safeguarded for the enjoyment of future generations.
The GreenLinks programme also addresses the broader sustainability considerations around staging a major sport event. In catering for hundreds of thousands of spectators during the week of the Championship, The Open is implementing sustainable procurement policies which focus on ethically produced food and drink from local suppliers. To minimise the volume of waste material sent to landfill, The Open is collaborating with partner organisations to deliver effective waste separation and recycling initiatives.
You can help the successful delivery of the GreenLinks programme by taking the following steps during your visit to The Open:
The Open supports businesses in the region of the host venue by using local producers, when possible, to supply the Championship. The Open's goal to provide sustainable, local and healthy food choices is part of the continuing commitment to hosting a sustainable event.
To minimise the impact of spectators on the the natural landscape, strategies are implemented at The Open to separate waste material to facilitate recycling. Help to keep the links clean by not littering and using the designated recycling bins provided when you come to The Open.
Fairtrade certified tea, coffee, hot chocolate, sugar and bananas have been supplied at The Open for a number of years. This commitment to Fairtrade means that farmers and workers in developing countries producing these crops receive the Fairtrade Minimum Price to cover the cost of sustainable production. They also receive an additional Fairtrade Premium to invest back into their business or community projects. Supporting ethical food production is part of The Open's continuing commitment to hosting a sustainable event.
GreenLinks, The Open's programme for sustainable development, is being mentored by the GEO Foundation. GEO provides golf with a credible and accessible system of sustainability standards, supporting programmes, recognition and capacity building activities. Engagement with GEO enables the successful delivery of the GreenLinks programme.
For more information on the work of the GEO Foundation
The Open is the ultimate test of links golf, demanding firm and true surfaces which reward skill and penalise error. The Sports Turf Research institute (STRI) is working with The Open to ensure an authentic links experience is presented at every venue, every year. A comprehensive surface testing programme for firmness, smoothness, trueness and speed, coupled with sustainable greenkeeping practices, prepares the golf course for the best players in the world.
Open venues hold some of the UK's most precious wildlife habitat. Links landscapes are also home to endangered species, such as the skylark, a UK Red List species, which thrives in the wild rough grassland. The Open's efforts to ensure these precious landscapes are protected and conserved are part of the continuing commitment to hosting a sustainable event.
Find out more information on The R&A's advocacy of sustainability