When Tom Morris Snr struck his first tee shot on Prestwick’s opening hole in 1860, he started a golfing tradition that would produce a remarkable legacy of great champions.
It was the moment when modern golfing history began and, exactly 158 years after that first edition, the world’s best players continue to battle it out at The Open for their place in history.
The Open was founded by pioneering golfers who set out with the simple objective of crowning the Champion Golfer of the Year – a prestigious title that remains treasured to this day.
All-time greats such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods have all been crowned Champion Golfer since Willie Park Snr claimed it first, on 17 October 1860.
To mark the anniversary of that momentous occasion, we’ve gone back in time to look at how The Open came into being and the events of that day.
A successor for Robertson
The idea for the inaugural tournament came following the death of Allan Robertson in 1859.
Robertson was one of the first golf professionals to make a living from playing for bets, caddying, ball and club-making, and instruction, and was considered the undisputed best of his time.
Following his untimely death after an attack of jaundice, aged 43, the members of Prestwick Golf Club – including James Fairlie and Old Tom Morris – decided to hold a competition to determine his successor.
Invitations went out to clubs and golfing societies across Scotland and England for the best professionals, or a player known as a “respectable caddie”, to contest for the title.
The trophy presented to the event’s winner was originally a red Morocco leather belt, called the Challenge Belt, which had silver clasps and an ornamental silver buckle – bought from Edinburgh silversmiths James & Walter Marshall for £25.
Eight professionals ultimately assembled for the right to wear the Belt, after letters had been sent out calling on players from Blackheath, Perth, Edinburgh, Musselburgh and St Andrews.
Park Snr holds his nerve
As the greenkeeper at Prestwick, Old Tom Morris was the favourite going into The 1st Open, which was held over three rounds of the 12-hole links course on the same day. Morris Snr had the honour of hitting the first tee shot, but it was Musselburgh’s Park Snr who led after the first round, shooting 55 to take a three-stroke lead over his rival.
They were neck and neck over the next 12 holes as both finished their second rounds with 59, which meant Park remained three shots to the good going into the final round.
Morris then piled the pressure on the Musselburgh golfer by posting another 59, despite finding too many of the bunkers that he had created and looked after with his own hands.
Park came down the last facing a 30-foot putt, knowing he had to get down in two for the win, but he only needed one as he closed with a final round of 60.
While Morris had picked up one shot on him, Park’s total of 174 was enough to win by two strokes, with St Andrew’s Andrew Strath finishing third.
The Open legacy lives on
Despite being bested by Park Snr in 1860, Old Tom would have his day the following the year as he won the first of his four Open Championships by four shots over his old rival.
In fact, the two golfers traded the Champion Golfer title on multiple occasions before Morris Snr’s son, Young Tom, began his spell of domination when he won four out of five between 1868 and 1872.
Prestwick presided over the first 12 Opens, which were held jointly with The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers from 1871. A simple stone cairn to the west of Prestwick’s clubhouse still marks the spot where Morris Snr struck the first Open tee shot 158 years ago.
Having initially been restricted to professionals in its first year, The Open lived up to its name the following year when amateurs were also invited to take part – with the field increasing to 18.
The Open was up and running and the Claret Jug soon followed in 1872 after Young Tom won his third title to claim the Challenge Belt outright – with the iconic trophy going on to be lifted by many of the greatest players to ever hold a club.