Royal St George’s has a long and storied connection with The Open, but few Championships at Sandwich have had the same long-term impact as The 34th Open in 1894.
Only seven years after the course had been founded, Royal St George's welcomed the finest professional and amateur players in the British Isles as it made history by staging the first Open Championship ever to be held outside of Scotland.
However, that is far from the only reason The 34th Open has a notable place in the Championship's folklore.
A New Era
John Ball and Harold Hilton, the pair of English amateurs who won The Open in 1890 and 1892 respectively, were the first Champion Golfers not to hail from Scotland. But it was J.H. Taylor’s triumph in 1894 that began to take The Open to a new level of repute, and ushered in a new age for golf’s original major.
Despite concerns over entry numbers due to the distance between Scottish clubs and Sandwich, a record 94 competitors entered and began the Championship, including Old Tom Morris at the age of 73, who had only intended to spectate.
At the close of play on the first day, Taylor had established a narrow one-stroke advantage over Andrew Kirkaldy and Douglas Rolland, following rounds of 84 and 80 in treacherous wind. On the second and final day, the 23-year-old Taylor shot two consecutive scores of 81 to claim victory with an aggregate of 326.
Taylor’s total remains to this day the highest winning score in The Open's history, but it was enough for the Englishman to claim the Championship by five strokes over Rolland, ensuring he became the first non-Scottish professional to lift the famous Claret Jug.
It signalled the dawn of a new era dominated by a trio who quickly became known as The Great Triumvirate - Taylor, Harry Vardon and James Braid. In 1894 at Sandwich, all three men were at the start of their careers, with both Taylor and Vardon playing just their second Championship, and Braid making his debut.
The Great Triumvirate
Between Taylor, Vardon and Braid, the Triumvirate would dominate professional golf for two decades. They not only won 16 of the 21 Opens played between 1894 and 1914, at least one of the three finished runner-up in the other five Championships.
The first of The Great Triumvirate to win an Open, Taylor defended his title at St Andrews the following year and again prevailed at the Home of Golf in 1900, while Vardon began his run of success with victories in 1896, 1898 and 1899 - the latter triumph coming in the second Open at Royal St George's.
Braid was the next to break through, winning his first Championship in 1901 at Muirfield, then a further four in six years from 1905. His final win in 1910 was particularly significant, breaking a tie between the three in a race to five Open Championships, a mark no player had ever reached before.
Additionally, Vardon played in three U.S. Opens, and Taylor competed twice, with the pair finishing first and second respectively in 1900 after a well-publicised duel over all four rounds.
The duo also both travelled to play in the 1913 U.S. Open, with Vardon’s high-profile appearance and runner-up finish to Francis Ouimet immortalised in Disney’s movie ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’.
The trio’s dominance and celebrity, combined with Braid and Taylor’s course design endeavours and Vardon’s success in the United States, created worldwide fame for The Open Championship and helped foster a post-WWI boom for golf’s original major.
American players soon began to make the trip across the pond in earnest to compete in The Open, and after the last Triumvirate victory in 1914 by Vardon at Prestwick, 12 of the next 14 Champion Golfers represented the United States. Prior to that run, Arnaud Massy of France was the only previous overseas Champion Golfer, claiming victory in 1907.
No player in the history of The Open has won more Championships than each member of The Great Triumvirate. Vardon possesses six successes, while Taylor and Braid each won five times, a haul matched only by Peter Thomson and Tom Watson.
The trio had a huge impact on the golfing world, and much of this history started at Royal St George’s in 1894, where Taylor unknowingly began a golden new age of British golf and The Open Championship.