Everything has led to this.
In the build up to The 150th Open at St Andrews in July 2022, we will be celebrating the remarkable journey of golf’s original Championship with our ‘Decades of The Open’ series.
This article focuses on the 1870s, an eventful decade for the Championship that featured tragedy, controversy and a significant expansion of The Open.
Young Tom’s dominance continues
As far as The Open was concerned, the start of the 1870s followed the same path as the late 1860s, with Young Tom Morris proving an unstoppable force.
Morris was still only 19 when he claimed his third successive title in emphatic fashion at Prestwick in 1870. His 12-stroke margin of victory was only one short of the record achieved by his father in 1862.
By virtue of winning three Opens in a row, Young Tom secured the Challenge Belt for himself, and became the first player to hold the prize.
With Morris so dominant, there was no rush to provide a new trophy, which led to the Championship not taking place in 1871.
New venues, a new prize and tragedy for the Morris family
By the time The Open did return in 1872, much had changed. The Royal and Ancient at St Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Musselburgh had agreed to share staging and organising duties with Prestwick.
The 12th Open still took place at Prestwick, with Young Tom winning his fourth Championship in a row – a feat yet to be repeated – and matching his father’s overall tally of wins.
Yet because the Championship had been arranged at short notice, a new trophy was still not ready. That meant Tom Kidd was the first man to receive the Claret Jug when he won the first Open at St Andrews the following year, although Young Tom’s name was inscribed on the trophy against 1872.
Mungo Park then triumphed at Musselburgh in 1874, before his brother Willie Park Snr – the winner of The 1st Open – matched Young and Old Tom by securing his fourth title at Prestwick.
Tragically, the 1874 Championship would prove to be Young Tom’s last Open appearance. He and his father missed the following year’s Championship to grieve for Young Tom’s wife and baby who died in childbirth. Young Tom then died on Christmas Day 1875, at the age of 24. One of golf’s great careers had been cruelly cut short.
Controversy as Strath pulls out of play-off
The 16th Open was the first to reach a conclusion with two players equal on the lowest score.
Bob Martin and Davie Strath tied on 176 at St Andrews in 1876 to finish well clear of the rest of the field, with Willie Park Snr third on 183.
However, controversy followed as Strath declined to participate in a play-off having been threatened with disqualification.
Huge crowds made for a chaotic scene at the Old Course and, unbeknown to him, Strath’s approach to the 17th struck a player putting out on the green.
The Championship Committee considered calls for Strath to be disqualified for playing before the green was clear, but ordered the play-off proceed on the Monday “under protest”.
Strath objected that a decision should be made one way or the other prior to the play-off, but was overruled and refused to participate, meaning Martin claimed the Claret Jug.
Anderson emerges as new star
Five different men won The Open between 1872 and 1876, but the decade was to end as it started with another spell of dominance.
Jamie Anderson, a St Andrews local who had enjoyed many a fine battle with Young Tom Morris, triumphed in 1877, 1878 and 1879 - lifting the Claret Jug at each of the three host venues of the era.
His successes at Musselburgh and Prestwick each came by two strokes, before Anderson made it three in a row at St Andrews with a three-shot victory over Andrew Kirkaldy and Jamie Allan.
Anderson did not have the opportunity to equal Young Tom’s record of four consecutive wins, as The 1880 Open was arranged at short notice and the defending Champion could not participate.
The Champion Golfers of the 1870s
1871 – No Championship
Did You Know?
When Jamie Anderson won his second Open at Prestwick in 1878, he made a hole-in-one on the penultimate hole of the Championship.
Average age of Champion Golfers in the 1870s: 32
Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 1870s: All Scottish
For the first time ever, a ticket ballot has been introduced for The 150th Open. Enter the ticket ballot today to have a chance of being at St Andrews for a historic sporting occasion.