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The 150th Open

Decades of The Open


The 1880s

Bob Ferguson and Willie Park Jnr

Everything has led to this.

The 150th Open at St Andrews will be a landmark sporting occasion and an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable journey of golf’s original Championship.

Our Decades of The Open series is highlighting the key moments that have occurred throughout the Championship’s rich history.

This latest article focuses on the 1880s, the last decade that produced exclusively Scottish Champion Golfers.


Ferguson follows Anderson’s lead

The 1880s began as the 1870s had ended, with one player winning successive Opens at each of the three venues that served as hosts.

Jamie Anderson was the man to register three victories in a row at the end of the 1870s, but he was unable to compete for a fourth consecutive title in 1880 at Musselburgh. The April date of the Championship was only announced at short notice and unfortunately it was not convenient for Anderson.

In the absence of the reigning Champion Golfer, Bob Ferguson took centre stage on his home course, winning The 20th Open by five strokes from Peter Paxton. That Championship was also notable for Andrew Kirkaldy coming within inches of a second hole-in-one at the ninth, after he had made an ace there earlier in the event.

Ferguson then triumphed again at Prestwick in 1881, coping best with horrendous stormy weather that resulted in only eight of the 22-man field finishing.

A hat-trick of wins for Ferguson was completed the following year at St Andrews, with Willie Fernie beaten into second place by three on this occasion.

Ferguson had proven his skills in a variety of conditions and would also finish as the runner-up in 1883. However, his hopes of further success were severely dented by a bout of typhoid that left him unable to play regularly again.

Bob Ferguson, the three-time Champion Golfer of the Year

Three-time Champion Golfer Bob Ferguson

Fernie wins historic play-off

It took a special effort to deny Ferguson as he returned to Musselburgh in search of a fourth successive victory in 1883.

The defending Champion and Fernie could not be separated through 36 holes, meaning both men were required to play a further 36 holes in The Open’s first play-off.

Bob Martin and Davie Strath had finished on the same score in 1876, only for the latter to refuse to participate in extra holes. On this occasion, Ferguson and Fernie both returned to the course and the former was one ahead with one to play.

However, Fernie finished with a brilliant two and Ferguson saw his reign come to an end courtesy of a closing four.

Fernie’s win was somewhat remarkable given he had suffered the ignominy of making a 10 in regulation play, at the second hole in his fourth loop of the nine-hole course.

Willie Fernie, the Champion Golfer of 1883

Willie Fernie, the man who ended Bob Ferguson's long reign as Champion Golfer

The Park legacy grows

Jack Simpson triumphed at Prestwick in 1884 and his brother Archie was only one shot from forcing a play-off the following year, as Bob Martin added to his success in 1876 by becoming the first man to win two Opens at St Andrews.

The Champion Golfer of 1886, David Brown, was a relatively unheralded figure but the same could not be said of the man who would lift the Claret Jug in 1887. Willie Park Jnr was the son of the very first Open Champion and followed in his father’s footsteps with a one-shot victory over Martin at Prestwick.

Park Jnr capitalised on the misfortune of Willie Campbell, who was on course for victory before he took four shots to escape a fairway bunker on the 16th. The trap would come to be known as ‘Willie Campbell’s Grave’.

Musselburgh played host to another victory for Park Jnr in 1889, this time after another 36-hole play-off that involved Andrew Kirkaldy.

More than 130 years on from Park Jnr’s triumphs, the Parks and Morrises remain the only father-and-son Champions in The Open’s illustrious history.


An unexpected triumph

The other Champion Golfer of the 1880s triumphed in highly unusual circumstances at St Andrews in 1888.

A three-way play-off looked set to be needed when Ben Sayers, Davie Anderson and Jack Burns all signed for 36-hole scores of 172.

However, a member of The R&A responsible for scrutinising the scorecards spotted that Burns had actually scored 46 over the front nine of his morning round and not the 47 stated on his card.

Because all of the individual scores on Burns’ card were correct and it was just the adding up that was at fault, his total was amended and he was declared the Champion.

Willie Park Jnr, a two-time Champion Golfer and the son of the first Open winner

Willie Park Jnr, who won The Open in 1887 and 1889

The Champion Golfers of the 1880s

1880, Musselburgh – Bob Ferguson

1881, Prestwick – Bob Ferguson

1882, St Andrews – Bob Ferguson

1883, Musselburgh – Willie Fernie

1884, Prestwick – Jack Simpson

1885, St Andrews – Bob Martin

1886, Musselburgh – David Brown

1887, Prestwick – Willie Park Jnr

1888, St Andrews – Jack Burns

1889, Musselburgh – Willie Park Jnr


Did You Know?

The 1884 Open was the first on Prestwick’s new layout, with the original 12-hole course having been extended to 18 holes by Old Tom Morris.


Average age of Champion Golfers in the 1880s: 29


Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 1880s: All Scottish


The ticket ballot for The 150th Open closes on Monday 4 October. Don’t miss your last chance to apply for a place at St Andrews in 2022.

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