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History of The Open

Notable firsts at The Open


When history was made

The Claret Jug

The Open has been on an incredible journey since it was first played in 1860.

We have delved through the archives to examine a series of notable firsts at golf's original Championship.


Who was the first Champion Golfer?

Willie Park Snr holds that honour, after winning The 1st Open at Prestwick in October 1860, You can read about the rich legacy of Willie and his family here.


Who was the first player to successfully defend The Open?

Old Tom Morris may have been beaten by Park in the inaugural Open, but the Grand Old Man of Golf went on to claim back-to-back wins in 1861 and 1862, making him the first player to retain the title of Open Champion. The year 2021 marked 200 years since Old Tom's birth and our long-read feature pays tribute to his lasting legacy.

Old Tom Morris at St Andrews in later life

Old Tom Morris, the 'Grand Old Man of Golf'

When was prize money first awarded at The Open?

The first prize fund at The Open was paid out in 1863. A total of £10 was distributed equally among the eight professionals in a field of 14.

Click here for a full breakdown of prize money at The Open since 1860.


Who made the first recorded hole-in-one at The Open?

In addition to winning The Open four times in succession, Tom Morris Jnr achieved the Championship’s first recorded hole-in-one in 1869, at Prestwick’s eighth hole.


Who was the first Open Champion presented with the Claret Jug?

The Claret Jug was first presented at St Andrews in 1873, with Tom Kidd the recipient as the Champion Golfer of the Year.

However, the first name on the jug is that of Young Tom Morris, who had won The Open the previous year before there had been time to get a new trophy ready.

Young Tom’s third successive victory in 1870 meant he kept The Open’s original prize – the Challenge Belt. There was then no Open in 1871 and it was not until the following year that the Championship returned, with Morris triumphing once again.


When was The Open’s first play-off?

The first play-off at The Open took place in 1883, with Willie Fernie defeating Bob Ferguson – the Champion Golfer in each of the previous three years – by one stroke over an additional 36 holes.

There had also been a tie for first place in 1876 between Bob Martin and Davie Strath, but the latter refused to participate in a play-off after the Championship Committee opted not to provide an immediate decision on whether he would be disqualified over an earlier incident in regulation play.


Who was the first amateur winner of The Open?

John Ball Jnr was the first amateur Champion Golfer, courtesy of his victory at Prestwick in 1890. That success also ensured Ball, who was English, became the first non-Scottish player to win The Open.

Only Harold Hilton and Bobby Jones have since gone on to win The Open as an amateur, although both men did so multiple times.

John Ball Jnr, the first Englishman and amateur to win The Open

John Ball Jnr, the first amateur Champion Golfer and the first Englishman to win The Open

When was The Open first played over 72 holes?

The first 72-hole Open took place at Muirfield in 1892, with the Championship previously having been played over 36 holes.


When was The Open held outside of Scotland for the first time?

The first 33 editions of The Open were held in Scotland and shared between Prestwick, St Andrews, Musselburgh and Muirfield, but the Championship then moved to England for the first time in 1894.

Royal St George’s served as the host venue, with J.H. Taylor winning the first of his five Open titles.


Who was the first Champion Golfer from continental Europe?

That impressive feat was achieved by France’s Arnaud Massy, who pulled off a memorable triumph at Royal Liverpool in 1907. Massy also made it into a play-off at Royal St George’s four years later, only to be well beaten by the great Harry Vardon.


Who was the first man to win six Opens?

The first and only man to earn six victories at The Open is Vardon.

The two other members of the Great Triumvirate – J.H. Taylor and James Braid – each amassed five Open wins, a tally later matched by fellow greats Peter Thomson and Tom Watson.

However, Vardon remains the only player to have been crowned Champion Golfer of the Year six times, courtesy of his successes in 1896, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911 and 1914.

Harry Vardon tees off

Harry Vardon, the first and only player to win The Open on six occasions

Who was the first American winner of The Open?

This one is not straightforward. Jock Hutchison was the first American citizen to win The Open, courtesy of his triumph at St Andrews in 1921. However, Hutchison was born and raised in St Andrews before emigrating to the United States prior to World War I.

The following year saw the first American-born Champion Golfer, as Walter Hagen claimed victory at Royal St George’s. Hagen would go on to record further successes in 1924, 1928 and 1929 during a decade of American dominance.


Who was the first South African winner of The Open?

The first South African winner of The Open was the great Bobby Locke, who first lifted the Claret Jug in 1949 and went on to become a four-time Champion Golfer.

Gary Player, Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen have since joined Locke as South African Champions at The Open.


Who was the first winner of the Silver Medal?

Frank Stranahan was the first winner of the Silver Medal, awarded to the highest-placed amateur to make the cut, in 1949.

A two-time Open runner-up, Stranahan went on to secure the prize again in 1950, 1951 and 1953.


Who was the first Australian winner of The Open?

Five-time Champion Golfer Thomson holds this honour, with his first victory coming in 1954.

Kel Nagle (1960), Greg Norman (1986 & 1993), Ian Baker-Finch (1991) and Cameron Smith (2022) are the other Australians to have triumphed in golf’s original major.

Peter Thomson on his way to a first victory at The Open in 1954

Five-time Open Champion Peter Thomson at Royal Birkdale in 1954

Who was the first left-handed Champion Golfer?

New Zealand’s Bob Charles became the first left-handed player to secure victory in The Open when he won at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1963.

Phil Mickelson followed suit fifty years later at Muirfield while Brian Harman became just the third left-handed Champion Golfer, in 2023.


When was The Open held outside of Scotland and England for the first time?

Northern Ireland hosted The Open in 1951, with Max Faulkner triumphing at Royal Portrush.

After a 68-year absence, the spectacular Dunluce Links welcomed golf’s original Championship again in 2019 and there was a hugely popular winner as Shane Lowry cantered to victory.

Royal Portrush will not have to wait nearly as long for its next major, having been confirmed as the venue for The 153rd Open in 2025.


Who was the first player to shoot 63 at The Open?

More than a dozen players have carded rounds of 63 at The Open, including Jon Rahm at Royal Liverpool in 2023, but the first man to do so was Mark Hayes, who achieved the feat in the second round at Turnberry in 1977.


Who was the first player to shoot 62 at The Open?

Branden Grace made history at Royal Birkdale in 2017, becoming the first man to shoot 62 in any major with a spectacular third-round performance.

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