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History of The Open

An unchanged title


Why it is The Open and not the British Open

The Open signage at Royal Portrush in 2019

Since it was founded in 1860, only one detail of The Open has never changed – the Championship’s title.

To compare and contrast the tournament of 160 years ago with today is to understand how it has been transformed from a groundbreaking, but tiny, event into one of the world’s great sporting occasions.

The 1860 Open was played over three rounds of 12 holes, by seven Scotsmen and one Englishman, who competed for a leather Challenge Belt worth £25.

Today, The Open is contested over four rounds of 18 holes, with a field of 156 (not counting the thousands who compete in qualifying tournaments right across the world), all vying for the Claret Jug and a prize fund in excess of £7million.

Yet Willie Park Snr – the first winner – and 2019 Champion Golfer of the Year Shane Lowry each have one thing in common – they both won The Open, not The British Open.

Shane Lowry with the Claret Jug after winning The 148th Open

The confusion surrounding the Championship’s correct title is long running and yet in essence the explanation is simple.

Initially, in 1860, there were no other Opens for it to be confused with.

Only as the sport grew in stature and influence around the world did nations introduce national Opens. The U.S. Open was born and, in time, the French, Spanish, Italian and many others followed.

Perhaps the key point is what happened next. In response to the new Opens, defined by nationality, the R&A was clear and unequivocal: The Open was not the British Open.

At no stage in the Championship’s history have the minutes, entry forms or programmes of the R&A ever referred to it as the "British Open".

There is a further, and crucial, element to the story because following the success of the first Open, its host club Prestwick announced that the tournament "shall be open to the world".

The four qualifiers from The Open Qualifying Series Singapore

It is an ethos that has never been forgotten and it might be said that now, more than ever, The Open is the most fitting title, with qualifying events taking place across the world.

The Open is the correct name for the Championship. It is also the most appropriate.