Willie Park Snr was the winner of the first Open played at Prestwick, on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland, on Wednesday 17 October 1860.
The idea for The Championship came from the Earl of Eglinton and Colonel James Fairlie, prominent members of the Prestwick club, and the timing came about due to the death the previous year of Allan Robertson, the St Andrews clubmaker who, without question, had been the greatest player of his time. Who now was the Champion Golfer?
Invitations went out to clubs and golfing societies across Scotland and England for the best professionals, essentially caddies who also played, to contest for the Challenge Belt, made from red Moroccan leather and featuring silver panels of golfing scenes bought from Edinburgh silversmiths James & Walter Marshall for £25.
Eight professionals assembled for the tournament so strictly speaking it was not an “open” event but then there was no prize money, just the chance to win the Belt.
Tom Morris, the greenkeeper at Prestwick, was the local favourite but Musselburgh’s Willie Park, a strong hitter, led after the first round of the 12-hole course on 55, with Morris three behind. Both had 59s in the second round and then Morris, though finding too many of the bunkers that he created and tended by his own hands, posted another 59 for a total of 176.
Park came to the last hole facing a 30-foot putt across a bobbly green. He had two putts for the win, but three putts which would have been entirely reasonable given the conditions would have meant a tie. He needed only one.
With a closing 60 he finished on a total of 174 to win by two strokes. Andrew Strath finished third.
For the first several Opens, Park and Morris would rarely be out of the top-two.