Golf: A hole new ball game

The Anniversary: The first professional golf tournament teed off at Prestwick 138 years ago

THE multi-million-pound extravaganza known to the world as the British Open and to purists as the Open Golf Championship was an impoverished whim when it stumbled into life at Prestwick 138 years ago this weekend.

Golf's first official professional competition was contested by a mere eight players for the underwhelming prize of a red Moroccan leather belt with a silver buckle. The fledgling tournament had only been conceived four and a half months earlier during Prestwick's Spring Meeting by a prominent member, Colonel J O Fairlie, who proposed that all the leading clubs should subscribe to a gold medal to be competed for by professionals over the 12-hole Ayrshire links.

In September 1860, Col Fairlie recommended that in order "to avoid any objectionable characters [entering] we ... write to the secretaries of all the golfing societies requesting them to name and send their best professional players". The Prestwick captain, Lord Colville, underlined this sentiment on 3 October by stating that "the players must be known and respectable caddies".

Despite the mounting paranoia, at 11.30am on 17 October, the day after Prestwick's Autumn Meeting, the first players teed off. Three rounds (36 holes) later, the Musselburgh professional Willie Park was declared the winner with 174 strokes - two fewer than Tom Morris Snr, the resident professional but formerly of St Andrews. One of the contestants, George Brown, had travelled from as far as Blackheath, in south-east London, though his total of 192 left him fifth.

Prestwick's length was 3,799 yards and its bogey (in those days there was no such thing as par) was 48. The longest hole was the first (578 yards) and the shortest the 11th (97 yards).

According to the amateur golfer Horace Hutchinson, writing in 1890, the course "went dodging in and out among lofty sandhills. The holes were, for the most part, out of sight when one took the iron in hand for the approach; for they lay in deep delves among these sandhills, and you lofted over the intervening mountain of sand, and there was the fascinating excitement, as you climbed to the top of it, of seeing how near to the hole your ball might have happened to roll."

Col Fairlie became the first amateur to enter the following year, finishing eighth behind Morris and perhaps initiating the "Open" concept. Seven of the first eight championships were won by either Park or Morris but it was not until Morris's third victory in 1865 that any prize money was declared for the winner, in this case pounds 6 - a mere pounds 299,994 light of Mark O'Meara's cheque last July.

One of the original rules was that if anybody won the Challenge Belt three times in succession, he could keep it. The precocious Tom Morris Jnr duly pulled off this feat from 1868 to 1870. On the first occasion he was only 17 years, five months and eight days old - still the youngest age for a major winner. On the second occasion, his third-round 49 was the first under 50. And on the third occasion, his opening 47 was the first round to beat bogey.

Young Tom's permanent appropriation of the Belt caused such confusion among the organisers over the far from insignificant matter of financing a replacement trophy that no championship took place in 1871. Indeed, it was only two days before the start of the 1872 tournament that the members of Prestwick, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (based in those days at Musselburgh and not Muirfield) came up with a solution while dining together.

As apocrypha has it, they were passing the wine round the table when it was suggested that a silver claret jug might do the job. Although the hallmark proves today's hallowed trophy was not actually purchased until at least a year later, reportedly for pounds 30, the tournament went ahead.

Needless to say, Young Tom won again. He was only 21 at the time, but it was his last victory. Just over three years later, while grieving over his wife's death in childbirth, he died on Christmas morning of alcohol poisoning, his body discovered by his father.

The other two developments from the night of the claret jug were agreements that the event should remain open to amateurs thus confirming it as the Open, and that it should rotate every three years between Prestwick, St Andrews and Musselburgh - a chain unbroken until 1894 when it moved South of the Border for the first time to St George's in Kent.

By then, however, the days of the Prestwick Belt were but a distant memory.

l For more on the history of the Open Championship, visit the British Museum of Golf at St Andrews, which supplied information for this article.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has won the award ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

SThree: Trainee Recuitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn