BBC Home
Explore the BBC
| Help
Last Updated: Sunday, 4 July, 2004, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
The Open's early years
Tom Morris Snr in action in 1880
Tom Morris Snr won four times

First held at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland on 17 October 1860, the Open Championship is the oldest major golf tournament.

The event was inspired by the Earl of Eglinton and Colonel James Fairlie and intended to determine "the champion golfer in the world", but the first competition was far from open.

Just eight professional golfers entered, playing three rounds over Prestwick's 12-hole layout in a single day for the prize of an ornate red leather belt with a silver buckle and various decorations.

Willie Park from Musselburgh won the title after finishing with a score of 174 for the 36 holes and the tournament became a regular fixture at the Ayrshire course for the next 12 years.

At the 1861 tournament, the number of contestants rose to 12 and Tom Morris emerged triumphant.

Golfers had to wait another two years for prize money to be introduced, but even then none of it went to the winner. The prestige of being champion was considered sufficient reward and the money was instead awarded to the golfers who finished in the runners-up positions.

The winner received a cash prize for the first time in 1864 when Morris once again claimed the title and 6.

Between 1861 and 1872, Morris and his son, Young Tom, dominated the event, both winning four times each.

After claiming his third straight title in 1870, with a record winning margin of 13 strokes, Morris Jnr was awarded the belt outright.

New venues

Contributing towards the cost of a replacement prize - a silver claret jug - the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers were in turn invited to stage the championship.

Organisers were clearly in no hurry to get the new-look event under way and the Open was not held in 1871.

But it returned 12 months later, rotating for the next 18 years between three Scottish courses: Prestwick, St Andrews and Musselburgh.

In 1892, Muirfield held its first Open Championship and the event was expanded from 36 holes to 72 holes.

Two years later, the competition finally moved across the Scottish border for the first time when it was hosted by Royal St George's in Kent.

The inaugural championship would also mark the emergence of three golfing legends, known as the Great Triumvirate. These players would dominate the game for the next three decades.

Links to more History stories



E-mail services | Sport on mobiles/PDAs | Headlines for your site


Back to top

Sport Homepage | Football | Cricket | Rugby Union | Rugby League | Tennis | Golf | Motorsport | Boxing | Athletics | Snooker | Horse Racing | Cycling | Disability Sport | US Sport | Other Sport | Olympics 2004

Scores & Fixtures | Have Your Say | Photo Galleries | TV/Radio Listings

Sport Relief 2004 | Fun and Games | Question of Sport | BBC Sport Plus

Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales

BBC Sport Academy >> | BBC News >> | BBC Weather >>
About the BBC | News sources | Privacy & Cookies Policy | Contact us
banner watch listen bbc sport