The Evolutionary Play-By-Play of the British Open


The British Open (often referred to as simply “The Open”), is the oldest major professional golf championship in the world. It is held in the United Kingdom annually, and it is the only major golf tournament held outside the United States. Although it is called the British Open, the championship has its origins in Scotland.

When The Open Opened

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Young golfers have been dreaming of playing The Open since its birth in 1860. Only one year prior to the beginning of the United States Civil War, they gathered to participate in a contest that would become the crowning jewel of golf tournaments all over the world. It would become the most sought-after championship in the sport, and one whose legacy would inspire some of the greatest players in the history of golf.
In October that year, eight pros assembled at the Prestwick, Scotland, to battle for the golf championship title. The prize was a Challenge Belt, handcrafted from the finest red Moroccan leather with a silver belt buckle. Willie Park Sr. beat Tom Morris by two shots, and he went on to become the Open Champion a total of four times.
This year, the 144th British Open is scheduled for July 16-19 on the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland.

History of The Open

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During the inaugural tournament, Prestwick was a 12-hole course. In a single day, three rounds were played by the original eight golfers who qualified for the challenge. Willie Park Sr. emerged as tournament champion, and took home the prize. From the beginning, each winner would keep the Challenge Belt for a year, until the next Open.

In 1861, it was decided that players of amateur status would be allowed to compete. By 1863, a purse of £10, shared between the second, third, and fourth place winners was introduced. A first-place prize of £6 was added in 1864.

When The Open was won three times in a row by Tom Morris Jr., the Challenge Belt became his permanently. In 1872, the winning golfer would receive the new Claret Jug, and that has been the prize ever since. By 1892, The Open became a 72-hole event, and in 1898 a player cut was established after two rounds of play.

What it takes to qualify for The Open

How does a player qualify? He or she has a variety of paths leading to the tournament available to them. For the non-exempt players, qualifying tournaments are hosted on every continent. Others qualify for exemptions that allow them to forgo qualification and enjoy automatic eligibility.

British Open exemptions include:

• All former British Open Champions who are under 60 on the last day of the tournament, as well as the top 10 players from the previous Open

• The top 50 players competing in the current Golf World Rankings

• The winners of one of the other major tournaments in the last five years

• The top 30 players from the previous year’s European Order of Merit and the PGA Tour money list

Finally, there are international, local and regional qualifying tournaments that can promote a player into the main draw. 

Notable players who have played in The Open

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There have been many greats to play the game, and to play,The Open, is a goal they have all shared. In the early days, there were players such as Walter Hagen, Harry Vardon, Henry Cotton, and Bobby Jones. Vardon was known for the "Vardon Grip," the overlapping grip that is the most popular grip among 90 percent of golfers to this day. He was golf’s first superstar.

Then there are the modern greats who have gone on to become legends, such as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and the great Jack Nicklaus. Current players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson continue to stun the crowds with their phenomenal talent. Simply put, for nearly a century and a half, the lure of The Open and its challenging courses has drawn the major players from around the world.

A particularly historic 1977 British Open

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In 1977, the British Open championship was conducted for the first time at Turnberry, Scotland. This Open is thought by many to be one of the most unforgettable golf championships of all time, in what has become known as “The Duel in the Sun” between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.

Adding to the incredible excitement of the game was the fact that the two rivals were paired up in the final two rounds. This compelling battle saw them starting the third round a mere one stroke behind the leader. Two of the finest players to ever grace the game, Nicklaus and Watson dominated the final two rounds. Watson went on to win with one stroke over Nicklaus, in what is considered Turnberry’s most memorable moment and a British Open that remains without equal.

Interesting facts about The Open

The Open has a rich heritage and a long history of fascinating tournaments.

Did you know?

• The oldest person to win The Open was winner Old Tom Morris at 46 years of age in 1867.

• The youngest player to win, interestingly enough, was Old Tom’s son, Young Tom Morris, at age 17 in 1868.

• Harry Vardon won the tournament six times, more than any other player.

• The record for most appearances by a golfer is an incredible 46 consecutive times, held by Gary Player, who won three championships in three decades.

• J.H. Taylor holds the record for the longest time between a player’s first and last Open at 19 years. His first Open championship was in 1894, and his last was in 1913.

• In 1995, a streaker ran across the green. He had “19th hole” written across his back.

The British Open is a dramatic tournament, filled with challenges and excellent competition that has captured the minds of golfers and fans all over the world. Be sure to tune in for this gathering of golf’s best talent  as the best players compete for the coveted Claret Jug July 16-19.

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