The Open Golf Championship
The Open Championship is golf's oldest and most prestigious championship. It is an event steeped in tradition and heritage and no golfer can consider himself to be truly great until he has won the Open. Even the Americans, who usually consider European golf second rate, subscribe to this view.
Unlike some Majors, the Open is truly open. Professionals and amateurs are obliged to qualify by playing on courses near the host club in the days preceding the event. Part of the attraction of the Open must be that it perhaps golf in it's purest form. It is traditionally played on links courses which are invariably more demanding than the manicured parkland courses so common throughout the world. The golfer must overcome the weather and a natural topography to be victorious. The Open is indisputably special.
The idea of an open championship, to be played annually on alternate courses, was first proposed at Prestwick GC, Scotland in 1856. After failing to secure the support of the other clubs, Prestwick decided to proceed on it's own and organised the first Open in 1860. The original format was 36 holes played on a single day with the winner awarded the championship belt for a year and a purse of £10. The belt was to be awarded outright to whoever won the championship on three successive occasions.
When Young Tom Morris won his third consecutive Open in 1870, the championship committee were thrown into disarray to the extent that they cancelled the following year's event. In 1872, the new format was introduced with the event alternating between Prestwick, Musselburgh and St Andrews. The famous Claret Jug was offered up as prize but would remain the permanent property of the organisers. By this time, the Royal and Ancient golf club of St Andrews (www.randa.org) had become the de-facto governing body of golf and they too assumed control of the Open Championship Despite these changes Young Tom Morris still managed to win.
In 1892, the format was extended to it's present 72 holes over two days. The reason for this was the increased number of entrants which paralleled a general growth in golf's popularity. In 1894, it was first played in England with Englishman John Ball the victor. It has since been hosted throughout the UK including at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.
The Open did suffer somewhat when Americans came to dominate world golf after the turn of the 20th century. Back then, the Americans were obliged to make a trans-Atlantic voyage in order to compete. Coupled with this was the American perception that European golf had nothing to offer Americans. It was therefore sometimes difficult to assemble a field which comprised all the best golfers in the world. However, Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones and others competed and helped maintain the Open's global status.
The same problem occurred once again after the Second World War. The championship committee recognised that the prestige of winning the Open was not enough to attract the world's best golfers and therefore substantially increased the prize fund. However the rise of global travel facilitated by jet technology and the spread of TV must surely have played a part. In 1996, the prize fund was a highly respectable £1.4m with £200,000 awarded to the winner