History of the Old Claret Jug

The iconic ‘Claret Jug’, arguably the best known trophy in sport, was only presented to the winner of The Open Championship some 12 years after the world oldest major was inaugurated in 1860.

This is because the first Open Championship winner at the Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland in 1860 and the next 11 winners after that were all presented with the ‘Challenge Belt’, the brainchild of the Earl of Eglington, who had a passionate interest in medieval pageantry.

The Earl was a strong supporter of sporting competition and encouraged it at all levels of British society, often denoting trophies to help whip up interest in new emerging contests, one of them being the ‘Gold Belt” he presented to the Irvine Archers.

Ironically, the most famous of the belts he inspired, The Challenge Belt, made from rich, red morocco leather and embellished with a silver buckle and emblems, was not one of the trophies he donated.

It was, in fact, purchased by the Prestwick Golf Club, hosts of the first Open Championship.

The rules at the time of the new golf competition: “The party winning the belt shall always leave the belt with the treasurer of the club until he produces a guarantee to the satisfaction of the club committee that the belt shall be safely kept and laid on the table at the next meeting to compete for it until such time as it becomes the property of the winner by being won three times in succession.”

Willy Park, an aggressive and exciting golfer who did for 19th Century golf what charismatic Arnold Palmer did for the game in the mid-20th Century and what Tiger Woods did in the early 21st Century, won that inaugural event at Prestwick and won three times more, but his victories did not all come together and it was Tom Morris Jnr, who succeeded his father Tom Morris Sr. – himself a four-time winner – as The Open Champion in 1868, who was to claim final ownership of the Belt when he won it again in 1869 and 1870.

Being left without a trophy tended to throw the Open Championship into a state of disarray and the event wasn’t held in 1871 as discussions continued between the game’s leading authorities about who should pay for a new trophy and, if a number of clubs besides Prestwick contributed towards it’s purchase, should they not also participate in hosting the event?

Eventually a key proposal, put forward by Gilbert Mitchell Innes at Prestwick’s Spring Meeting in April 1871, was accepted and set the future direction of the Championship.

“In contemplation of St Andrews, Musselburgh and other clubs joining in the purchase of a Belt to be played for over four or more greens it is not expedient for the club to provide a Belt to be played for solely at Prestwick,” was the feeling of the meeting according to the minutes.

The motion was passed, but it took some time before moves to revive the competition resumed in the following year.

The minutes of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews, dated May 1, state that the green committee had been “empowered to enter into communication with other clubs with a view to effecting a revival of the Championship Belt, and they were authorized to contribute a sum not exceeding £15 from the funds of the club”.

Agreement was finally reached on September 11, 1872 between the three clubs that were to host The Open – Prestwick, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews.

They decided that the winner would receive a medal and that each of the three clubs would contribute £10 towards the cost of a new trophy, which was to be a silver claret jug, instead of another belt. Its proper name was to be The Golf Champion Trophy.

These decisions were taken too late for the trophy to be presented to the 1872 Open Champion, who, once more, turned out to be Tom Morris Jnr.

He was awarded with a medal inscribed ‘The Golf Champion Trophy’ and only later would see his name engraved on The Old Claret Jug as it’s first winner, despite the fact that Tom Kid, the 1873 winner, was in fact the first man to be handed the famed trophy after the final round of a contest that today is one of golf’s four Majors and is always played for in July.

Tragically Tom Morris gave up golf and went rapidly down hill after his wife died in childbirth only a year after their marriage. His father found him dead in his bed on Christmas day in 1875 from a burst artery in his lung. He was only 24.

In 1920 sole responsibility for The Open Championship was permanently handed over to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, who today, continue to run The Open Championship and are responsible for golf worldwide except in the USA and Mexico where the USGA is the ruling body.

Following the 1927 Open, which was won at St Andrews by the legendary American amateur Bobby Jones, the club’s Championship Committee took the decision to retain the Claret Jug in future years and to present the winner with a replica.

In 1928, Walter Hagen won the third of his four Open titles and accepted the first of the replica Claret Jugs.

During the half-century in which the original Claret Jug was used, twenty-eight different players have hoisted it high in triumph, including Harry Vardon, who won it on a record six occasions, Tom Watson, a five-time winner, Bobby Locke and Australian Peter Thompson, who were both four-time winners, and Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods, who are among those who have each won it three times.

Along with ‘The old Claret Jug’, championship Gold Medals have also been presented to the winners since 1872 when Tom Morris Jnr was presented with the first in the absence of any other trophy.

The earlier Gold Medals, which in fact were silver gilt, were large oval objects embossed with a a shield and crossed clubs.

After 1880 the medal design was altered on a number of occasions and it is now circular and no longer oval.

In 1893, the first year of its circular shape it was assigned a value of
£10 which was deducted from the advertised purse for the winner.

In 1920 this amount was increased to £25 and continued to be deducted from the prize fund until the practice was ended after the 1929 Open Championship.

It was first suggested at this stage that a medal should also be presented to the leading amateur in the championship, but it was not until 1949 that a silver medal of the same size and design as the winner’s medal, was first presented to Frank Stranahan of the United States.

This medal bore the inscription ‘Golf Champion Trophy’, with the addition of the words ‘First Amateur’ and Stranahan was to go and win it again in 1950, 1951 and 1953.

Since 1972, all amateurs, other than the leading amateur, who have made the halfway cut and played on the final day of The Open Championship, have received a bronze medal.