Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Open Championship
The Open Championship, typically referred to in North America as the British Open, is the oldest of the four major championships in men's golf. Each year the event is hosted by one of several prestigious golf clubs in Britain; however, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A) administers The Open regardless of its site. It is always played on a links course.
The Open Championship is played in July, and is the third major to take place each year, after The Masters Tournament and the U.S. Open, but before the PGA Championship. It has been an official event on the PGA TOUR since 1995, which means that the prize money won in the Open by PGA Tour members is included on the official money list. In addition, all Open Championships before that date have been retrospectively classified as PGA Tour wins, and the list of leading winners on the PGA Tour has been adjusted to reflect this. The PGA European Tour has always recognized The Open as an official event.
The Open Championship was first played on 17 October 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club. The inaugural tournament was restricted to professionals, and attracted a field of eight, who played three rounds of Prestwick's then twelve hole course in a single day. Willie Park Senior won with a score of 174, beating the favourite, Old Tom Morris, by two strokes. The following year the tournament was opened to amateurs and eight of them entered, as well as ten professionals.
Originally, the trophy presented to the event's winner was the Champion's Belt, a red leather belt with a silver buckle. There was no prize money in the first three Opens. In 1863 a prize fund of £10 (then $50) was introduced, which was shared between the second third and fourth placed professionals, with the Champion still just getting to keep the belt for a year. In 1863 Old Tom Morris won the first Champion's cash prize of £6. By 2004 the winners cheque had increased one hundred and twenty thousand fold to £720,000, or perhaps two thousand fold after allowing for inflation. The Champions Belt was retired in 1870, when Tom Morris, Jr was allowed to keep it for winning the tournament three consecutive times. It was then replaced by the present trophy, the Claret Jug.
Prestwick Golf Club administered The Open from 1860 to 1870. In 1871, it agreed to organise it jointly with The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. In 1892 the event was doubled in length from thirty six to seventy two holes, that is four rounds of what was by then the standard complement of eighteen holes. In the same year the prize fund reached £100. Due to an increasing number of entrants, a cut was introduced after two rounds in 1898. In 1920 full responsibility for The Open Championship was handed over to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
The early winners were all Scottish professionals, who in those days worked as greenkeepers, clubmakers, and caddies to supplement their modest winnings from championships and challenge matches. The Open has always been dominated by professionals, amateurs only accumulating six wins, all of them between 1890 and 1930. The last of these was Bobby Jones' third Open and part of his celebrated Grand Slam. Jones was one of four Americans who won The Open between the First and Second World Wars, the first of whom had been Walter Hagen in 1922. These Americans and the French winner of the 1907 Open, Arnaud Massy, were the only winners from outside Scotland and England up to 1939.
The first post World War II winner was the American Sam Snead in 1946. In 1947 Fred Daly of Northern Ireland was victorious. While there have been many English and Scottish champions, Daly remains the only winner from either side of the Irish border, and there has never been a Welsh champion. Otherwise the early post war years The Open was dominated by golfers from the Commonwealth, with South African Bobby Locke and Australian Peter Thomson winning the Claret Jug in nine of the eleven championships from 1948 and 1958 between them.
Another South African, Gary Player was Champion in 1959. This was at the beginning of the "Big Three" era in professional golf, the three players in question being Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Palmer first competed in 1960, when he came second to the little known Australian Kel Nagle, but he won the two following years. While he was far from being the first American Open Champion, he was the first of their compatriots that many Americans saw win the tournament on television, and his charismatic success is often credited with persuading leading American golfers to make the "British Open" a routine part of their schedule, rather than an optional extra. Of course, the spread of trans-Atlantic air travel also helped a great deal.
Nicklaus' Open Championship victories came in 1966, 1970 and 1978. This tally of three wins isn't very remarkable, and indeed he won all of the other three majors more often, but it greatly understates how prominent he was at the tournament throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He finished in the top five sixteen times, which is tied most in Open history with John Henry Taylor and easily the most in the post war era. This included seven second places. Nicklaus holds the records for most rounds under par (61) and most aggregates under par (14). At Turnberry in 1977 he was involved in one of the most celebrated contests in golf history, when his duel with Tom Watson went to the final shot before Watson emerged as the champion for the second time.
Watson won five Opens, more than anyone else has since the 1950s, but his final win in 1983 brought down the curtain on an era of U.S. domination. In the next eleven years there was only won American winner, with the others coming from Europe and the Commonwealth. The European winners of this era, Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, who was the first Scottish winner for over half a century, and the Englishman Nick Faldo, were also leading lights among the group of players who began to get the better of the Americans in the Ryder Cup during this period.
In 1995, The Open became part of the PGA Tour's official schedule. John Daly's win in that year, which was a huge surprise even though he had won a major before, began another era of American domination. Tiger Woods won his first and so far his only Open in 2000. There was a dramatic television moment that year at St Andrews, as the aging Jack Nicklaus waved farewell to the crowds while the athletic young pretender to his crown as the greatest golfer of all time watched from a nearby tee. In 2002, all Open wins before 1995 were retrospectively classified as PGA Tour wins. Recent years have been notable for the number of wins by previously obscure golfers, including Paul Lawrie in 1999, Ben Curtis in 2003 and Todd Hamilton in 2004.
From 1860-1870, The Open Championship was organised by and played at Prestwick Golf Club. Since it was revived in 1872 after a lapse of one year, it has always been played at a number of courses in rotation. Initially there were three courses in the rotation, namely Prestwick, St Andrews, and Musselburgh. In 1893 Royal St George's and Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake were invited to join the rotation. Since then a handful of further clubs have been added, and a few have been dropped.
There are eight or nine courses in the current rotation:
- St Andrews: In 1872 the "Home of Golf" became the second course to host the Open. Nowadays, it does so more often than any other course.
- Muirfield: Muirfield is a private course which was built for The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, one of the trio of clubs which ran The Open in the 1870s and 1880s. It first staged The Championship in 1892, just nine months after it had been built.
- Royal St George's: This course is in the county of Kent in Southern England. In 1894 it became the first Open venue outside Scotland.
- Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake: The home of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, which is often referred to simply as "Hoylake", joined the rotation in 1897 and hosted ten Opens up to 1967. After a 39 year absence from the rotation, it will be hosting the 2006 Open Championship.
- Royal Troon: This Scottish course has been in the rotation since 1923.
- Royal Lytham & St Annes: An English course which first hosted The Open in 1926, and entered the rotation in 1952.
- Carnoustie: Another Scottish course, Carnoustie first hosted The Open in 1931, and it rejoined the rotation in 1999 after being excluded for several decades.
- Royal Birkdale: An English course which has been in the rotation since 1954.
- Turnberry: A course in Scotland which hosted The Open in 1977, 1986 and 1994. It will not be doing so again any earlier than 2009, so it might be considered to have been dropped.
Courses which are no longer in the rotation:
- Prestwick Golf Club: The founder club was dropped from the rotation in 1925, by which time it had hosted twenty four Opens.
- Musselburgh: Musselburgh is a public course which was used by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. When that club built Muirfield, Musselburgh dropped out of the rotation.
- Royal Cinque Ports: This course in Kent, England hosted the Open in 1909 and 1920.
- Prince's Golf Club: This course is also in Kent. It hosted its only Open in 1932.
- Royal Portrush: The 1951 Open was staged at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, which remains the only time it has taken place outside of Great Britain.
Exemptions and qualifying events
The field for the Open is 156, and golfers may gain a place in three ways. Around two thirds of the field is made up of leading players who are given exemptions. The rest of the field is made up of players who were successful in "Local Qualifying" and those who came through "International Qualifying".
There are almost thirty exemption categories. Among the more significant are:
- The top 50 on the Official World Golf Rankings. This key sweep up category is now used by all four majors, and it means that no member of the current elite of world golf will be excluded. Until quite recently, this was not necessarily the case at the majors.
- The top 20 in the previous season's PGA Tour money list and PGA European Tour order of merit. Most but not all of these players will also be in the World top 50.
- All previous Open Champions who will be age 65 or under on the final day of the tournament.
- All players who have won one of the other three majors in the previous five years.
- The top 10 from the previous year's Open Championship.
Among other things, the additional exemption categories ensure that all the member tours of the International Federation of PGA Tours are represented, and that there are some amateur competitors. Full details of all the exemption categories can be found here.
Local Qualifying is the traditional way for non-exempt players to win a place at The Open. It comprises 16 eighteen hole "Regional Qualifying" competitions around Britain and Ireland a week and a half before the event, with successful competitors moving on to the four thirty-six hole "Local Final Qualifying" tournaments a few days later. There are now twelve places available through Local Qualifying, though there used to be far more.
Local Qualifying is open to players from all over the world, and it used to attract some big names. In order to make it easier for professionals from outside Britain and Ireland to compete for a place, the R&A introduced International Qualifying in 2004. This comprises five 36 hole qualifying events, one each in Africa, Australasia, Asia, America and Europe. Only players who have a rating in the Official World Golf Rankings may enter, which is a more stringent standard than for Local Qualifying. Thirty six places are available in International Qualifying. Eligible players may choose whether to enter local qualifying or international qualifying, but they may not enter both. For full details on qualification see here.
- Oldest winner: Tom Morris, Sr. (46 years, 99 days), 1867.
- Youngest winner: Tom Morris, Jr. (17 years, 5 months, 8 days), 1868.
- Most victories: 6, Harry Vardon (1896, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911, 1914).
- Lowest absolute 72-hole score: 267, Greg Norman (66-68-69-64), 1993.
- Lowest 72-hole score in relation to par: -19, Tiger Woods (67-66-67-69, 269), 2000.
There is an extensive records section on the official site here.
Winners of The Open Championship
Am = Amateur
Players with more than one Open Championship victory to 2004 inclusive:
- 6 times: Harry Vardon
- 5 times: Peter Thomson, James Braid, J.H. Taylor, Tom Watson
- 4 times: Walter Hagen, Bobby Locke,
- 3 times: Willie Park, Snr, Jamie Anderson, Robert Ferguson , Bobby Jones, Henry Cotton, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros
- 2 times: Willie Park, Jnr, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman
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