The Open Prestwick

The Open Championship at Prestwick

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Morris Scorecard

The Open Championship at Prestwick

A simple stone cairn to the west of Prestwick’s clubhouse marks the spot where the first Open Championship tee shot was struck in 1860. It identifies the opening hole of the original 12-hole course and the place where modern golfing history began.

The tournament had been arranged following the death of Alan Robertson of St Andrews in 1859. Robertson was one of the first golf professionals to make a living from playing for bets, caddying, ball and club making and instruction, and was considered the best golfer at the time. In fact, he was so good that tradition has it he never lost when playing for money.

Following his death, the members of Prestwick Golf Club agreed a competition should be held to see who would follow Robertson as the Champion Golfer. In due course, the first Open Championship was held at Prestwick on October 17, 1860 and played according to the Rules of Prestwick Golf Club.

Eight professional players competed for the prize of a red Morocco leather belt with silver clasps and an ornamental silver buckle. The impressive girdle cost £25 and was paid for by the Club’s members. It eventually rested on the hips of Willie Park of Musselburgh who recorded a score of 174 for 36 holes (three rounds of 12 holes) bettering Old Tom’s tally, who represented Prestwick, by two strokes.

Old Tom would have his day and went on to win the championship four times, as did his son Tommy who secured three consecutive wins and ownership of the leather belt. He went on to record the Championship’s first hole in one and a modern-day albatross on Prestwick’s 578-yard opening hole. The original scorecards on which these achievements are noted are among the most treasured items in Prestwick’s archive collection.

Prestwick presided over the first 12 Open Championships, which was then held jointly with The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. Prestwick went on to host 24 Open Championships with the last being held in 1925 when Jim Barnes from the US secured the first prize of £75. Only the Old Course at St Andrews has hosted more Open Championships than Prestwick.

Open Champions At Prestwick

The Open Championship has been staged at Prestwick on 24 occasions. Contested over the unique links layout, each running of golf’s oldest Major added to the mystique of the event.

In 1860, Willie Park of Musselburgh triumphed over Old Tom Morris by two strokes to claim the first Open Championship. On that occasion, eight players contested for the title. A year later, Old Tom prevailed over Park and 16 others, so beginning an epic rivalry between the two that would dominate the Open Championship for the next seven years with Old Tom winning a further three times and Willie Park twice (Park also won the Open Championship again in 1875).

The Morris name also prevailed in 1868 but this time it was Old Tom’s son Tommy. He repeated the feat in 1869 and 1870 thereby earning him the Morocco leather belt outright for three consecutive wins.

When Tommy won again at Prestwick in 1872 (there was no Open Championship in 1871), the Club was joined by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in hosting the tournament and also paying for a new trophy; the famous Claret Jug (which cost £30).

Twelve years later, Jack Simpson lifted the jug after completing two rounds of 18 holes. It was the first time the Open Championship at Prestwick had been staged over this duration following the introduction of a new 18-hole lay-out in 1882.

In 1893, Prestwick witnessed its first Open Championship over 72 holes with the £30 winning prize money being collected by Willie Auchterlonie. Other notable Prestwick winners include John Ball Jr; the first amateur to win the Open Championship in 1890, Harry Vardon; who holds the record with six wins of which three were at Prestwick in 1898, 1903 and 1914; and James Braid in 1908.

Prestwick’s final Open Championship was held in 1925 when the size (and enthusiasm) of the crowd, estimated at 15,000, were as noteworthy as the result. Local favourite Macdonald Smith (an expatriate Scot based in the US) started the final round knowing that a 78 would be good enough to win. However, he slumped to an 82 to finish fourth, losing out to the eventual winner Jim Barnes who also lived in the US but was in fact a Cornishman by birth. Bernard Darwin described how the crowd influenced the occasion: “They wanted the Scotsman to win and all that was wrong was that too many of them wanted it too much.”

Jim Barnes, winner of the 1925 Open Championship at Prestwick