1860 British Open: The First Major

The 1860 British Open is one of the most significant golf tournaments ever played, because it was the very first of what we now call the major championships. In fact, it was the first time any of the professional golf tournaments that exist today was played.

Winner: Willie Park Sr., 174

Where it was played: Prestwick Golf Club, Ayrshire, Scotland

Tournament dates: Oct. 17, 1860

Leader after first round: Willie Park Sr., 55

Leader after second round: Willie Park Sr., 114

What Happened at the 1860 Open Championship

What else was going on in 1860? Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States, but South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union (the U.S. Civil War began the following year); an Italian Parliament met for the first time and Giuseppe Garibaldi campaigned across Italy; the Pony Express began carrying letters across the Western U.S.; the city of Vladivostok was founded in Russia; the Second Opium War came to an end; Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations was published.

And The Open Championship was played for the first time, on Oct. 17, on the 12-hole Prestwick links in Ayrshire, Scotland. Eight professional golfers completed three rounds, 36 holes total.

And Willie Park Sr. was the winner of the 1860 British Open, the first Open champion ever. Old Tom Morris, who laid out the Prestwick course and was the club's greenskeeper and clubmaker, finished second, two strokes behind.

Why did the Open Championship pop into existence this year and not, say, five years earlier or later?

Everyone in the world of golf — which consisted almost exclusively of citizens of Scotland and England — knew that Allan Robertson, ballmaker and clubmaker at St. Andrews, was the world's best golfer. But Robertson died in 1859, and nobody could agree on who the new top golfer was.

But here's an idea: Let's hold a tournament to find out! The club members at Prestwick raised £25 and commissioned a "Challenge Belt" to present to the winner; it was a red Moroccan leather belt with a silver buckle and silver panels that served as the Open Championship "trophy" until it was retired after the 1870 Open. Invitations were sent to clubs across Scotland and England, seeking their best pros (professional golfers at this time, the R&A says, were "essentially caddies who also played").

This first Open Championship was "open" only to professionals; three Scotsmen and five Englishmen entered. (Amateurs were allowed beginning in Year 2; Scots dominated the Open in the early years, winning every one until the 1890 Open.) Golfers were playing for the belt and the title of Open champion; no prize money was offered in Year 1.

Park was the greenskeeper at the Musselburgh links, and the Park and Morris families had a long rivalry in golf. The old men played challenge matches, later joined by Willie's brother Mungo and Tom's son, Young Tom Morris. All the aforementioned won Open titles, as did, later, Willie Park Jr.

As for the play itself during the tournament? The 1860 British Open produced the first great putt in tournament golf history: Park's final-hole, 30-footer across "a bobbly green," in the R&A's words, that found the hole and sealed the victory over Morris. Park needed to get down in two to win or three to tie, but he banged it into the hole to become the first-ever Open champion.

1860 British Open Final Scores

Willie Park Sr. 55-59-60—174
Tom Morris Sr. 58-59-59—176
Andrew Strath 180
Robert Andrew 191
George Brown 192
Charlie Hunter 195
Alexander Smith 196
William Steel 232

Popular posts from this blog