It's Wednesday 17 October 1860…a small group of like-minded individuals are making their way towards the sandhills of Prestwick… Little did they know, they were about to make history!
The first Open Championship was played on 17 October 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club in Ayrshire, Scotland, over three rounds of the twelve-hole links course.
In the mid-19th century golf was played mainly by well-off gentlemen, as hand-crafted clubs and balls were expensive. Professionals made a living from playing for bets, caddying, ball and club making, and instruction. Allan Robertson was the most famous of these pros, and was regarded as the undisputed best golfer between 1843 and his death in 1859. James Ogilvie Fairlie of Prestwick Golf Club decided to form a competition in 1860, “to be played for by professional golfers”, and to decide who would succeed Robertson as the “Champion Golfer”. Blackheath (England), Perth, Bruntsfield (Edinburgh), Musselburgh and St Andrews golf clubs were invited to send up to three of their best players known as a “respectable caddie” to represent each of the clubs.
The winner received the Challenge Belt, made from red leather with a silver buckle and worth £25, which came about thanks to being donated by the Earl of Eglinton, a man with a keen interest in medieval pageantry (belts were the type of trophy that might have been competed for in archery or jousting). The first rule of the new golf competition was “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 above committee that the belt shall be safely kept and laid on the table at the next meeting to compete for it until it becomes the property of the winner by being won three times in succession”. Eight golfers contested the event, with Willie Park, Sr. winning the championship by 2 shots from Old Tom Morris, and he was declared “The Champion Golfer of the Year”.
A year later, it became “open” to amateurs as well as professionals. Ten professionals and eight amateurs contested the event, with Old Tom Morris winning the championship by 4 shots from Willie Park, Sr. A prize fund (£10) was introduced in 1863 split between 2nd, 3rd and 4th (the winner only received the Challenge Belt). From 1864 onwards a cash prize was also paid to the winner.
Over 150 years later, The Open remains golf’s most prestigious competition and South Ayrshire retains its important golfing legacy with not only one, but two Open Championship venues in the region.
Golf South Ayrshire’s Lochgreen Course, Troon, also has a place in golfing history as a historical Open qualifying venue, it hosted one of golf’s greatest ever players, Jack Nicklaus, and, in 1962, Nicklaus qualified for his first ever Open Championship – a tournament he would go on to win no fewer than four times.
Our history continues, with no fewer than three classic James Braid designed courses. With over 450 designs to his name, Braid is widely recognised as one of golf’s finest course architects.
Well known for his ‘risk and reward’ courses, some of the finest examples of his work can be found on the mostly unchanged Belleisle, Seafield and Girvan courses.
Choose South Ayrshire as your next golfing destination and follow in the footsteps of legends…
Taken circa 1858 and features some of the players who played in the first Open at Prestwick