The History Of The Claret Jug

The History Of The Claret Jug

23 July 2023

The Open Championship is the only Major to be held outside of the USA, but is regarded as the most prestigious prize in golf – in no small part to the trophy on offer, The Claret Jug.

Morris Snr, Morris Jr, Vardon, Braid, Taylor, Hagen, Jones, Thomson, Locke, Trevino, Player, Palmer, Watson, Nicklaus, Ballesteros, Faldo, Woods, Mickelson, Norman, Harrington, Els, McIlroy, Spieth, the list of names goes on and on…

Iconic the world over, every July the world’s finest golfers compete for The Open Championship, played at one of the selected Open circuit courses; Royal Troon, Carnousite, Muirfield, Royal St.Georges, Royal Liverpool, Royal Lytham & St.Annes, Royal Portrush, Royal Birkdale and every 5th year at ‘The Home of Golf’, St.Andrews.

The Ailsa course at Turnberry, is probably the most famous course that was on the circuit previously, hosting the Championship in 1977, 1986, 1994 and 2009. Incidentally, both the first and last playing of the championship at Turnberry featured Tom Watson fighting for the Claret Jug.

His ‘Duel in the Sun’ with Jack Nicklaus is one of the most iconic and talked about contests in golf history where Watson was the eventual winner, then some 32 years later he lost in a play-off to Stewart Cink, after narrowly missing a putt to become the oldest ever Champion at 59 years old.

However it was another golf course, Prestwick Golf Club, some 20 miles north of Turnberry, on the South Ayrshire coastline where The Open Championship was first contested in 1860.

For the first 12 years, the winner received The Challenge Belt, a fine article made of Moroccan leather and embellished with a silver buckle and emblems.

History states that “the belt was purchased by Prestwick Golf Club at the encouragement of the Earl of Eglington, an enthusiast of medieval pageantry, who played a Major role in establishing The Open.”

A plaque marks the spot at Prestwick Golf Club where the first ever hole of The Open Championship was located | Image Shot Scope

It was then agreed upon that the winner of the championship from that day forward would always leave the belt with the treasurer of the club, until they had won it three times.

That would happen in 1870, when Tom Morris Jr won his 3rd title, and so with no trophy to present, no tournament was held in 1871.

In 1872, the three courses used by then, (Prestwick, St.Andrews and Muirfield) agreed that a gold medal would be presented to the winner, and they would all contribute £10 towards the cost of a new trophy; a silver Claret Jug.

Did you know? – The Claret Jug’s official name is ‘The Golf Champion Trophy’

It is also a lesser known fact that the first winner of the Claret Jug was Tom Kidd in 1873, however the first name on the trophy is Tom Morris Jr, as he won The Open the year before just as the agreement to commission the trophy had been made.

Harry Vardon lifted the trophy a record breaking 6 times, before the original Claret Jug was retained by the R&A for permanent display in 1928 – you can still see it today within the R&A clubhouse at St.Andrews.

You will also find that each Open venue has a replica within their respective clubhouses, usually taking centre stage for members, visitors and golf fans around the world to admire when they visit.

The Claret Jug on display outside ‘The Duel In The Sun’ restaurant in the Turnberry Clubhouse | Image Shot Scope

Since 1928, every winner even today, receives the Champions replica which stays with them for 12 months and is then returned to the R&A on the week their Open defence begins.

This tradition is very much in keeping with the original format of The Open, and one that should rightly continue well into the future.

Following the conclusion of this year’s championship, The Open will return to Royal Troon in 2024, followed by Royal Portrush in 2025, Royal Birkdale in 2026 & more than likely St.Andrews in 2027.


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