Francesco Who?

August 2, 2018

Every year I am amazed by the British Open style of play on a course that resembles an abandoned golf course. Don't get me wrong; since I watched my first British Open about twenty years ago (won by Mark O'Meara, U.S 1998), I now understand Scottish golf courses (maybe).

What the Masters tournament is to beauty, the British Open is to golf in the 1800s. Augusta National Golf Course, home of the Masters, compared to Carnoustie, home of the 2018 British Open, is like looking at a dozen roses compared to brown grass in your lawn. If you are an avid golfer, you will see the beauty in both.

In a tournament full of big names, Francesco Molinari, a virtually unknown Italian golfer, won the Claret Jug, shooting 276 (eight under) and recorded the lowest score ever at Carnoustie. As he walked down the eighteenth fairway at minus seven for the tournament, I envisioned the ghost of Willie Park, Sr., the first winner of the Open in 1860, walking next to him toward the green. (Molinari birdied 18 and shot 69.)

Since 1860, each British Open has all the old charm of the first one played at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland when a group of rich golfers took up a collection among the membership to have an "elegant" trophy made for the first winner and golf champion of Scotland. Now, if you guessed that the trophy was the famed Claret Jug (not to be confused with the Stanley Cup), you would be wrong. Are you ready?

The first trophy was actually a large red leather belt with a silver buckle. It was called the Championship Challenge Belt and if you won it three years in a row, you could keep it.

This seems to go against all we know about the tough Scots, who wore kilts into battle and on the links. Kilts have no belt loops, so I suppose the belt was probably about the size of today's World Wrestling Entertainment Championship Belt and was worn around Prestwick as a display piece, instead of holding up a kilt. To add another twist to the first tournament, the British Open was actually closed to all golfers, unless you were a professional golfer, caddie, golf instructor or gambler who made a living playing golf. That all changed a year later, when the word Open allowed amateurs and professionals alike to enter and compete for the Championship Belt.

In 1864 things got rolling with the addition of a six pound cash award to accompany the red leather belt. To publicize the annual event, the membership voted to add the title "Championship Golfer of the World." It wasn't until 1873 that the organizers of the Open Championship got tired of passing around a belt as the top prize and decided to take up another collection and have another unique trophy manufactured. So they took their "wee purse" full of money to the Mackay Cunningham Company of Edinburgh and had them create a large cup, which was named the Championship Cup. When the golfing public and professional golfers complained that the name was to bland for such a prestigious event and the "cup" actually resembled the cups used at the Prestwick to drink claret wine, the name was changed to the "Claret Jug" (no historical explanation as to how a cup turned into a jug, but add wine and Scottish whiskey to the discussion and voila: It turned into a jug). With the new jug in hand, every golfer in Prestwick wanted to be the first winner of the new prize and be called the Championship Golfer of the World, but to their dismay, the first winner was Tom Kidd, a caddie from St. Andrews, who shot a 179 to take home the title.

So next year, when you watch the British Open played on a course with no trees, rough up to your knees, rolling berms, eight-foot-deep bunkers and wind clocked at 25 mph on a calm day, remember that the "Open" is played for tradition, not beauty!

19th Hole Trivia:

• The British Open is rotated among nine links courses in Scotland or England.

• 1951 was the only year the "Open" has been played in Ireland

• Young Tom Morris was the youngest winner (1868) at seventeen years, 156 days

• Molinari has his name engraved on The Claret Jug and took home $1.89 million dollars in the 147th British Open.

• In his last round on Sunday, Molinari had sixteen pars and two birdies. He also played the last 37 holes of The Open bogey-free. He also had one three putt the entire tournament.

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