1860. The Open. The very first.
Shortly before noon on the morning of Wednesday, 17 October 1860, a small group of eight roughly dressed individuals made their way towards the wind-strewn sand hills of Prestwick.
Under his arm each carries a strange assortment of wooden implements. They march, like prisoners under guard, accompanied by four members of the gentry, whose role it is to ensure that none among them shall transgress.
They are about to make history by playing the first ever round of The Open Championship. It was in the Red Lion Inn that the Open Championship was conceived. Used in 1860 as the clubhouse for the Prestwick links, it was from here that the historic eight would have made that famous march before each striking a ball in turn and thus beginning a championship which has become one of the leading events in the world’s sporting calendar.
The inaugural Open Championship was contested among only these eight entrants, all of whom were professionals of sorts, either caddies or club or ball makers. The Prestwick Club recognised the gathering’s importance to professional golf and proposed that the tournament be held over 36 holes of medal play. It would be open to professional golfers from all clubs. Ironically, the idea was greeted with little enthusiasm by the other clubs concerned and, in the end; Prestwick decided to go it alone.
The first players teed off at 12 noon and the entire field had completed the 36 holes before dark. This is in marked contrast to the modern Championship, which now takes four days to complete. Willie Park won that first Open with a score of 174, which gave him a two stroke lead over Tom Morris, who had moved to Prestwick from St Andrews to be Keeper of the Green in 1851.
And the rest truly is, as they say, history. Prestwick went on to host the Open Championship a total of 24 times before being retired after the 1925 event.
The first Open was played at Troon in 1923 just two years before the last event was played at Prestwick and featured some of the game's most historic names including Walter Hagen and the legendary Gene Saracen who was to return half a centruty later and famously hole in one at The Postage Stamp.
Troon has witnessed some magnificent events and some wonderful winners - Palmer, Wesikopf and Watson amongst them and in recent events it has witnessed two four hole play offs and a stunning head to head in 2016 with Henrik Stenson lifting the Claret Jug in hte Ayrshire sunshine.
The course has now hosted The Open Championship on nine occasions and is always a tremendous venue for visitors to enjoy the occasion - both on and off the course - and with the recent announcement that The Open is returning again in 2024 this magnificent venue can look forward to providing further golfing history.
Turnberry is but a young nipper when it comes to hosting Open Championships but what it lacks in age it more than makes up for in history.
The Ailsa Course only entered the Open Championship rota in 1997 but what an entrance it made with an event which was to become famous as one of the greatest head to heads in the game’s history. That first event simply became known as The Duel in the Sun and in some ways eclipsed the victories of Greg Norman in 86 and Nick Pirce in 94.
The Open Championship returned in 2009 in what will always be remembered for the loss of Tom Watson rather than the victory of Stewart Cink. It is not certain when the event will again return but hopefully in the future it will be back on the roat for what is regarded as one of the most picture perfect venues in the world of golf and our TV screens will be filled with views of The Firth of Clyde, Isle of Arran, the hotel on the hill and of course the iconic Ailsa Craig and Turnberry Lighthouse.
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