By Jeff Shain/The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – It’s been 14 decades, but the red Moroccan leather belt is making a comeback.
As part of the British Open’s 150th anniversary, Sunday’s trophy presentation will find the new “Champion Golfer of the year” given not only the iconic Claret Jug, but a replica of the ornate belt that was the original prize when Prestwick Golf Club first hatched the idea in 1860.
The belt lasted only 10 years, when Young Tom Morris was allowed to keep it after his third successive victory. After a year’s layoff – no trophy, no tournament – the Claret Jug was introduced as the new spoils.
Obviously, a few other changes have taken place over the years as well.
That first competition attracted all of eight golfers – largely because the concept was put into motion so late that the tournament had to be held in mid-October.
Prestwick members sent out invitations to leading clubs of the day inviting them to send their three best caddies or professionals to compete. No prize money, though each competitor was issued a green-and-black lumber jacket to wear while playing.
“Smarten up their appearance a bit,” suggested Michael Brown, chairman of the ruling Royal amp& Ancient Golf Club’s championship committee. “We have no plans to repeat that this summer.”
Willie Park Sr. won in something of an upset, two shots better than the Old Tom Morris, who laid out Prestwick’s 12-hole course after being lured from St. Andrews. Park thus took custody of the belt Prestwick members purchased after pooling resources to come up with the 25-pounds price tag.
Club bylaws, though, prevented Park from actually taking the belt home until “he produces a guarantee … that the Belt shall be safely kept and laid on the table at the next Meeting to compete for.”
Compare that to the odyssey that Stewart Cink gave the Ramp&A’s traveling claret jug – the original is permanently held at the club – in the past 51 weeks. The Georgian certainly wasn’t the first to utilize it as a beer or wine server, but this month might have provided the auld jug’s first acquaintance with Southern barbeque.
One of Cink’s friends, it turns out, is an amateur grillmaster who takes his barbeque seriously. For a Fourth of July picnic, Cink let him use the jug to whip up some homemade baste to pour over some smoked pork shoulder.
Cink even posted photos on his Twitter account. Another time, he used it to pour coffee as part of a TV commercial. Try that with a belt.
‘Open to the world’
Encouraged by their initial success, Prestwick members declared the 1861 tournament “open to the world.” The result was a field of 18 golfers, amateurs and pro – though none from outside the British Isles.
The new “Open Championship” wouldn’t see its first non-British competitor, in fact, until France’s Arnaud Massy made the first of 16 consecutive appearances at the 1902 tournament.
In recent years, qualifiers have been staged on five continents, awarding 27 berths without hopefuls even having to come to Britain. Twelve more slots were set aside in “local final qualifying” for the longest of homegrown longshots.
One more tidbit worth noting about the Open’s global scope: When Park and his other seven pioneers competed at Prestwick, the telephone was still 16 years from being invented. This year, the Royal amp& Ancient has an iPhone application that will let fans watch live streaming video.