The Open was first played on 17 October 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland. The inaugural tournament was restricted to professionals and attracted a field of eight golfers who played three rounds of Prestwick's twelve-hole course in a single day. Willie Park Sr. won with a score of 174, beating Old Tom Morris, by two strokes. The following year the tournament was opened to amateurs; eight of them joined ten professionals in the field.
James Ogilvie Fairlie was the principal organiser of the first Open Championship held at Prestwick in 1860. With the untimely death of Allan Robertson, aged 43 in 1859, Prestwick members decided to conduct a challenge the following year that would determine the land’s greatest golfer. In a proposed competition for a "Challenge Belt", Fairlie sent out a series of letters to Blackheath, Perth, Edinburgh, Musselburgh and St Andrews, inviting a player known as a "respectable caddie" to represent each of the clubs in a tournament to be held on 17 October 1860.
Originally, the trophy presented to the event's winner was the Challenge Belt, a red leather belt with a silver buckle. The Challenge Belt was retired in 1870, when Young Tom Morris was allowed to keep it for winning the tournament three consecutive times. Because no trophy was available, the tournament was cancelled in 1871. In 1872, after Young Tom Morris won again for a fourth time in a row, he was awarded a medal. The present trophy, The Golf Champion Trophy, better known by its popular name of the Claret Jug, was then created.
Prestwick administered The Open from 1860 to 1870. In 1871, it agreed to organise it jointly with The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. In 1892 the event was doubled in length from 36 to 72 holes, four rounds of what was by then the standard complement of 18 holes. The 1894 Open was the first held outside Scotland, at the Royal St George's Golf Club in England. Because of an increasing number of entrants, a cut was introduced after two rounds in 1898. In 1920 full responsibility for The Open Championship was handed over to The Royal & Ancient Golf Club.
The early winners were all Scottish professionals, who in those days worked as greenkeepers, clubmakers, and caddies to supplement their modest winnings from championships and challenge matches. The Open has always been dominated by professionals, with only six victories by amateurs, all of which occurred between 1890 and 1930. The last of these was Bobby Jones' third Open and part of his celebrated Grand Slam. Jones was one of six Americans who won The Open between the First and Second World Wars, the first of whom had been Walter Hagen in 1922. These Americans and the French winner of the 1907 Open, Arnaud Massy, were the only winners from outside Scotland and England up to 1939.
The first post-World War II winner was the American Sam Snead, in 1946. In 1947, Northern Ireland's Fred Daly was victorious. While there have been many English and Scottish champions, Daly was the only winner from Ireland until the 2007 victory by Pádraig Harrington. There has never been a Welsh champion. In the early postwar years The Open was dominated by golfers from the Commonwealth, with South African Bobby Locke and Australian Peter Thomson winning the Claret Jug in eight of the 11 championships from 1948 and 1958 between them. During this period, The Open often had a schedule conflict with the match-play PGA Championship, which meant that Ben Hogan, the best American golfer at this time, competed in The Open just once, in 1953 at Carnoustie, a tournament he won.
Another South African, Gary Player was Champion in 1959. This was at the beginning of the "Big Three" era in professional golf, the three players in question being Player, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus. Palmer first competed in 1960, when he came second to the little-known Australian Kel Nagle, but he won the next two years. While he was far from being the first American to become Open Champion, he was the first that many Americans saw win the tournament on television, and his charismatic success is often credited with persuading leading American golfers to make The Open an integral part of their schedule, rather than an optional extra. The improvement of trans-Atlantic travel also increased American participation.
Nicklaus' victories came in 1966, 1970, and 1978. Although his tally of three wins is the least of his majors, it greatly understates how prominent Nicklaus was at the Open throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He finished runner-up seven times, which is the record and had a total of sixteen top-5 finishes, which is tied most in Open history with John Henry Taylor and easily the most in the postwar era. Nicklaus also holds the records for most rounds under par (61) and most aggregates under par (14). At Turnberry in 1977 he was involved in one of the most celebrated contests in golf history, when his duel with Tom Watson went to the final shot before Watson emerged as the champion for the second time with a record score of 268 (12 under par).
Watson won five Opens, more than anyone else has since the 1950s, but his final win in 1983 brought down the curtain on an era of U.S. domination. In the next 11 years there was only one American winner, with the others coming from Europe and the Commonwealth. The European winners of this era, Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, who was the first Scottish winner in over half a century, and the Englishman Nick Faldo, were also leading lights among the group of players who began to get the better of the Americans in the Ryder Cup during this period.
In 1995, John Daly's playoff win over Italian Costantino Rocca began another era of American domination. Tiger Woods has won three Championships to date, two at St Andrews in 2000 and 2005, and one at Hoylake in 2006. There was a dramatic moment at St Andrews in 2000, as the ageing Jack Nicklaus waved farewell to the crowds, while the young challenger to his crown watched from a nearby tee. Nicklaus later decided to play in The Open for one final time in 2005, when the R&A announced St Andrews as the venue, giving his final farewell to the fans at the Home of Golf.
There have also been wins by previously little known golfers, including Paul Lawrie's playoff win after the 72nd-hole collapse of Jean van de Velde in 1999, Ben Curtis in 2003 and Todd Hamilton in 2004.
In 2007, the Europeans finally broke an eight-year drought in the majors when Pádraig Harrington of Ireland defeated Sergio García by one stroke in a four-hole playoff at Carnoustie. Harrington retained the Championship in 2008.
In 2009, 59-year-old Tom Watson turned in one of the most remarkable performances ever seen at The Open. Leading the tournament through 71 holes and needing just a par on the last hole to become the oldest ever winner of a major championship, Watson bogeyed, setting up a four-hole playoff, which he would lose to Stewart Cink.
In 2013, Phil Mickelson won his first Open Championship at Muirfield. His victory meant that he had won 3 of the 4 majors in pursuit of the career grand slam, just needing the U.S. Open, where he has finished runner-up six times.
In 2015, Zach Johnson denied Jordan Spieth his chance of winning the Grand Slam by winning an aggregate playoff over Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman at the Old Course at St Andrews.
The Open is a 72-hole stroke play tournament contested over four days, Thursday through Sunday. Since 1979 it has been played in the week which includes the 3rd Friday in July. Currently, 156 players are in the field, mostly made up of the world's leading professionals, who are given exemptions, along with winners of the top amateur championships. Further places are given to players, amateurs and professionals, who are successful in a number of qualifying events. There is a cut after 36 holes after which only the leading 70 players (and ties) play in the final 36 holes on the weekend. In the event of a tie after 72 holes, a four-hole aggregate playoff is held; if two or more players are still tied, it continues as sudden-death until there is a winner.1860: Contested over 36 holes, played on a single day
1892: Extended to 72 holes, played over two days
1898: Cut introduced after 36 holes. Those 20 or more strokes behind the leader were excluded
1904: Extended to a third day with 18 holes on each of the first two days. Cut rule unchanged
1905: Cut rule changed to exclude those 15 or more strokes behind the leader
1907: Qualifying introduced, replacing the 36-hole cut and the contest reduced again to two days
1910: Cut reintroduced instead of qualifying, play being extended to three days again. Top 60 and ties made the cut.
1911: With an increase in the number of entries, the first two rounds were spread over three days, with 36 holes on the fourth day
1912: Qualifying reintroduced to replace the cut. Contest reduced again to two days
1926: Cut reintroduced. First Open with both qualifying and a cut. Extended again to a third day with 18 holes on the first two days. Those 15 or more strokes behind the leader were excluded from the final day. Days standardised as Wednesday to Friday
1929: Cut rule changed to ensure that at least 60 made the cut even if 15 or more strokes behind the leader
1930: Cut rule changed to top 60 and ties
1937: Cut rule changed to top 40 and ties
1938: Cut rule changed to be a maximum of 40 players. Ties for 40th place did not make the cut
1939: Cut rule changed to be a maximum of 44 players. Ties for 44th place did not make the cut
1946: Cut rule changed to be a maximum of 40 players. Ties for 40th place did not make the cut
1951: Cut rule changed to be a maximum of 50 players. Ties for 50th place did not make the cut
1957: Leaders after 36 holes go off last, replacing the random draw
1963: Cut rule changed to top 45 and ties
1964: Playoff reduced from 36 holes to 18, followed by sudden-death if still level
1966: Play extended to four days, 18 holes per day from Wednesday to Saturday. Cut rule changed to top 55 and ties
1968: Cut rule changed to top 70 and ties after 36 holes and then top 45 and ties after 54 holes
1970: Cut rule changed to top 80 and ties after 36 holes and then top 55 and ties after 54 holes
1971: Cut rule changed to top 80 and ties after 36 holes and then top 60 and ties after 54 holes
1973: Play in groups of three introduced for the first two rounds
1974: Use of "bigger ball" (1.68 in, 42.67 mm) made compulsory
1978: "10-shot rule" introduced so that players within 10 shots of the leader make the cut even if outside the top 80/60
1980: Play from Thursday to Sunday
1986: 54-hole cut discontinued. Cut rule changed to top 70 and ties after 36 holes. Four-hole playoff introduced
1996: "10-shot rule" dropped
There are a number of medals and trophies that are, or have been, given for various achievements during The Open.The Challenge Belt – awarded to the winner from 1860 until 1870, when Young Tom Morris won the belt outright by winning the Championship for the third year in a row.
The Golf Champion Trophy (commonly known as the Claret Jug) – replaced the Challenge Belt and has been awarded to the winner since 1873 although Young Tom Morris, the winner in 1872, is the first name engraved on it. (The Open was not held in 1871.)
Gold medal – awarded to the winner. First given out in 1872 when the Claret Jug was not yet ready, and since awarded to all champions.
Silver medal – awarded since 1949 to the leading amateur completing the final round.
Bronze medal – awarded since 1972 to all other amateurs completing the final round.
The Professional Golfers' Association (of Great Britain and Ireland) also mark the achievements of their own members in The Open.Ryle Memorial Medal – awarded since 1901 to the winner if he is a PGA member.
Braid Taylor Memorial Medal – awarded since 1966 to the highest finishing PGA member.
Tooting Bec Cup – awarded since 1924 to the PGA member who records the lowest single round during the championship.
The Braid Taylor Memorial Medal and the Tooting Bec Cup are restricted to members born in, or with a parent or parents born in, the UK or Republic of Ireland.
The common factor in the venues is links courses. The Open has always been played in Scotland, northwest England, and southeast England, along with one course in Northern Ireland which will again stage the competition in 2019.
From 1860 to 1870 The Open was organised by and played at Prestwick Golf Club. From its revival in 1872 until 1891 it was played on three courses in rotation: Prestwick, The Old Course at St Andrews, and Musselburgh Links. In 1892 the newly built Muirfield replaced Musselburgh in the rotation. In 1893 two English courses, Royal St George's and Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, were invited to join the rotation with Royal St George's being allocated the 1894 Open and Royal Liverpool having the 1897 event. At a meeting in 1907 Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club became the sixth course on the rota, being allocated the 1909 Open. With three courses in both England and Scotland, the meeting also agreed that the Championship was to be played in England and Scotland alternately. The alternation of venues in England and Scotland continued until the Second World War.
The rotation of the six courses was reinstated after the First World War with Royal Cinque Ports hosting the first post-war Open in 1920. It had been chosen as the venue for the cancelled 1915 Open. In 1923 Troon was used instead of Muirfield when "some doubts exists as to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers being desirous of their course being used for the event". Muirfield returned as the venue in 1929. Serious overcrowding problems at Prestwick in 1925 meant that the course was never again used for the Open and was replaced by Carnoustie as the third Scottish course. While Royal St George's and Royal Liverpool continued to be used at six-year intervals the third English course varied. After Royal Cinque Ports in 1920, Royal Lytham was used in 1926 and then Prince's in 1932. Royal Cinque Ports was intended as the venue in 1938 but in February of that year abnormal high tides caused severe flooding to the course leaving it like "an inland sea several feet deep" and the venue was switched to Royal St George's. Birkdale was chosen as the venue for 1940, although the event was cancelled because of the Second World War.
There are nine courses in the current rota, four in Scotland, four in England and one in Northern Ireland. In recent times the Old Course has hosted the Open every five years. The remaining courses host the Open roughly every 10 years but the gaps between hosting Opens may be longer or shorter than this. In 2014, it was announced by The R&A that Royal Portrush was returning to the active rota and in October 2015 Portrush was confirmed as the venue for the 2019 Open.
The most recent course to be removed from the active rota was Muirfield in May 2016, following The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers refusal to permit female members to join their club. On 14th March 2017, the members voted to admit females; the R&A subsequently stated that Muirfield would be welcomed back to the Open rota.
From 1894 (when it was first played in England) to 2016, it has been played 62 times in Scotland, 49 times in England and once in Northern Ireland. It was not until 2011 and 2012 that England hosted consecutive Opens.
The field for the Open is 156, and golfers gain a place in a number of ways. Most of the field is made up of leading players who are given exemptions. Further places are given to players who are successful in The Open Qualifying Series and in Final Qualifying. Any remaining places, and places made available because qualified players are not competing, are made available to the highest ranked players in the Official World Golf Ranking.
There are currently 26 exemption categories. Among the more significant are:The top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking. This category means that no member of the current elite of world golf will be excluded.
The top 30 in the previous season's European Tour Race to Dubai and the PGA Tour FedEx Cup. Most of these players will also be in the World top 50.
All previous Open Champions who will be age 60 or under on the final day of the tournament. Each year a number of past champions choose not to compete.
All players who have won one of the other three majors in the previous five years.
The top 10 from the previous year's Open Championship.
The winners of The Amateur Championship and the U.S. Amateur (provided the winners maintain their amateur status prior to the tournament).
International qualifying is through the "Open Qualifying Series" which consists of ten events played outside the United Kingdom. A pre-allocated number of places are made available at these events (from 1 to 4) which are given to the leading players in those events who are not, at that point, qualified for the Open, provided they finish in a high-enough position. A total of 32 places are available.
Local qualifying was the traditional way for non-exempt players to win a place at The Open. In recent years it has comprised a number of "Regional Qualifying" competitions around Britain and Ireland with successful competitors, joined by those players exempt from regional qualifying, playing four 36-hole "Final Qualifying" tournaments. There are 12 places available through Final Qualifying, three at each of the four venues.
Up to 1920 a variety of qualification systems were used. From 1921 to 1962 (except 1926) local qualifying was used. All those who entered played 18 holes on one of two courses and then played 18 holes on the other course the following day. Qualifying took place immediately before the Championship itself. In 1963 a system of exemptions for the leading players was introduced with local qualifying continuing for the remaining players. Since then a large number of changes have been made to the exemption criteria and to the qualifying system for the remaining players.1907: Qualifying introduced for the first time. Players play 36 holes on one of two days. Top 30 and ties qualify on each day
1908: Players play on either the first morning and second afternoon or the first afternoon and second morning. Top 30 and ties qualify from each group
1909: Same but each of the two groups has to contain at least 30 professionals
1910: Qualifying dropped
1912: Qualifying reintroduced. Players play 36 holes on one of three days. Top 20 and ties qualify on each day
1914. Qualifying over two days using two courses. Exactly 100 players qualify. 18-hole playoff the following day for those tied for final places. This was the first occasion on which qualifying did not take place on the championship course.
1920: Separate qualifying for amateurs and professionals. Amateurs qualify at the Open venue (total of 8 places with the Amateur Champion receiving automatic entry). Professionals qualified using two courses in Surrey. Top 72 and ties qualify
1921: Local qualifying reintroduced using two courses. Generally the Championship course is used together with a nearby course. Top 80 and ties qualify
1926: Regional qualifying used. Total of 101 and ties qualify at one of three venues (southern, central, northern)
1927: Local qualifying reintroduced. Top 100 and ties qualify
1937: Top 140 and ties qualify
1938: Maximum of 130 players qualify. Ties for 130th place did not qualify
1946: Maximum of 100 players qualify. Ties for 100th place did not qualify
1961: Maximum of 120 players qualify. Ties for 120th place did not qualify
1963: Exemption from qualifying introduced for the leading players including past 10 Open champions. Local qualifying continues for the remainder of the field but now two separate competitions are held with a preallocated number of places available. Two courses near the Open venue are used but not the Open venue itself. Playoff for those tied for final places. Total of 120 qualify
1965: Total of 130 qualify
1968: Exemption extended all previous Open champions
1971: Total of 150 qualify
1984: Exemption for previous Open champions aged under 65
1995: Exemption for previous Open champions extended to those aged 65 or under
2004: International Final Qualifying introduced
2008: Exemption for previous Open champions restricted to those aged 60 or under (with transitional arrangement for those born between 1942 and 1948)
2014: Open Qualifying Series introduced replacing International Final Qualifying
In Britain the tournament is best known by its official title, The Open Championship. The British media generally refer to it as the Open (with "the" in lower case) or as The Open Championship (with each word capitalized).
Outside the UK, the tournament is generally called the British Open, in part to distinguish the tournament from another of the four majors that has an 'open' format, the U.S. Open, but mainly because other nations with similar 'open' format golf events refer to their own nation's open event as "the Open". Until 2014, the PGA Tour referred to the tournament as the British Open, and many American media outlets continue to do so. However, in 2014, with the new Open Qualifying Series that selects players for the Open through finishes earned in various PGA Tour events, the PGA Tour has taken to referring to the event as The Open Championship for the first time. U.S. television rights-holder ESPN/ABC referred to the event as the British Open until 2004. For the 2005 event at St Andrews, ESPN/ABC began referring to the tournament as The Open Championship, and have done so ever since, with Golf Channel and NBC continuing to acknowledge the same upon the assumption of American rights in 2016.
It has been an official event on the PGA Tour since 1995, which means that the prize money won in The Open by PGA Tour members is included on the official money list. In addition, all Open Championships before 1995 have been retroactively classified as PGA Tour wins, and the list of leading winners on the PGA Tour has been adjusted to reflect this. The European Tour has recognised The Open as an official event since its first official season in 1972 and it is also an official money event on the Japan Golf Tour.
The 2015 Open had a total prize money fund of £6.3 million and a first prize of £1.15 million. At the time of the Open these equated to about $9.8 million and $1.8 million respectively. The other three major championships in 2015 had prize money of $10.0 million and first prizes of $1.8 million, so that all four majors had similar prize money. Prize money is given to all professionals who make the cut and, since the number of professionals making the cut changes from year to year, the total prize money varies somewhat from the advertised number (currently £6.3 million).
In 2016 the total prize money fund was £6.5 million with a first prize of £1.175 million. This equated to about $8.6 million and $1.55 million respectively at the time of the Open. The other majors had prize money of at least $10.0 million and first prizes of at least $1.8 million. The relative decline in prize money, in dollar terms, was attributable to a fall in the £/$ exchange rate.
There was no prize money in the first three Opens. In 1863, a prize fund of £10 was introduced, which was shared between the second-, third-, and fourth-placed professionals, with the champion keeping the belt for a year. Old Tom Morris won the first champion's cash prize of £6 in 1864.Oldest winner: Old Tom Morris (7009146046240000000♠46 years, 102 days), 1867.
Youngest winner: Young Tom Morris (7008549957600000000♠17 years, 156 days), 1868.
Most victories: 6, Harry Vardon (1896, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911, 1914).
Most consecutive victories: 4, Young Tom Morris (1868, 1869, 1870, 1872 – there was no championship in 1871).
Lowest score after 36 holes: 130, Nick Faldo (66-64), 1992; Brandt Snedeker (66-64), 2012
Lowest final score (72 holes): 264, Henrik Stenson (68-65-68-63, 264), 2016.
Lowest final score (72 holes) in relation to par: −20, Henrik Stenson (68-65-68-63, 264), 2016.
Greatest victory margin: 13 strokes, Old Tom Morris, 1862. This remained a record for all majors until 2000, when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes at Pebble Beach. Old Tom's 13-stroke margin was achieved over just 36 holes.
Lowest round: 63 – Mark Hayes, 2nd round, 1977; Isao Aoki, 3rd, 1980; Greg Norman, 2nd, 1986; Paul Broadhurst, 3rd, 1990; Jodie Mudd, 4th, 1991; Nick Faldo, 2nd, 1993; Payne Stewart, 4th, 1993; Rory McIlroy, 1st, 2010, Phil Mickelson, 1st, 2016; Henrik Stenson. 4th, 2016
Lowest round in relation to par: −9, Paul Broadhurst, 3rd, 1990; Rory McIlroy, 1st, 2010.
Wire-to-wire winners (after 72 holes with no ties after rounds): Ted Ray in 1912, Bobby Jones in 1927, Gene Sarazen in 1932, Henry Cotton in 1934, Tom Weiskopf in 1973, Tiger Woods in 2005, and Rory McIlroy in 2014.
Most runner-up finishes: 7, Jack Nicklaus (1964, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1977, 1979)
(a) denotes amateur
"Dates" column includes all days on which play took place or was planned to take place, including any playoffs
Since 1949, the Silver Medal is awarded to the leading amateur, provided that the player completes all 72 holes. In the 68 Championships from 1949 to 2016, it has been won by 43 players on 49 occasions. Frank Stranahan won it four times in the first five years (and was also the low amateur in 1947), while Joe Carr, Michael Bonallack and Peter McEvoy each won it twice. The medal has gone unawarded 19 times.
As of 2016, European Tour Productions serves as the host broadcaster for the Open Championship. The host broadcaster, as well as British and American broadcasters Sky Sports and NBC Sports, utilized a total of 175 cameras during the 2016 tournament.
In the United Kingdom, the Open Championship was historically broadcast by the BBC—a relationship which lasted from 1955 to 2015. The BBC's rights to the Open had been threatened by the event's removal from Category A of Ofcom's "listed" events, a status which legally mandated that the Open be broadcast in its entirety by a terrestrial broadcaster. It had since been moved to Category B, meaning that television rights to the tournament could now be acquired by a pay television outlet, such as BT Sport or Sky Sports, as long as rights to broadcast a highlights programme are given to one of the main terrestrial broadcasters.
Former R&A chief executive Peter Dawson had been critical of the quality of the BBC's television coverage in recent years, stating alongside its final renewal in 2010 that "They know we've got our eye on them. You have to stay in practice and keep up with advances in technology." The Guardian felt that the R&A was being "pressured" to negotiate a more lucrative broadcast deal, as the other three majors have in the United States, but also argued that viewer interest in golf could face further declines in the UK without widely available coverage.
On 3 February 2015, the R&A announced that Sky Sports had acquired broadcast rights to the Open beginning in 2017, under a five-year contract valued at £15 million per-year, doubling the value of the previous BBC contract. As required by broadcasting regulations, rights to broadcast a nightly highlights programme were also sold: the BBC acquired this highlights package. Dawson praised Sky Sports' past involvement with televised golf, explaining that "the way people consume live sport is changing significantly and this new agreement ensures fans have a range of options for enjoying the championship on television and through digital channels". The BBC chose to opt out of the final year of its existing contract, making Sky Sports' broadcast rights begin one year early, in 2016.
In the United States, ABC had historically held rights to the Open. Beginning in 2010 under an eight-year agreement, the Open moved exclusively to ABC's sister pay television channel ESPN, with only tape-delayed highlights shown on ABC. In June 2015, it was announced that NBC Sports would acquire rights to the Open Championship under a 12-year deal beginning in 2017; early round coverage airs on Golf Channel, with the main NBC network broadcasting live weekend coverage. The R&A cited NBC's successful broadcasts of Premier League football, which also primarily airs on weekend mornings in U.S. time zones, as an advantage of NBC's acquisition of The Open. Similarly to the BBC, ESPN chose to opt out of its final year of Open rights, causing NBC's rights to begin in 2016 instead.
The 2016 edition of the Open Championship had a total of 49.5 hours of coverage in the United States, with 29 hours being on Thursday and Friday, and 20.5 hours being on Saturday and Sunday; the Golf Channel cable network had a total of 35 hours of coverage, with 29 hours on Thursday and Friday, and 6 hours on Saturday and Sunday. The NBC broadcast network had a total of 14.5 hours of coverage on the weekend, with 7.5 hours Saturday, and 7 hours Sunday.
The 49.5 hours of coverage on Golf Channel and NBC surpasses the 36 plus hours of coverage that ESPN had in 2015.