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The Claret Jug

When you have the weight of almost a century and a half worth of history behind your particular championship, it’s necessary that the trophy you award has an air of elegance about it, which is why the Claret Jug is the perfect prize for the world’s oldest golf tournament, the Open Championship of Britain.  The Golf Champion Trophy, as it is officially named, has been presented to tournament winners since 1873 and grown slightly to accommodate the winners’ names after it was first placed in the hands of Tom Kidd at St. Andrews’ fabled Old Course.

History

When the Open Championship was first held in 1860, the organizing committee created a distinct prize for the champion: a red leather belt.  Known as the Champions Belt, the silver buckle demonstrated the winning player’s supremacy on the links, yet it was something he would return at the end of the year – unless he won again, that is.  From the start, the rules stipulated that a man could keep the belt if he won it three consecutive times, a feat completed by Tom Morris in 1870.  (He would win a fourth in a row in 1872, after a brief hiatus from the tournament, and be the first name placed on the Golf Champion Trophy.)

The 1872 Open Championship was a hastily pulled together affair so, despite the decision to make a special trophy having already been made, the Claret Jug was not ready in time to be handed out.  Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh was given a £30 commission to produce a silver cup worthy of the tournament’s growing reputation.  Made in the style of silver jugs used to serve the dry French wine from Bordeaux called claret, the common name most used quickly stuck despite the words “Golf Champion Trophy” being firmly engraved on the front.   The following year, 1873, Tom Kidd was the first to be presented with the physical trophy and second to have his name engraved on it, taking home the £6 winner’s purse in the process.

In 1928, after 55 years in use, the original Claret Jug was retired to permanent display at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.  That year’s winner, Walter Hagen, took the current trophy home for a year before receiving a replica to keep for himself – a custom that exists to this day.  In addition, three other replicas have been commissioned during the years since: two used for promotional displays all over the world and one made specifically for the British Museum of Golf at St. Andrews.

Best Players

Peter Thomson (5 wins)

Only five men have won three consecutive Open Championships – and none since this Aussie pulled off the feat in the middle of the 20th century (the first since the 1890s).  Playing predominantly during an era when the best British and American players couldn’t travel across the Atlantic to compete – the prize money was too little to cover expenses – his greatest triumph came in 1965, when the best in the world arrived (Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, among others) to contest the trophy.

Tom Watson (5 wins)

In 1975, the unassuming American from Missouri reached the pinnacle of the golf world by claiming the first of his five championships over a field that included Jack Nicklaus (whom he would defeat in a famous duel over the final two rounds in 1977) and future three-time winner Hale Irwin.  From that first victory until his last in 1983, he claimed five of nine in a row – one of the better runs amongst professionals in the modern era.

Walter Hagen (4 wins)

The dashing American became famous for challenging the British establishment when claiming his four trophies in the 1920s.  During his era, professional golfers were considered lower class citizens than their amateur counterparts, often being told to enter clubhouses through side doors – if they were allowed at all, that is.  Ever one for spectacle, he used a chauffeur-driven car as his dressing room at the 1920 Open Championship, two years before he won his first of four titles, and became the first to take home a replica of the Claret Jug in 1928.

Jack Nicklaus (3 wins)

Few players in the history of golf, especially as the sport’s popularity exploded in the latter half of the 20th century, could make a claim for consistency to rival Nicklaus.  Though he had a dry spell mid-career, he is one of only a handful to claim the Claret Jug in multiple decades, having pulled off his first victory in 1966 and followed it up in 1970 and 1978, the most memorable being his last – he completed a third round of the Career Grand Slam, having finished on top of all four majors three times each.

Tiger Woods (3 Wins)

Among the certainties of the 21st century, the fact that Woods was the top golfer in the world as the 2000s rolled on would have to be near the top.  Claiming back-to-back victories in 2005 and 2006, respectively, he became the first man since Tom Watson in 1983 to defend the title and bring the Claret Jug home again.  It is his triumph in the year 2000, just a month after dominating the field at the US Open Championship, that is most talked about: in scoring a -19 in relation to par, he set the record for the lowest final tally in any major championship and became the youngest ever to claim the Career Grand Slam.

Recent Winners

Darren Clarke (2011)

Louis Oosthuizen (2010)

Steward Cink (2009)

Padraig Harrington (2007-08)

Tiger Woods (2005-06)

Todd Hamilton (2004)

Ben Curtis (2003)

Ernie Els (2002)