The Open Championship (a.k.a. the British Open), one of the four men’s Major Championships in the sport of golf, ends with the awarding of the iconic Claret Jug Trophy to the winner. Spike’s Trophies carries a replica of this award that can be purchased and awarded by you. You may not be familiar with the origins of the Claret Jug trophy, I wasn’t.
The Claret Jug, or to use its proper name, The Golf Champion Trophy, is presented to each year’s winner of The Open Championship. Yet it was not the original prize. When the Championship began at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland in 1860, the winner was presented with …
… the Challenge Belt, made of rich morocco leather, embellished with a silver buckle and emblems. It wasn’t until 1872 that the “Jug” replaced the Champion’s Belt.
Like other iconic awards, like Lord Stanley’s Cup or the Green Jacket, the Claret Jug has long held a mystical and celebratory quality. In designing the Claret Jug, it was well, just that – a claret jug. Claret is a dry red wine produced in the famous French winemaking region of Bordeaux. The British Open Trophy, made of Sterling Silver and standing 52cm (approximately 20 inches), weighing 5.4 pounds including its base, was designed with a handle that resembles a bass clef and with insides hollowed out to hold the exact contents of a bottle of wine. Certified appraisers have estimated that the Claret Jug may include as much as $1,200 worth of precious metals. The sentimental and market value of the award is far greater. It was made in Edinburgh in 1872 by Mackay Cunningham & Company. There are now three tiers beneath the cup, engraved with the names of over 130 plus champions. Every year, the winner’s name is engraved on the Claret Jug before it is presented to him. The television coverage now shows the engraver poised to start work, with the commentators speculating about when he will be sure enough of the outcome, to begin hand engraving the next name.
Held upside down, the Open’s Claret Jug delivers a perfect pour. This style of silver jug was used to serve claret at 19th Century gatherings. The Golf Champion’s Trophy has held cheap beer, expensive Champagne and iced tea brewed by Justin Leonard’s mother. Tiger Woods, winner of a few “Jugs”, has taken the trophy down from the mantle at times and filled it with various libations. “Honestly, because of the consumption, I really can’t remember,” Woods said of what he put in it.
The original claret jug is kept under lock and key in a display cabinet in the R&A clubhouse, alongside the original first prize, The Challenge Belt, which was donated to the club in 1908 by the grandchildren of Tom Morris Senior. There are in fact four copies of the original claret jug, one in the Museum of Golf at St Andrews, another in the World Golf Hall of Fame in St Augustine, Florida. A third travels the world to exhibitions and the champion is allowed to take a fourth home for a year. He is given a replica to keep which is curiously only two-thirds the size of the original. Since the 1980s all those champion jug-hugging moments photographed for the world on the 18th green are with a replica. The trophy is returned each year for presentation to the new champion, but many winners privately commission copies of the ancient jug for their personal collections. This tournament is golf’s oldest major championship and, given its history, it holds a lot of prestige for its victors.
The impetus to provide the Challenge Belt had come from the Earl of Eglinton and derived from his keen interest in medieval pageantry. He was pre-eminent in encouraging sport throughout the social spectrum and was a leading light in setting up The Open Championship. The Earl donated many trophies for competition, including a gold belt for competition among the Irvine Archers. The original Challenge Belt was purchased by the members of Prestwick Golf Club.
According to the first rule of the new golf competition: “The party winning the belt shall always leave the belt with the treasurer of the club until he produces a guarantee to the satisfaction of the above committee that the belt shall be safely kept and laid on the table at the next meeting to compete for it until it becomes the property of the winner by being won three times in succession.”
In 1870, just 10 years after The Open Championship began, Tom Morris Junior won for the third consecutive time and became the owner of the belt. The future direction of the Championship was discussed at Prestwick Golf Club’s Spring Meeting in April 1871, during which a key proposal was put forward by Gilbert Mitchell Innes: “In contemplation of St Andrews, Musselburgh and other clubs joining in the purchase of a Belt to be played for over four or more greens it is not expedient for the club to provide a Belt to be played for solely at Prestwick.”
The motion was passed, but no final decisions were reached about venues or the involvement of other clubs, with the result that The Open Championship was not played in 1871. Moves to revive the competition resumed the following year. The minutes of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, dated May 1, state that the green committee had been “empowered to enter into communication with other clubs with a view to effecting a revival of the Championship Belt, and they were authorized to contribute a sum not exceeding £15 from the funds of the club”.
To replace the original Challenge Belt, the three original clubs (Prestwick, with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers), finally agreed on September 11, 1872, to pay £10 each to provide a new trophy instead of another belt, which was a silver claret jug, and to jointly host the Open Championship. But that was only two days before eight players contested the Open. There was obviously no time to commission a new trophy and the winner was presented with what appears to be a standard, shop-bought medal (pre-dating Spike’s Trophies by 57 years). It was the first time that a medal had been presented. The famous claret jug trophy was hallmarked 1873. Its proper name was to be The Golf Champion Trophy. It was presented to the winner that year and every year for almost half a century. The first Open Champion to receive the new trophy was the 1873 winner, Tom Kidd, but Tom Morris Junior’s name was the first to be engraved on it as the 1872 winner.
In 1920 all responsibility for The Open Championship was handed over to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club. The tradition continued until three months after Bobby Jones won the championship at St Andrews in 1927. At that time the Championship Committee of the R&A decided that “in future the original Open Championship Cup be retained in possession of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and that a duplicate be obtained for presentation to the winners”. The cost of this duplicate was stated to be about £40.
In 1928, Walter Hagen won the third of his four Open titles and accepted the replica Claret Jug, having already been presented with the original in 1922 and 1924. During the half-century in which the original Claret Jug was used, twenty-eight different players held it aloft, including Harry Vardon on a record six occasions.
In 1990 a further replica was made for display in the new British Golf Museum at St Andrews and in 2000 a third was made for use in traveling exhibitions, and a fourth was created in 2003 for the same purpose.
Memorable moment: In 1999, Paul Lawrie completed the greatest comeback in Open history, starting the final round 10 strokes off the lead while being assisted by Jean Van de Velde’s unforgettable triple bogey on the 18th hole.