The Challenge Belt and the original Golf Champion Trophy – better known as the Claret Jug – both reside on permanent display within The R&A clubhouse in St Andrews.
Their origins, and the stories of those who won, have become enshrined in the legends of the sport.
So let’s take a closer look at the two awards and how they came into being…
The Challenge Belt
Even accounting for its age, it remains a handsome reward for any victorious player. In red Moroccan leather, with a centred silver buckle showing two golfers and their caddies playing golf, it was an eye-catching prize for a new tournament.
The Challenge Belt was the brainchild of the Earl of Eglington, who was a pivotal figure in the birth of what we now know as The Open.
In the first part of their history of The R&A series, Challenges and Champions 1754-1883, John Behrend and Peter Lewis write that the Earl’s “interest in medieval ritual and pageantry” drove its introduction.
Of course, having belts as prizes were not unnecessarily unusual – as fans of boxing will understand, and the cost was met by subscriptions from the Prestwick membership.
That cost was a princely £25 – more than £3,000 in today’s money – and was brought from Edinburgh silversmiths James & Walter Marshall.
With such an expensive prize in place, the members took specific precautions, laid down in the first tournament rules, to protect that investment.
“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 should 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 years in succession.”
What was that guarantee? You’ve guessed it, £25. Given that it wasn’t until 1863 that prize money was introduced, only the pride of winning – and deep pockets – would entice the victor to part with such a sum.
And yet, just 10 years after its introduction, it was won in perpetuity when Young Tom Morris took his third consecutive title in 1870.
Visit our dedicated Open website for more from golf’s oldest major
The Claret Jug
Morris’s trio of wins meant the tournament organisers needed a new prize. What followed would have a profound effect on the growth of The Open.
There was no championship in 1871 and Prestwick, The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers – then playing out of Musselburgh – clubbed together not only to buy a new trophy but to rotate the staging of the competition between the three venues.
Each came together and provided £10 towards its cost and Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh was commissioned to make what was inscribed as ‘The Golf Champion Trophy’.
While Morris Jr’s name was the first to be engraved, he never got to lift it in triumph. Though he won the 1872 renewal, the trophy was not finished and it would be Tom Kidd, the following year, who would be the first winner to get his hands on what is now surely golf’s most sought-after prize.
So why a Claret Jug? It was said it was made in the style of the time to serve wine. Was it a nod back to the origin of golf societies, which were formed to play the game and dine afterwards?
While the original Claret Jug remains at the R&A Clubhouse, there are a series of replica Claret Jugs, with the current version reported to have first been given to Walter Hagen in 1928. Others are frequently used for exhibitions.
The R&A has announced details of how you can get tickets for the historic 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in 2023. Click here to find out more.
Subscribe to NCG
[post_list category=73052 title=””]
Could the golf ball be rolled back for everyone?