The Ultimate prize
British Open 2023: 13 things you might not know about the claret jug
There is room for debate as to whether the claret jug is the most iconic item awarded to a tournament winner in golf, a chorus of folks representing a sleepy town in Georgia likely arguing that a certain emerald blazer has an awful lot of cachet, too. Where there is no uncertainty is this: The claret jug is the best mulligan in golf history.
The trophy that has become synonymous with the Open Championship was not handed out for the first time until 1873, 13 years after Willie Park Sr. won the inaugural playing of the event at Prestwick Golf Club. In lieu of a cash prize for the winner, Park was awarded the Challenge Belt, something akin to boxing hardware made of red Moroccan leather with an oversize silver buckle and emblems adorning the front.
The belt was given to subsequent winners, but each had to return it to Prestwick’s club secretary. Tournament rules stipulated that no golfer would earn permanent possession of the belt unless they won the Open three straight years. Lo and behold, Young Tom Morris did just that in winning the Open in 1868-’70.
Without anything to hand out to future winners—no tournament was played in 1871 because of this very dilemma, according to the Open website—members at Prestwick, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews met to come up with an alternative prize. On Sept. 11, 1872, each club agreed to pitch in £10 to purchase the celebrated trophy we think of today.
With this backstory in mind, here are 13 more things you might not know about the claret jug.
1. The claret jug actually has a formal name: The Golf Champion Trophy.
2. The original jug was made by Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh.
3. The claret jug is 20¾ inches tall with its base and 5½ inches in diameter at its widest (the base is 7¼ inches in diameter). It weighs roughly 5½ pounds. It’s 92.5 percent sterling silver.
4. The first golfer formally awarded the jug was Tom Kidd, when he won at St. Andrews in 1873. However, his is not the first name that was engraved on the trophy. Young Tom Morris, winner of the Open for a fourth time in 1872, has his name above Kidd’s out of deference to the fact that the trophy had been commissioned but was not ready when Morris was victorious the previous year. Morris was given a gold medal, which also became an annual award given to the champion.
5. The original claret jug was awarded to 28 different golfers through 1927, when the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews decided to put it on permanent display (well, almost permanent) in its clubhouse along with the original Challenge Belt, which was donated back by the Morris Family. Since then, a full-scale Champions’ replica has been presented to each winner, starting in 1928 with Walter Hagen.
6. The Open winner is allowed to keep the claret jug for a year before returning it to the R&A ahead of the next Open Championship. The R&A has turned “the return” into a highly choreographed ceremony in recent years.
7. Though winners must hand back the permanent claret jug, they do receive a full-size replica to keep and can order up to three smaller replicas.
8. Mistakenly, Tom Watson was given the original claret jug (from 1873) when he won the 1982 Open at Royal Troon. It was a mistake compounded by the fact that Watson accidentally knocked the trophy off a table in his house taking a practice golf swing, denting part of it. Watson took the trophy to his basement workshop, put it in a vise and bent it back into place.
9. There are three other replica jugs: one in the British Museum of Golf at St. Andrews and two others used for traveling exhibitions.
10. Prior to 1968, it was the champion’s responsibility to have his name engraved on the trophy before returning it. However, when Roberto De Vicenzo forgot to have it done, the R&A took the responsibility back and created the tradition of having an engraver (first Alex Harvey and now his son, Garry) on site to do the honors prior to handing the trophy to the winner each year.
11. There is a typo on the jug. The engraver who put in the 1947 entry for Fred Daly mistakenly wrote Hoylake as “Holylake.”
12. There are any number of stories of winners taking the claret jug to exotic spots to celebrate their victories. Our vote for the most unusual: Henrik Stenson strapping the claret jug into a life preserver while water skiing after his 2016 victory.
13. Several champions have told stories of drinking various concoctions from the jug (it is a 19th-century design that was used to serve claret, a dry red wine from the Bordeaux region of France). But the strangest thing to inhabit the jug might have been a collection of ladybugs. Padraig Harrington promised his son, Patrick, he could put the insects into the jug after the 2006 Open win at Carnoustie. Harrington had ladybugs engraved on the replica jug that he kept.
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Is it the British Open or the Open Championship? The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilize both names in its coverage.