Nobody, it seems, gives a thought as to why the trophy awarded at the Open Championship is a jug. Its proper name is The Golf Champion Trophy, but it’s commonly known as the Claret Jug.

Now, a jug may not sound like much of a prize — unless, as in the case of this one, it is made out of sterling silver — 92.5% pure to be precise. Additionally, the main body is decorated with a gentleman golfer expertly rendered with embossing. The elegant spout was created from a sterling silver casting.

The singular trophy, presented to the winner of the OpenThe Claret Jug Championship since 1873, is mounted on a pedestal, and as the years have progressed, more stepped bands were added to accommodate the yearly Open Championship Golf winners’ names on the pediments.

Like other Victorian sterling silver claret jugs made in the 1870s, this one appears to be in the Cellini style, adopting a shape made popular by the famous 16th century Florentine silversmith Benvenuto Cellini.

Before the jug came into existence, the winner of the world’s first “major,” was afforded the honor of wearing the Championship Belt for an entire year—provided he could guarantee its safekeeping along with a promise to surrender it for the next year’s competition. The belt was made of red Moroccan leather with a giant, elaborately embellished silver buckle, depicting a golf scene with four figures—most likely two golfers and their caddies. This belt, created by Edinburgh silversmiths James & Walter Marshall, was purchased by the members of Prestwick Golf Club, where the first twelve Open Championships were held from 1860 to 1872.

Young Tom Morris won the belt three years in a row, and according to the rules, this gave him the right to permanently retain this magnificent prize, never having to relinquish it.

Young Tom’s golfing exploits and numerous victories catapulted him to rock-star status, especially in the town of St Andrews. For his formal portrait, Tom wore the sensational trophy; but  he didn’t just possess the belt, he adorned himself with it. Posing in the studio of Thomas Rodger, considered to be the first professional photographer in St Andrews, Young Tom stood proudly, if not impatiently for the full minute it would take to expose a calotype image.

With his finely filigreed silver buckled belt perched on his athletic frame, riding just below his stylishly tailored double-breasted waistcoat, Tom exuded a dashing handsomeness that would make even the most reserved of the landed classes sit up and take notice. From his lustrous locks and the body of an action hero, to the arrogant attitude, Young Tom embodied the cockiness of  the sports celebrity he clearly was.

When the Open Championship was to be played in 1871, it was realized too late that there was no trophy to present. And as ridiculous as it sounds, the tournament was cancelled. Not a misprint: It was CANCELLED!

By 1872, three clubs decided on a rotation to host The Open and contributed £10 each toward the creation of a new trophy. The clubs, Prestwick, The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (today commonly called Muirfield where the club moved in 1891), and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, proposed a silver claret jug as the winner’s prize. The decision was not unanimously agreed upon until September 11, 1872, so the winner of the 1872 Open (Young Tom for the 4th time in a row!) was awarded a Gold Medal—inscribed “The Golf Champion Trophy” — a tradition which continues to this day.

If the three clubs moved slowly, at least they chose wisely. The firm they selected was formed by James Mackay and David Cunningham, and was established sometime before 1824 in Edinburgh. By 1873, Mackay Cunningham & Co were known as the “Goldsmiths to the Queen, HRH Prince of Wales, watchmakers, and manufacturers and designers of Scottish jewellery.”

When the exquisite silver jug was hallmarked and ready to present, the first winner to receive it was Tom Kidd in 1873. Although Kidd triumphed that year and claimed the shiny new prize, the 1872 winner, Tom Morris Junior, was the first name engraved on the body of the trophy, and rightly so. For those folks who are fascinated by this kind of detail, on the spout of the jug, the first Champion engraved is Jack Burns at St Andrews 1888 and the last that of James Braid at Muirfield 1901.

The importance of Young Tom being the only person to ever win The Open four times in succession cannot be overstated. Furthermore, he accomplished this feat by the age of twenty-one. Please consider this fact: Young Tom won the Open Championship in 1868, 1869, 1870 (’71 cancelled) and 1872. Again: that’s four consecutive Open titles. So whatever victories the young guns are racking up today, no modern-day golfer has duplicated this remarkable achievement.

As the golf world’s first major tournament continued to evolve, all responsibility for The Open Championship was entrusted to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club in 1920. After the 1927 Open, won by Bobby Jones at St Andrews, the club’s Championship Committee made the decision to retain the original Claret Jug in future years and present the winner with a replica.

The Claret JugAnyone who thinks the Winner’s Replica (which the Champion Golfer holds for a year until the following Open) is somehow inferior to the original would be mistaken. It’s the same size and is an exact duplicate of the prize that now never leaves the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient. However, it should be noted, that the winner is also presented with a slightly smaller replica Claret Jug that he gets to keep forever.

In 1928, Walter Hagen won the third of his four Open titles and was given a replica Claret Jug, having already been presented with the original in 1922 and 1924, which he had to hand over before the start of the next year’s Open. In fact, nowadays, a replica Claret Jug is treated as the priceless treasure that it is, and the ceremonial return of the trophy has become a major press event.

Over the 54 years in which the original Claret Jug was awarded, twenty-eight different players held it aloft, including Harry Vardon on a record six occasions.

What is the rest of the story? How did this iconic trophy come about? And why a jug? Why not a footed cup or a chalice?

Take the Wanamaker Trophy for instance. Now there’s an award of mammoth proportions. This fire hydrant size prize dwarfs the Claret Jug and the Ryder Cup. But which, I ask you, is more coveted?

Not this, the biggest hunk of hardware of them all. It’s named after Rodman Wanamaker (1863-1928), a driving force behind the creation of the PGA of America. The Wanamaker Trophy is 28 inches high (nearly two and a half feet tall) and weighs in at 27 pounds.  That is hefty.  The winner might even need a spotter when he hoists it over his head for the adoring crowd to see. It is the prize for what is now considered the fourth major in golf. So is it a big deal? Sure, of course it is. But it’s still the diminutive decanter the guys all want to get their hands on.

Flashing back…Long before the golf clubs of Scotland had a clubhouse of their own, the members of these golf societies usually met in a local tavern. For instance, when Prestwick Golf Club was founded on July 2, 1851 by a group of 57 golfers, they met at the Red Lion Inn in the town of Prestwick. In those days, an inn would have been a tavern that had a license to put up guests as lodgers. And it was an establishment that served wine, beer and ale — that is, a perfect post-match drinking house where the gentlemen would doff their hats and coats, have a full meal and settle their bets. In other words, it was the sport of golf’s first 19th hole.

We have to go back in time even further to follow the movement of the Muirfield members, who originally played their golf over Leith Links, just five holes at the time, each stretching over 400 yards long. In 1744, a committee of members, then known as the Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh, drafted the original 13 Rules of Play, before a competition to be held on Leith Links. These rules became the basis for the modern game. The sole signatory on this document was an Edinburgh surgeon and Muirfield member, John Rattray.

Eleven players participated in this 1744 competition, and coincidentally John Rattray won the event. His prize was a silver golf club, thought to be inspired by the silver arrow awarded the winner of the Royal Company of Archers commencing in 1709.

Fast forward: In 1768, the Gentlemen Golfers, who had been meeting in a tavern called Luckie Clephane’s Inn on the ancient narrow thoroughfare known as Kirkgate, ponied up the money and built themselves a private clubhouse. It was sold in 1833 and eventually demolished. The Leith Academy Secondary School was built on the site in 1931.

And where did the Society of St Andrews Golfers meet before they had a clubhouse of their own? Having formed their club in 1754, ten years after the Gentlemen Golfers established the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the St Andrews guys used to regularly dine (and imbibe) after their round in Bailie Glass’s Inn. They didn’t build their own clubhouse for over 100 years after the founding of their club. And for two decades before that, they regularly used a building called the Union Parlour on Golf Place, that they shared with other resident and visiting golfers. It was situated where the Grand Hotel (now Hamilton Grand) was later built.

Following a spirited match, what did these clubs and societies do in their makeshift clubhouses, which evolved from tavernous origins? They’d eat a hearty supper and drink, then drink and drink some more! Copious amounts of alcoholic beverages were consumed. Whisky, one might presume? After all, Scotch whisky distillation was coming into its own.

Nope. They drank wine. What kind of wine? French, of course. Red, for sure. Claret, to be exact. Claret is a dry red wine produced in the winemaking region of Bordeaux. And so the trophy was fashioned in the style of the silver jugs customarily used to serve claret in the 19th century, at the same time the Open Championship came into existence.

Is there more to the story of the Claret Jug? Bien sur!

To delve far enough into the past, we practically need a time machine to take us back to the century where Eleanor of Aquitaine (b. 1122 — d. April 1, 1204), who became Queen of France, married King Henry II of England in 1154.

Fasten your seat belts, please.

At the time, clairet, as Bordeaux reds were called in French, was a difficult word for the English to properly pronounce. They simplified it to “claret”. In French, claret means “clear”, and in those days the Bordeaux reds were fairly light in color compared to their current hue. By the 17th century the Bordeaux reds had gone through a gradation to a darker shade as winemaking techniques changed and vintners discovered that wine aged in oak barrels took on properties that improved the taste.

Due to the British trade, “claret” became the generic reference to Bordeaux wines. As wine production increased and storage techniques improved, ensuing ease of transport between the countries enhanced the popularity of Bordeaux wines in England.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

The marriages, regicide, and wars of England and France are more complex than even the biggest and most full-bodied red wines; but in a nutshell, or in a wine barrel, when the export of Bordeaux wine was interrupted by the outbreak of the Hundred Years War between France and England (apparently round-numbered by the historians — it actually lasted 116 years from 1337 to 1453), the Auld Alliance, an accord between the kingdoms of Scotland and France, took on more significance.

By the end of the conflict, France had repossessed the province of Aquitaine, thus taking over control of the wine production in the region that had come under English control back when Eleanor married Henry.

So how is it that the Scots came up with the Claret Jug as their trophy?

As the red wine darkens and the plot thickens with the many convoluted conflicts between all of these countries, it turns out that the Scottish merchants were granted a privileged position in the trade of claret by the French.

So much so, that even when the Protestant kingdoms of England and Scotland, both ruled by the same Stuart king, were trying militarily to aid the Huguenot rebels in their fight against Catholic France in La Rochelle, Scottish trading vessels were not only permitted access to the Gironde  (a major waterway and location of the Bordeaux wine region), they were escorted safely to the port of Bordeaux by the French navy for their own protection from Huguenot privateers!

Please remain seated in your time machine, and do not, repeat, do not attempt to follow this flight path, even in your Gulfstream.

There is just one last detail to explain.

In their wisdom, the sagacious Scots, in creating the Claret Jug trophy, added a very interesting decorative feature, which is more than just an adornment. On the handle of the jug, precisely at the thumb point, the head of a bearded man was soldered into place.

Who is this mystery man?

None other than Dionysus, the Greek God of Wine — also known as Bacchus to the Romans.

Leave it to the clever Scots, who not only invented the game of golf, but found an ingenious way of giving a subtle nod to the Romans, who planted the first vines in France.

So ultimately, we should give Julius Caesar and the subsequent Roman emperors a nod of thanks for the Claret Jug!

This story will be published officially in the upcoming Terroir of Golf book.