The 20th Open | 1880 Musselburgh

Late confirmation of date ends Anderson's streak

In 2022, The 150th Open will be greeted with fanfare amidst the backdrop of a logistical spectacle to behold, with a truly immense site catering to the needs of hundreds of thousands fans over the links of St Andrews.

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And amidst all the anticipation ahead of one of the biggest golfing events ever held, it is rather likely that every golfer, and every ardent golf fan, knows when and where The Open will take place.

But that was not always the case in the early years of the Championship. 

As The Open became a more well-known event, administrative issues became a problem, particularly in an era of more difficult travel.

The introduction of a new trophy and new venues for The Open in 1873 left organisers with a vastly more significant task than the original administrative duties that Prestwick held in 1860, and a lack of Championship in 1871, due to the unavailability of the new Claret Jug prize, was further evidence of that. 

However, these growing pains were perhaps most evident ahead of The 20th Open. One of The Open's most testing years, the Musselburgh playing in 1880 was a far cry from the smooth logistical operation of today, and proved a turning point in the way The Open was presented and arranged. 

Issues in 1880 largely stemmed from an April date of playing. Traditionally, Championships held at Prestwick and St Andrews had been played exclusively in September or early October, however the two previous Opens held at Musselburgh in 1874 and 1877 had both been held in April.  

This was again to be the case in 1880, as Musselburgh prepared to host its third Championship, but the inconvenience of the date and the inadequate organisation of the announcement presented a large problem. 

Firstly, the overriding attention of the local population surrounding Edinburgh was concerned primarily with the elections at the time, and it was speculated that many potential spectators did not even know the Championship was happening. 

Worse still, a number of the best players in Scotland did not know it was happening either.  

The most prominent of those absentees was Jamie Anderson, who had won the last three Championships in a row, and was considered the game's top player. Anderson was not given appropriate notice and so by his own word could not compete.

This oversight was received with 'great disappointment' at the time from those spectators who wished to attend, with an elder Old Tom Morris eventually the only St Andrews representative competing at Musselburgh, despite a number of fine players, including Anderson, hailing from the club. 

The last-minute notice of the Championship's playing meant a reduction in the previous year's record field of over a third, from 47 to 30 players in 1880. But The Open was indeed played and, in the end, the result signalled the era of a new great Champion.

Arguably the second most prominent golfer at the time, Bob Ferguson elevated his game to win the Claret Jug on his home links by a commanding five strokes over 36 holes from Peter Paxton.

Ferguson would then emulate Anderson by claiming the next two Championships, and the pair who combined for six straight Opens created a short rivalry with their excellent golf while they both retained good health, much to the excitement of local supporters.

There was also a hole in one from Andrew Kirkaldy at the ninth hole in The 20th Open, with the perennial contender remarkably coming close to repeating the feat later in the Championship. He and Old Tom Morris both finished inside the top 10. 

The pre-amble for the 1880 Championship was arguably one of the lowest points of The Open's history, with Anderson robbed of the chance to emulate Young Tom Morris - the only player to ever win four consecutive Opens. But the lessons learned from the administrative errors of The 20th Open greatly increased the Championship's standing in future years. 

The Open has never since been held in April, and a more consistent schedule of September to November playings continued until 1894, when the first Open was held outside of Scotland at Royal St George's.  

By this point, the Championship field was 94 players strong, and with the exception of a single hosting at the end of May in 1897, the Championship would be held in June every year until 1927, where Bobby Jones claimed victory at St Andrews from July 13-15.  

Nearly 100 years on from Jones' victory, The 150th Open will take place over the same week as one of the biggest sporting events in the world. We can all owe a small debt of gratitude to the misgivings of 1880 for that. All except for Jamie Anderson.