It’s probably the world’s best-known trophy and it may be the oldest, too. They call it the “claret jug” and it spent time in our town last month.
The jug is the non-spendable part of winning the British Open, which David Duval did last year. He brought it home and dropped it off at Pablo Creek while he was in Hawaii.
Wouldn’t you think the Brits would take the thing and lock it away? No, they let the winner have it for a year. What spent a week on the pro shop counter at Pablo Creek was the same piece of metal you saw Duval holding on the 18th green at Royal Lytham and St. Annes on July 22.
Oh, yes, the boys had fun with it. Everyone got his picture taken holding (or kissing) it and yes, there might have been a brew or two poured into it. The same trophy that once was held by Old Tom Morris, not to mention Tommy Armour and Tom Watson, has been held by the Billy Walkers, Colin Armstrongs and Jay Skeltons of this world.
The most famous trophy in golf. Just sitting there on a pro shop counter in Jacksonville.
You think it isn’t the most famous? OK, tell us what the Masters winner gets — no, the green jacket isn’t a trophy. The Open? The PGA? The Players? Heck, what does the World Series’ winning team get? You probably have to go all the way to the Stanley Cup to find a trophy where you can name both it and its sport, but isn’t that because the hockey championship is called “The Stanley Cup Finals?”)
So here it is . . . rather, was.
If you saw it at a jewelry store, you wouldn’t think too much of it. It’s very shiny and the engraving is very ornate, but basically it’s a silver pitcher sitting atop three tiers of silver bands which wrap around black wood.
It weighs between six and seven pounds (why this isn’t exact: pro Richie Bryant and I weighed it on the men’s room scales) and stands 20 inches high. If you look closely, you can see all sorts of little dents and scratches. Every winner since 1872 is there, and with the same style and in very small letters.
Thos Morris Jr. 1872. at Prestwick. 165 strokes.
David Duval. 2001. at St. Annes. 274 strokes.
If you look closely at the 1999 entry, you can see that the silver is a bit cloudy behind the winner’s name, and for good reason — remember the television images of the engraver going ahead with Jean Van de Velde’s name, not imagining that the Frenchman could make triple on the last hole to drop to a playoff? Van de Velde’s name was burnished off, quickly enough for playoff winner Paul Lawrie’s name to be engraved in its place.
The jug itself is about 12 inches tall. The names from 1872 to 1886 are engraved on the central part, but then they ran out of room. The next place was on the neck, where they crammed in names until 1900.
Now, one can imagine a bunch of old Brits sitting around the St. Andrew’s clubhouse, looking at their prized possession and wondering what to do next. Finally, someone says, “Let’s put the jug on a base, and put names there.” The pin dropped, everyone wondered why he didn’t think of that, and a base was ordered. There now are three tiers to the base and the bottom one has plenty of room; no one reading this will be around when the fourth is ordered.
On the side is a golf scene, a lefthanded player at his swing’s end. You’d expect that. But, on the handle is a head of an old, bearded man, and on the spout covering is the head of a fierce fellow with long horns. You wouldn’t expect that.
The jug probably holds 20 or so ounces (I judge that by the size of my 16-ounce beer can) and its original use was (you guessed it!) to hold claret.
Actually, there’s no wine by that name. Our resident expert, Bob Merendino of the Riverside Liquors and Village Wine Shop, says that the French referred to the good red wines as claret (clair-RAY) for their clarity. The Brits (hardly wine experts) ended up referring to any Bordeaux red as claret (clair-RET.)
Now, why they had a claret jug:
Back then, you brought your own after-golf libations with you and they became part of the game. In place of handicaps, they would weigh bets: my six bottles against your three, for instance.
After the round, they opened the loser’s stash. Because proper gentlemen didn’t swill from bottles, clubs had pitchers — “claret jugs” — on hand along with drinking glasses.
This may be more history than you need, but anyway ...
The jug wasn’t around when the British Open started in 1860 — winners got a belt, just like boxing — but came along in 1872 when the tournament had to be reorganized after illness (and quick death) struck both the tournament’s administrators. There was no event in 1871 and the belt had vanished.
A new day, a new trophy. Claret jugs were, back then, as much of the game as a cold stein is today, so one was commissioned.
The piece of silver that sat here last month (and today is in one of Duval’s homes) surely has been touched by more famous golfers than anything else. When you hold it, you are holding something that had been touched by people from Old Tom Morris to young David Duval. It has been in Walter Hagan’s suitcase and on Jack Nicklaus’s mantle. Harry Vardon poured claret in celebration, Tom Lehman’s friends drank beer from it.
And the members at Pablo Creek had their chance, too. Probably took advantage of it, too.
—Fred Seely is the editorial director of Bailey Publishing & Communications Inc. He can be contacted at [email protected].