The 1876 Open Golf Championship | The British Newspaper Archive Blog


The Amazing and Surreal Story of the Open Golf Championship of 1876 – The Old Course, St Andrews

With the Open Championship taking place this week, we thought we’d post a story that captures the delightful daftness of the game of golf.

The story we’ve chosen is the amazing and surreal climax to the 1876 Open. Since the tournament organisers forgot to book the Old Course so that they could hold the competition, it turned out to be a very memorable Open.

Illustrated Sporting  & Dramatic News | 22 May 1936

As a result of not booking the course, the players had to play alongside the general public. The result, not surprisingly, was chaos and frayed tempers. For the competitors often had to stand waiting, while the public hacked, shanked and zig-zagged their way around the famous links.

The constant delays were all too much for David Strath’s nerves and, on ‘the Road Hole’ (the 17th at St Andrews), he decided to play his approach shot, even though the green was not quite clear of players. Inevitably, Strath’s approach shot went through the green and hit one of the departing players. However, these players were not actual players in the Open, but rather were members of the public out enjoying a gentle round of golf while the final round of the Open raged all around them.

Dundee Courier | 2 October 1876

Strath eventually completed his round, and found he was tied on first place with Bob Martin.

Strath’s impetuousness was to cost him dear as a complaint was made to the R&A about his ball striking a player on the 17th green. An R&A committee said a ruling would be made after the play-off.

In the meantime, Strath was invited to take part in the play-off with Bob Martin. But as he might well be disqualified as a result of the ruling, Strath decided to pack his bags and flee St Andrews. Thus, Bob Martin won the play-off against himself (‘Martin wandered over the course,’ as the writer of the report in the Edinburgh Evening News colourfully phrased it) and was presented with the famous trophy. This is the only time in the Open that a play-off has comprised one player. Truly, it’s the sort of surreal and comic golfing story that would have acted as a fairway muse for P.G. Wodehouse!

Edinburgh Evening News | 3 October 1876

The Archive is a wonderful resource for anyone who is interested in the story of golf. You can read about the Open Championship from 1860 onwards, and you can also read stories about the famous players, like Old/Young Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, James Braid, John Henry Taylor, Lawrie Auchterlonie, Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and many others, who competed in the tournament during these years.

You can also read about the history of golf at local club level, since many of the papers carry news about golf competitions at regional and national level. So we hope you come to think of the Archive as an online 19th hole.



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