The plans of Prestwick Golf Club and the R&A to present this year’s British Open winner with a replica of the historic Championship belt are being challenged.
The red morocco belt, adorned with silver clasps and kept on display at the R&A headquarters in St. Andrews, Scotland, was presented to the tournament’s earliest winners, beginning in 1860 with Willie Park Jr.’s inaugural triumph. The belt fell into the possession of Young Tom Morris in 1870 after his third consecutive championship. After a brief hiatus in 1871, the Open returned in 1872, with the Claret Jug having been purchased as the new trophy. A replica of the belt has only been presented one time since — in 1985, when Sandy Lyle won at Royal St. Georges on the 125th anniversary of the event.
The gentleman challenging Prestwick’s plans to award a relica belt to this year’s champion golfer, which honours the 150th playing of the Open, boasts arguably the most prestigious of golfing bloodlines — he is the great, great grandson of Old Tom Morris himself, and therefore lays claim as a legal guardian of the historic belt.
“I want Prestwick to present the belt, as it reminds all of Old Tom’s wishes of publishing Young Tommy’s name and achievements,” explains Melvyn Hunter Morrow, whose family traces its roots to 1770, when Old Tom’s grandfather played the St. Andrews links as a young man. Morrow also has a strong connection to Prestwick’s noted Hunter clan, which includes Morrow’s great grandfather, James Hunter — the husband of Old Tom’s daughter and a key player in the design of Royal Quebec.
Morrow’s only issue is that the belt signifies more than winning; it honours the traditions and etiquette the game has embodied for well over 500 years. In that respect, golf has deteriorated on many fronts, and some of the game’s leading luminaries are to blame.
“I do not believe that past champions who held the original belt with great honour should have to accept that poorly behaved sportsmen will have a right to wear one even a replica,” Morrow notes. “The belt was Old Tom’s pride and joy and a great reminder of his son Young Tommy, who died well before his time and may have been the greatest golfer of all time, had he lived.”
Consequently, Morrow has written a letter to Prestwick GC requesting their support of his stance that the belt should not be given to anyone who does not represent those ideals, in particular, Tiger Woods.
“It’s not about his ladies or private problem; it’s his course conduct that I am totally against,” Morrow says. “It’s his language and course etiquette. Such language is bad enough for a pro, but to throw his clubs when spectators are close by is not acceptable, and I want assurance that course etiquette will be upheld. It’s not just Tiger; it applies to all players throwing clubs, which is just bloody dangerous — and what a message to send out to the kids today.
“Please do not misunderstand me: If Tiger and other golfers behave like professional golfers on the course then they deserve their trophies,” Morrow adds. “But throwing clubs is, in my book, just not acceptable and goes to the heart of golf and course etiquette, or should I say the decline of the modern game. The poor standard we seem to be faced with today annoys me and no one seems to be doing a thing to clean it up.”
Morrow’s letter to Prestwick — sent “recorded delivery” three weeks ago — has gone unanswered.
“Now that they have not bothered responding, there is every chance they intend to proceed regardless,” says Morrow. “They are not aware that I intend to challenge their right to reproduce the belt on the basis that on the 15th of September 1870 they relinquished all rights to said belt…when it was won outright by Young Tommy Morris and presented to him. The belt was then the property of Young Tommy, passing to Old Tom on the death of Young Tommy.”
Prestwick’s own website acknowledges as much, stating “The Belt was won in three successive years by Young Tom Morris from 1868 to 1870 and thus became his property.”
“On the wishes of Old Tom, the belt was given to The R&A by his grandchildren (my grandmother being one) upon the death of Old Tom, on the understanding of Old Tom’s wishes that it was put on display to show the world Young Tommy’s achievements,” Morrow continues. “The problem has been that the R&A have not lived up to the wishes of Old Tom, as the belt is only on display to members. The general public and women are not allowed into the (St. Andrews) clubhouse to seek all the trophies. They’ve displayed it behind thick reinforced glass within a vault in the R&A clubhouse at St Andrews. Is it on open display promoting the memory of Young Tommy achievements? No, it is locked away for the few privileged members and their guests. My father was never able to take his wife in to see the belt, nor have I or my brother been able to do the same with our wives.”
Still, this is of secondary concern for Morrow. His immediate cause is of the forthcoming presentation on the 18th green of the Old Course at St. Andrews on Sunday, July 18. Morrow’s heart breaks when he thinks of even a replica of one of golf’s greatest relics being handed to a man who may not embody the spirit and decorum that the Championship Belt and the grand majority of the Open’s past winners represent. And he desperately hopes the powers that be come to recognize his position, before the matter needs to be taken to court.
Morrow holds Prestwick in great esteem.
”This club holds a special place in the history of the game. I would go as far as placing them as being more important in the history of golf — and not forgetting the Open Championship — than the R&A,” he says.
Alas, the values and traditions of the game itself come first.