Ahead of the 150th running of The Open Championship, golf's original major at St Andrews from 10-17 July 2022, Fitzdares' Henry Beesley takes a look back at its betting history
This summer (10-17 July 2022) sees the 150th running of The Open Championship. Fitzdares’ Henry Beesley charts how people have bet on golf’s original major through history.
Don’t miss the July 2022 issue of The Field, out now, where Fergus Bisset looks back at the rich and fascinating history of The Open Championship.
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THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP: GOLF’S ORIGINAL MAJOR
It was once said that “golf is a good walk spoiled”. For one unfortunate soul in 1870, those six words don’t quite do it justice. Two old acquaintances and competitive golfers, Sir David Moncreiffe and John Whyte-Melville, decided to shake on what can only be considered a ‘death match’. They wagered that whoever stepped off the course as the loser would pay with their life. While the result of their duel was never officially recorded, the proof is very much in the pudding. Thirteen years later, Whyte-Melville stood up to make a speech tinged with sadness about “the causes that led to” the death of Sir David. He went on to outlive his adversary by half a century.
By that time, there had already been a clampdown on private betting, although such interventions had been ignored by the elite. Woven into the very fabric of the game, gambling in golf is arguably just as old as the sport itself.
Since the 19th century, the stakes have been lowered a tad, although the marriage between gambling and golf is still tied with a strong knot. As bets became less extreme in the early 1900s, far more unusual wagers began to emerge. One man is alleged to have boasted that he could beat his opponent while wearing a full suit of armour; another backed himself to break a score of 90 while playing in dense fog. You suspect the fog may have come to his aid when the ball kept on mysteriously appearing in the centre of the green.
Unlike horse racing, the most traditional of betting sports, there are so many permutations to a golf match that it is perhaps the most natural fit for a bet. From an 18-hole round to each individual hole or shot, there are countless opportunities for a gamble. Even the spectators sometimes get involved.
In 2016, a heckler was summoned on to the green to prove that he could indeed make the putt he had been shouting about. Former world number one Justin Rose put his money where his mouth was and slapped a $100 bill right next to his ball. The fan, an American called David Johnson [pictured above], steadied himself with a bit of confident bluster before sinking the 10-footer in front of a rapturous Ryder Cup crowd.
It’s rather fitting that this summer, the British Open, golf’s oldest major championship, returns to St Andrews, the ‘Home of Golf’, to celebrate the 150th Open. One man who is expected to be teeing it up over the hallowed turf this month is Tiger Woods. Just 18 months ago, Woods was in a life-or-death battle himself, miraculously recovering from a serious car accident that threatened to strip him of his right leg.
At the time, we were asked to price up the chances of him ever reappearing at an Open. We luckily stayed away from the action on the principle of taste. One thing we can say, though, is that you can take all the bets in the world, but you should never bet against Tiger Woods.
THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP: HISTORICAL ODDS
In 2003, the 396th best golfer in the world, Ben Curtis, entered the Open Championship at Royal St George’s as a 300/1 shot. It was his first appearance at any of the four major championships and nobody had won one on their debut since Francis Ouimet 90 years earlier at the 1913 US Open. Four rounds later, he miraculously led the field home, beating both Thomas Bjørn and the world number one at the time, Vijay Singh, by a single stroke. He is the lowest-ranked player and the longest-priced winner ever to lift the Claret Jug.
Fitzdares, Racing Bookmaker of the Year 2020 (fitzdares.com)