The outrageous and crazy adventures of the claret jug

July 9, 2016

The claret jug, awarded to the “Champion Golfer of the Year,” as he is introduced at the award ceremony following the British Open championship’s conclusion, is the closest thing golf has to the Stanley Cup.

It’s a small silver trophy—and so much more. “It’s like holding a newborn baby,” Jack Nicklaus has said. The Open’s history goes back to 1860, so it feels big.

It is a trophy to be shared. Winners get to keep a full-scale claret jug replica, which dates to 1928, for a year before swapping it for a reduced-size version. In that one year, the jug gets around. Tiger Woods kept his on his mantel and, yes, drank assorted liquids out of it. He has said it never left his house.

Ben Curtis kept his on top of his television. Nick Faldo liked his by the bedside so he could reach out and touch it.

Here are a few more places where the claret jug has gone in recent times.

It’s a Mickey Mouse operation

What do you do when you win anything? Go to Disney World, of course. The claret jug has done that. It once arrived at Walt Disney World Golf in mid-January 2016, carried by Mike Bender, swing coach of then-reigning champion Zach Johnson, for display at a North Florida PGA section meeting. No word on whether the jug rode The Matterhorn or if anything “spilled” out of it.

What the Ell?

The claret jug has a typographical error? Or in this case, a typo-etch-ical error? That’s right. When The jug visited Walt Disney World Golf in January, the North Florida PGA group noticed the original engraving error made in 1947, when Fred Daly won the Open at Hoylake. The engraver carved it as “Holylake.” No, there is no spellcheck if you’re an engraver.

Great moments in social media

Stewart Cink won the 2009 British Open at Turnberry and became the first champion to post a jug photo on Twitter. He posted a shot of himself kissing it in the locker room post-win. After returning home, he also posted a photo of the jug on his breakfast table and hinted that it was great for serving orange juice. The jug, he said, spent time in his closet, on his bureau and in the trunk of his car. (That was just the start. Zach Johnson, a true Iowan, also ate corn out of the jug, and 2016 champ Henrik Stenson brought it on a jet ski.)

Meet the beetles

Yes, the claret jug has been infested with bugs. When Padraig Harrington won the Open at Carnoustie, he promised his son, Patrick, that he could use the claret jug as a home for his growing collection of ladybird beetles (ladybugs), which entomologists call coccinellidae. Patrick had previously used Lego pieces as a ladybird housing development for beetles prospering near his home beneath the Dublin mountains. “The ladybirds went in,” the Open champion confirmed when he defended his title the following summer. In fact, he had ladybirds engraved on the replica claret jug he kept. 

The day Tom Watson turned into Jim Dent

Beginning in 1928, the Open champion was given a replica of the claret jug, not the original, because the original was deemed too valuable. Except in 1982, when Tom Watson won the Open and received the original by mistake. No big deal … until Watson made a few practice swings at home and knocked it off a table. That gave the Jug a new look—a serious dent. Watson took the trophy to his basement, put it in a vise and straightened the damage. “No one knew the difference,” he said years later.

Breaking bad

Tom Lehman was preparing to go to Scotland to defend his 1996 Open Championship title when he came home one day and was horrified to see that his two children had been playing with the claret jug and broken it.

“My eyes nearly popped out of my head,” Lehman said. “I’d been away at a tournament and when I came in the door, it was the first thing I saw. It was sitting at a 15-degree angle. It sat on my mantel and nobody was supposed to dust it, never mind touch it. But he kids were playing with the claret jug and a mini-Ryder Cup Trophy and one of them dropped it.

“My wife, Melissa, said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s just a trophy,’ but I was worried about fixing it.”

Just a trophy? The claret jug? Lehman found a silversmith who was able to make repairs and the jug was as good as new. 

“They probably wouldn’t let me back into the country if it wasn’t,” Lehman said.

Jailhouse rock

Yes, the claret jug has had run-ins with the police. One incident happened in Minneapolis when the cops called Lehman in the early morning hours. The officers thought the claret jug might have been stolen and they’d nabbed a young woman with the trophy in a drinking establishment. 

There was no theft. She was Alissa Herron, sister of PGA Tour player Tim Herron. Lehman had taken the trophy to a charity dinner and forgotten it. His wife, Melissa, handed it off to Alissa, who then decided to take it out for a few drinks at a local bar with friends. That’s where the police came in.

No harm, no foul and no embarrassing mug shot for the claret jug.

The elephant in the room

Three-time Open champion Nick Faldo visited a swank resort in Thailand that was hosting the BMW Golf Cup International. He brought one of his claret jug replicas along and snapped several selfies with the jug and a curious elephant, including one in which the pachyderm wrapped its trunk around Nick’s neck.

In another shot, the elephant appears to be trying to grab the Jug from Faldo. The Englishman tweeted, “Get your own!”

Faster than a speeding jug

Darren Clarke was the reigning Open champion when he was on his way to the Irish Open and police pulled him over for speeding. He happened to have the claret jug with him in the car. “The police got their photographs taken with it,” Clarke said. “They were very kind to tell me to slow down and carry on.” He did not get a speeding ticket.

The Hangover, Part 2

When Rory McIlroy met with the leaders of Northern Ireland, he didn’t bring the claret jug with him. “It actually needs a bit of a clean after last night,” said McIroy, who apologized for its absence and admitted that he’d taken it to a Belfast nightclub, partied with friends and drank Jägermeister (a syrupy licorice-tasting drink) out of the jug.m Apology accepted.

Big Jerry deal

Todd Hamilton, who won the 2004 Open in a playoff with Ernie Els, liked to play golf at Dallas-area courses and drop the claret jug off in the shop before he went out to play, telling the staff to do what they wanted with it for the next four or five hours, within reason.

One night a wealthy Dallas restaurant owner invited Hamilton for dinner on the condition that he bring the jug. Hamilton arrived with a party of 10, feeling awkward carrying the case with the jug in it. The happy restaurant owner greeted him at the door, directed them to a table, took the jug and returned with it full of champagne.

Later, three men approached during the dinner. One was Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys. Another was Jerry’s son. The third man was introduced by Jones as the next commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell.