The second oldest major championship in the world is also America’s unified national championship. Prior to the first U.S. Open in 1895, there were competing national championships. To resolve this, a collection of America's most prestigious golf clubs wanted to unite to create a true national championship. The result was the United States Golf Association, better known by its acronym USGA, which has since become the joint-most important golf organization along with the St. Andrews’ R&A. Their first order of business was to create unified national championships, including the U.S. Open. While its stature has since shrunk, at the time the U.S. Amateur was actually the bigger tournament at the time due to the mostly amateur nature of American golf. In fact, the first U.S. Open featured only 11 golfers--10 professionals and 1 amateur. And when Horace Rawlins, club professional at host Newport Golf Club, won the inaugural event he was presented with the U.S. Open Championship Trophy.
The trophy was commissioned by the USGA and is kept by the champion for one year before returning it, after which a slightly smaller replica is given to the champion. The trophy is 18 inches tall and made of pure sterling silver. The original was made by the Gorham Company, the best in America at the time and one whose products are now highly sought after by antiques dealers. In fact, the trophy was so valuable that when notorious drinker Fred Herd won the trophy in 1898 the USGA forced him to make a cash deposit on the trophy so he wouldn’t be tempted to sell it.
Sadly the original trophy was lost in 1946 when champion Lloyd Mangrum’s home clubhouse, Tam O’Shanter in suburban Chicago, was burnt to the ground. Mangrum had kept the trophy on display at his home club and it was destroyed beyond repair in the blaze. An exact replica of the original trophy was made in time for the 1947 tournament and has been used ever since. Each year a new champion's name is etched onto the trophy as another golfer writes his name in history.
Jack Nicklaus Medal
While the trophy must be returned each year, the winners do get a unique gold medal to keep. This tradition dates back to the original tournament, where the trophy was largely seen as more for a professional's home club and the medal for the individual golfer. The medal remained nameless and had various designs before the decision in 2012 to name it the Jack Nicklaus Medal. Nicklaus, along with Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, and Willie Anderson, holds the record for the most U.S. Open wins with 4. Nicklaus’ image is featured on the medal and is a great way to honor the history and traditions of this great American event.