Between Purgatory and the Lion's Den Prestwick No. 24

From Zero to Zeros

A brief look at the total Open Championship purses from 1860 to 2023

Death, taxes, ballooning purses. One professional golfer earned more than $1 million on the course in 1990. In 2022, 126 did it. Lee Trevino looked at all this and said what every retired professional golfer since Willie Park Sr. thinks when they see the Sunday payouts: “I came along too early.”

1860 to 1862: 


All Park (1860) and Old Tom Morris (1861, 1862) got for their troubles was the now-legendary red leather challenge belt. This doesn’t do them a lick of good now, but those belts are priceless today.


£10 (roughly $2,047 today)

Poor Park. After winning this time he had to split the pot among the eight professionals in the 14-man field.


£15 (roughly $3,105 today)

The first time a winner earned first-place money. Old Tom was living large with that £6.


£100 (roughly $21,000 today)

First time in the triple digits. William Auchterlonie picked a hell of a time to win his only Open. Old Tom must have rolled over in his grave.


£500 (roughly $55,500 today)

Tommy Armour can’t be smiling wider in the image of him receiving the claret jug. The American is even wearing a kilt. Amazing what you’ll do when handed £100.


£1,000 (roughly $68,200 today)

Sam Snead broke that post–World War II bank.


£10,000 (roughly $315,500 today)

Before players were thanking Tiger Woods for lifting purses, they were bowing to the King. Arnold Palmer’s popularity in the age of expanding televised golf coverage led to a rapid escalation of money in the game. Peter Thomson’s check for his fifth Open win was more than double what he’d earned for his first one in 1953.


£1,000,000 (roughly $3.3 million today)

Of course Greg Norman would win the first Open with a seven-figure purse.


£5,000,000 (roughly $9.9 million today)

Goodness, the amount of pints and fishing equipment Darren Clarke must have used this on.



It’s unclear why the R&A changed the purse from pounds to dollars for the first time, but there is a joke here about foreign countries influencing the finances of a storied golf organization.



Tiger Woods secured the first of his three Open titles in 2000—the year he won at St. Andrews to capture the third leg of his Tiger Slam—and earned £500,000, roughly $1.37 million today. Four players shared second in the 2023 Open and each made $1.085 million. Here’s a fun exercise: How much would that version of Tiger win in today’s golf landscape?

Featured photo: Prestwick GC, host of the first dozen Open Championships (and 24 in total). Prestwick’s original 12-hole routing was explored in detail in TGJ No. 24: Between Purgatory and the Lion’s Den.