The Championship Course is a stretch of the River Thames between Mortlake and Putney in London, England. It is a well-established course for rowing races, particularly the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. The course is on the tidal reaches of the river often referred to as the Tideway. Due to the iconic shape of the Championship Course, in orthopaedic surgery, an "S" shaped incision along the crease of the elbow is commonly referred to as "a boat-race incision resembling the River Thames from Putney to Mortlake."
In 1845, it was agreed to stage the Boat Race (which had on five previous occasions been rowed from Westminster Bridge to Putney) on a course from 'Putney Bridge to Mortlake Church tower'. The aim was to reduce the interference from heavy river traffic.
The following year, a race for the Professional World Sculling Championship moved to the course for the first time. The Wingfield Sculls followed in 1861.
The course was later defined by two stones on the southern bank of the river, marked "U.B.R." for University Boat Race: one just downstream of Chiswick Bridge, close to The Ship public house, and the other just upstream of Putney Bridge. The course distance is 4 miles and 374 yards (6,779 m), as measured along the centre of the river's stream.
Races are always rowed in the same direction as the tide: from Mortlake to Putney on an ebb tide or from Putney to Mortlake on a flood tide.
Since the Boat Race moved to this course in 1845, it has always been raced on a flood tide from Putney to Mortlake except in 1846, 1856 and 1863. The Wingfield Sculls is also raced from Putney to Mortlake. Most other events race on an ebb tide from Mortlake to Putney.
In April 1869, the Harvard University Boat Club challenged the Oxford University Boat Club to an "International University Boat-Race" of coxed fours on the Boat Race course. The race took place on 27 August 1869 and was narrowly won by Oxford. The new Atlantic cable allowed daily reports to be received by all major newspapers across America within 23 minutes of the finish. U.S. public interest in the event was huge, with more publicity than any sporting event to date, and within two years of the event the "newly awakened interest in rowing at many of the most noted seats of learning" doubled the number of boat clubs in the US, and led to the formation of the Rowing Association of American Colleges.
Principal landmarks, often used when racing, include (in order from Mortlake to Putney):
|The University Stone||South||Marked by a post on the north bank opposite the stone on the south bank, the finish of the Boat Race and the start of the Head of the River race. Just downstream of Chiswick Bridge.|
|Stag Brewery||South||Previously owned by Watneys, and later by Anheuser-Busch, the brewery closed in December 2015 and is now earmarked for residential development.|
|Barnes Railway Bridge||n/a||When racing, crews must pass through the centre arch.|
|The Crossing||n/a||Marks the start of the long Surrey bend.|
|Chiswick Steps||South||Steps for the ferry which used to run across to the slipway in front of St Nicholas' Church on the North side.|
|Chiswick Eyot||North||An uninhabited river island. There is a channel behind (north of) the eyot navigable at high tide, but it is never used for racing.|
|Fuller's Brewery||North||Just visible to crews, behind the eyot.|
|St Paul's School||South|
|Hammersmith Bridge||n/a||Coxes use a particular lamp-post that shows[clarification needed] the deepest part of the river and therefore the fastest line.|
|Harrods Furniture Depository||South||Previously the warehouse for the famous shop, now apartments.|
|The Crabtree||North||A pub.|
|The Mile Post||South||A stone obelisk forming a memorial to Steve Fairbairn, founder of the Head of the River Race. It was erected by members of Jesus College Boat Club (Cambridge), Thames Rowing Club and London Rowing Club and is precisely a mile from the Putney stone marking the end of the course.|
|Fulham Football Club||North||The stadium is known as 'Craven Cottage': crews stay wide round the bend as the area in front of the ground is shallow, with slack water.|
|The Black Buoy||South||The large buoy marks the start of the area of the Putney Boat Houses. It has a reputation for ensnaring inexperienced crews when there is a fast ebb tide, for example during the various Head of the River races.|
|The Putney Stone||South||The University Stone lies on the south bank, marking the end of the Championship Course and the start of the Boat Race, just upstream of Putney Bridge.|