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PGA Championship history


The PGA Championship - or the USPGA Championship, as many Brits like to call it and which tees off this week for the 98th time at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey - sprang out of controversy and the need to kill it.

In 1894 when golf was in its infancy in America and when there were only 41 golf courses operating in the United States, two of them took it upon themselves to organize unofficial national amateur championships.

They were the Newport Country Club on Rhode Island and the St Andrews Golf Club in New York State which today can claim to be America's oldest surviving golf club of it's more than 15,500.

In addition to the amateur championship, St Andrews also ran a national Open Championship for professionals, who in those days were very much the second class citizens of golf.

Because none of these championships were officially sanctioned by any governing body, they caused much confusion and controverters, both among the players and officials.

To end all this it was eventually decided that a national governing body should be formed to control golf in the United States and this led to the formation of the United States Golf Association (USGA) which remains in force today.

With the USGA heading the sport's growth, Golf never looked back and quickly blossomed nationwide, both in popularity and in importance.

In the meantime, professional golf had also been developing at a rate and in February 1916, the Professional Golfers Association of America was established at a meeting in New York City which had been set up by a wealthy department store owner, Rodman Wanamaker.

Exactly a month earlier, he had invited the leading golf professionals of the time to a get-together luncheon where he presented an agenda for the establishment of the PGA

The luncheon took place at the Wykagyl Country Club in nearby New Rochelle and this was to lead to golf historians dubbing Wykagyl as the "The Cradle of the PGA".

It would also lead to Robert White, one of Wykagyl's best-known golf professionals of the time, being appointed the first president of the PGA and to the first PGA Championship being held in October 1916 at Siwanoy Country Club in Eastchester, New York.

The winner, Jim Barnes, received $500 and a diamond-studded gold medal donated by Rodman Wanamaker - a far cry from the $1.8 million Australian Jason Day earned last year.

Day, as is the tradition, was also presented with the large and imposing Wanamaker Trophy donated by Wanamaker as well as a smaller replica to keep.

In its earlier years, the PGA Championship was initially a match play contest that followed the formula of the British and the US Amateur championships.

But after pressure from network television broadcasters who believed four rounds of stroke play involving half-a-dozen and more big guns in the final round offered their viewers far more drama than four-man semi-finals and two-man finals, the PGA of America changed their championship to a stroke-play event in 1958, with the standard 72-hole format of four rounds of 18 holes to be played on a Thursday, a Friday, a Saturday and a Sunday.

During the 1960s, the PGA Championship was played in the week following The Open Championship and this, of course, made it almost impossible for players to compete in both majors, so in 1965 it was moved out into an August time slot which has officially been permanent since 1969, but this year has been switched to an earlier time slot on the Tour schedule to make way for the first Olympic Golf Championship in more than 100 years and will tee off at Baltusrol Golf Club this week instead o0f in August.

Something that makes this championship different from the US Open is the fact that it has mostly been played in the Eastern half of the United States, only venturing west on about a dozen occasions.

The last to be played in the Mountain Time Zone was in 1985 at Cherry Hills, south of Denver and the last in California in 1998 at Sahalee east of Seattle.

No western venues are currently scheduled through to 2018 when the championship will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Although a separate professional body, the PGA Tour, was founded by the game's leading Tour professionals in 1968 and now runs the US Tour independently, the PGA Championship itself is still run by the PGA of America, which today is mainly a body made up of club and teaching professionals.

The PGA of America was originally founded in order to provide a high-profile event for professional golfers who at the time very much played second fiddle to the wealthy amateurs who ran the sport and this is reflected in a number of ways.

It is the only major that does not invite leading amateurs to participate and instead is the only one that reserves at least 20 slots in its 156-man field for America's club professionals who are able to earn their places at the US club pro championship, which is held every June.

The PGA Championship is also the only major that does not explicitly grant entry to the top 50 players on the Official World Golf Ranking list although it invariably achieves as much by inviting the top 100 players.

Since 1994, the PGA Championship has featured the most players in the Top 100 of the Official World Golf Rankings, and perennially boasts the strongest fields in golf.

The 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, established an all-time record for world-ranked participants, with 98 of the Top 100 playing

At the earliest of the founding meetings of the PGA Championship, Wanamaker, the driving force at the meeting, said he believed that an organization like the PGA should run its own Championship along the lines of the News of the World PGA Championship of Great Britain and offered to put up prize money of $2,500 along with some suitable trophies, including a gigantic cup called the Wanamaker Trophy.

Some 98 years later, that trophy is still being presented to the annual winner of this tournament, the last of the four majors which start with the Masters in April, goes on to the US Open in June and to the Open Championship in July before the PGA Championship normally ends the Major schedule in August, but will do so this week in the Year of Rio Olympics next month and the Ryder Cup in September.

NOTE: This is the first of a two-part history. The second part will be posted later this week.

Neville Leck

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