How The PGA Championship Became a Major Golf Tournament: A Brief History

Posted on September 6th, 2016 | Author: Gina Scanlon | Category: Tournament Tips

Looking for a little inspiration to get your next tournament underway? Look no further than how the PGA became a household name. Hopefully this story will get those wheels turning.

The Very Beginning

Did you know the first golf balls were made of feather and leather in Scotland? Both components were very expensive until the mid-18th century, making golf near impossible to play unless you were among the one-percent. Needless to say, it wasn’t until the 19th century, when the “guttie” – golf balls made of a rubber-like sap from the Gutta tree, that golf became more widespread. Eventually, golf balls were made from molds, allowing them to be mass-produced. Golf, however, didn’t become a thing in America until the tail-end of the 19th century.

The Beginning of the PGA

Back in 1894, the game of golf was steadily gaining popularity and exposure in America. After the USGA was founded that same year, the sport quickly took off. In 1916, what we now know as the Professional Golfers Association of America was established in New York City.  

The first PGA Championship took place in Bronxville, New York later that year, and the first winner, Jim Barnes, took home $500 and a donated diamond-studded gold medal.  A little different from today’s collective earnings of $10.5 million.

The tournament moved along year by year without a hitch – until 1960 when it was contested for the first time by Network Broadcasters, who had been pressuring PGA to change its 72-hole of 18 holes per day for 4 days’ format so that more recognizable contenders would play on the tournament’s final day. It returned again to television in 1969.

The Big Time

The now-popular tournament didn’t really gain traction, however, until the PGA curated a marketing campaign in the mid-1990s, focusing on the fact that it was the last chance of the year for golfers to become major champions.

The phrase “Glory’s last shot” caught on like wildfire and the tournament eventually became the only major championship with a full-time marketing slogan, which was used until 2013.

From Jim Barnes to Jimmy Walker, the 100-year-old PGA Championship remains one of the four major championships in the US, and the first of its kind. With a little help from a steady foundation and some clever advertising, perhaps your next tournament will change the history of golf as we know it. 

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