The Major Championships
What are Golfs Majors?
There are four primary tournaments in Golf that comprise The Majors, or the Grand Slam of Golf.
They are :
The first of Golfing’s Major tournaments played each year in the first full week in April at the beautiful setting of Augusta National Golf Club,and uniquely the only Major tournament played at the same location each year.
Augusta was designed and laid by Alistair Mackenzie and Bobby Jones from a piece of land that Bobby Jones described as perfect for the vision he had for a competitive Golf Course.The piece of land was originally a plant nursery and each hole is named after a tree or shrub appertaining to the original habitat.
The course was completed and formally opened in 1933, with the first tournament “The Augusta Invitational” as The Masters was originally known played in 1934.Bobby Jones invited close friends to take part in the first tournament which was won by Horton Smith, but the following year heralded arguably the most famous shot in masters history. a 33-year-old Gene Sarazen teed off on the 15th hole par 5 and landed his drive straight down the middle of the fairway, 235 yards from the green.He took out his 4 wood and hit the sweetest shot straight onto the green, but not only onto the green but on it rolled into the back of the hole for a 2, in golfing terms a double eagle a very very rare achievement.
The Masters is an invitational tournament so the field is a lot less in numbers than any of the other Majors, normally made up of the top 50 ranked players in the world,the current Amateur Champions from US,Britain,Asia-Pacific,US Amateur Public Links,and US Mid-Amateur Champion.There are also places filled with other ranked tournaments throughout the year, notably the winners and top 4 placings of the previous years Major tournaments,the top 12 placed finishers of the previous Masters, and obviously some players would fall into more than 1 of these categories so invitations from The Masters Committee make up the rest of the field,which would normally comprise of around 90-100 players.
The US Open
The U.S. Open is the annual Open Golf Tournament of the United States. It is the second of the four majors and always scheduled to be played in mid-June so as the final round coincides with Fathers day (weather permitting).
The U.S. Open is staged at various courses around the USA, and they are set up in such a way that scoring is very difficult with a lot of emphases put on accurate driving, and therefore this tournament is not very often won with a player scoring under par, in fact there have been many winners of this Major with scores over Par, another defining fact is that normally the course is set up to a Par 70, unless the course is exceptionally long, another feature of the US open is the high rough, undulating greens and tight fairways especially on what are expected to be less difficult holes.
The first U.S. Open was played at the Newport County Club, Rhode Island on October 4, 1895, this was a nine-hole course. The initial tournament was a 36-hole competition and the players played the course 4 times in a single day. There were 10 professionals and 1 amateur entered.
Within that year Horace Rawlins arrived from British shores to take up a working post at the Newport County Golf Club and consequently entered the inaugural competition, going on to win it which started the domination of British born players winning the tournament over the next 15 years. The exception being Harry Vardon who was born in Jersey. Harry won the tournament in 1900.
It was 1911 that the next American-born player actually won the US Open, John McDermott became the youngest player at that time to win and started a succession of Americans to take the Wannamaker Trophy. There had been a few overseas successes in the following years, but notably, it was in 1965 when Gary Player won and became the first South African to win, that the national open of America became a worldwide Tournament. Apart from the dominance of American wins and in part 4 wins by South Africans the trophy now has been in the hands of 7 different nationalities to date.
The British Open The Open Championship
The British Open was first played at Prestwick Golf Club Scotland on 17 October 1860.The first tournament was restricted to professional golfers only and a field of eight golfers took part, as Prestwick Golf Club only had 12 holes at this time the players played three rounds on the same day.The winner was Willie Park Snr who won with a score of 174, beating Old Tom Morris by two strokes
The following year the tournament was opened to amateurs, and eight of them joined ten professionals in the field.
Prestwick held The Open for 10 years from 1860 to 1870, but in 1871, agreed to organise it jointly with two other Golf Clubs in Scotland The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews and The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
In 1892 saw the event double in length from 36 to 72 holes, four rounds of what was by then the standard course of 18 holes. It was 34 years before the British Open was played outside Scotland and that honour went to The Royal St Georges Golf Club in Sandwich Kent.The number of entrants were ever increasing and by 1898 a cut system was introduced after two rounds.By 1920 The Royal and Ancient Golf Club had full responsibility for The Open Championship.
All the early winners of The Open were all Scottish professionals, who in those days although they were classed as Professional Golfers had to work as greenkeepers, or club makers, or even caddies to supplement their modest winnings from championships and challenge matches they took part in.
The Open has always had a good Amateur presence and although it has been mainly dominated by professionals, there have been six victories by amateurs, albeit they all occurred in the early years between 1890 and 1930. The last of these was Bobby Jones who won the title 3 times.Jones was and is the most celebrated Amateur of all time, he never turned professional.Up until 1939, the last Open to be played before the 2nd World War six Americans and Frenchman Arnaud Massey (1907) had won the trophy including the great Walter Hagen in 1922. These players were the only winners from outside Scotland and England until the Tournament was resumed in 1946 being won by Sam Snead, which saw the dominance of Scotland and England fade, in fact, only 3 players won the trophy from British shores then, until Tony Jacklin was triumphant in 1969 at Royal Birkdale.
In 1894, the formation of the United States Golf Association (USGA), became the first formal golf organization in the country, after which, golf quickly became a very popular sport in the country.
Some 22 years later a very wealthy businessman and golf enthusiast Lewis Rodman Wanamaker invited the top professionals of that time to a meeting to set out a plan for another organisation namely The Professional Golfers Association of America (the PGA) and 1 month later the PGA was established.
The inaugural PGA Championship was held later that year in October, and the winner Jim Barnes received a diamond-studded gold medal and a replica of the Wanamaker Trophy, which was also donated by Wanamaker, to keep for one year, and a smaller-sized keeper replica of the Trophy.
In 1924 Walter Hagen won the PGA Championship in four straight years, from 1924 through to 1927, but when he was asked at the 1926 award ceremony why he didn’t have the trophy, he replied that he “hadn’t brought it with him because he had no intention of surrendering it.”, but in 1928 he had to surrender it as he was finally beaten by Lea Diegel, and so Hagen now had to come clean as to why he had not bought the trophy with him in previous years, he had actually lost the Wanamaker Trophy. No-one actually knows how or when the trophy was accidentally misplaced, but it did reappear two years later in 1930 in the basement of Walter Hagens golf club manufacturer in a suitcase.
When it was discovered the trophy was missing, The PGA of America had a duplicate of the Wanamaker Trophy made.to be presented to the winners of the tournament in 1929 and 1930 but once the original trophy was found it was retired and is now on display at the PGA Historical Center in Florida. Even so the names of all champions are still engraved on the original trophy, but the replica is the one that is presented and posed with.
The early years of the PGA Championship were played as match play format but didn’t have a set time in the golfing calendar, it would be played in May, June, July or even as late as December
After World War II, the championship was played in late May or late June, then moved to early July in 1953 and a few weeks later in 1954, and the finals being played on Tuesday. As a match play event, the finalists could end up playing in excess of 200 holes including the stroke play qualifiers in the week-long competition. In 1957 the championship lost money and at a meeting held in November that year, the PGA decided to change the format for the following year to a stroke play format played over 18 holes on four days, from Thursday to Sunday. During the 1960s, the PGA Championship was played the week following The Open Championship five times, making it virtually impossible for players to compete in both majors. In 1965, the PGA was contested for the first time in August, and that move was made permanent in 1969 except for a one-year move to late February in 1971, played in Florida.
The PGA Championship is normally played in the eastern half of the United States, and only ten times has it been played in the west.
Although the PGA has had its ups and down over the years and slogans being tagged to the championship to bolster interest the USPGA is now firmly cemented as the fourth major and fiercely contested as such.