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RENSLOW: History behind the Wanamaker

What in the world is a Wanamaker Trophy?

Nearly 100 years ago (1916) a group of golf professionals gathered to develop what is now known as the Professional Golfer’s Association of America. From that meeting was also borne the concept of a national championship, the opportunity for the country’s golf professionals to compete and determine who was best. A department store magnate, Rodman Wanamaker, hosted the meeting, provided the trophy and purse ($2,500) for the event. Thus, the Wanamaker Trophy.

Today, the PGA Championship is one of golf’s four major tournaments. These “majors” evolved over time to become what they are today. Back when the tour was in its adolescence, “every tournament was a major,” as golf great Sam Snead would say. Now, there are significantly different benefits to winning one of the big four (the Master’s, US Open, British Open, and the PGA Championship).



First, the purse (amount of money paid to the field of players) is larger. For each of this year’s major tournaments, the winner will receive a check worth nearly $1,800,000. Not bad for a week’s wages. Of course, there are years of preparation for that opportunity.

In addition to big money, the Tour awards an exemption from qualifying for future events. Normally, a Tour event win will bestow a two year exemption. For the majors, the winner receives a 5 or 10 year exemption. This means that for at last the next five years, the champion can play in virtually any tournament of their choosing. Not only is this an increased probability of income, but if you are a vendor looking for a tour player to endorse your product, how about someone you know will be there for the next 10 years.




This year’s PGA Championship is underway at Whistling Straights in Wisconsin. It has been just 5 years since Whistling Straights hosted this major tournament and in just five more years the 2020 Ryder Cup (US vs. Europe) event will be held here. This is a fabulous golf course with a design that emulates the seaside links courses of Great Britain.

An interesting note is the change in tournament format over 50 years ago. Match play was the accepted format for tournament play at that time. Rather than the aggregate stroke play that we see almost every week, pairs of professionals played matches with the winner going on to face a different opponent.

Still enjoyed by millions of amateur players, match play is decided hole by hole. The player with the lower score on a given hole wins that hole. A tally (net of holes won or lost) for the number of holes won is kept. A match is won when one player leads by a number of holes greater than the number remaining to be played.

This is a fun, entertaining format. Unfortunately, television has greatly reduced the number of match play events. Here is why. Everyone (primarily the large companies that support the events) would like to see their favorite professional play the game, but in match play the round rarely sees all 18 holes.

Let’s say Phil Mickelson has a great match play round, he has won six holes and there are only left to play. Match over. Phil is happy, but the people who pay him to wear their stuff and the companies who purchase commercial time are not. Exit the match play format.

So, in 1958, the event changed to stroke play (in which the players simply have a total number of strokes). The predictable consistency of completing an entire round makes the vendors and television producers happy, too.

Today, we’re happy as we can watch nearly every hole played. The championship is streamed on PGA.com, as well as televised on TNT and CBS. Coverage starts at 8 a.m.

John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at jrenslow@pga.com.


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