Renslow: Major prize |

Renslow: Major prize

File-This Aug. 10, 1980 file photo shows Jack Nicklaus posing with the PGA Championship trophy at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. Nicklaus shot 66 in the third round to take a three-shot lead, and he wound up winning by seven. The margin of victory remained a record for 33 years, until Rory McIlroy won by eight last year at Kiawah Island. Nicklaus tied Walter Hagen with his fifth Wanamaker Trophy. (AP Photo/Larry Baum, File)

What in the world is a Wanamaker Trophy? Nearly a hundred 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 pros 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, U.S. Open, British Open and the PGA Championship).

First, the purse (amount of money paid to the field of players) is larger. Last month’s British Open winner walked away with nearly $1,500,000. 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 10-year exemption. This means that for the next 10 years, the champion can play in virtually any tournament of his 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 will be played at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. It has been more than 10 years since Oak Hill has hosted a major tournament. However, this is a great golf course with a reputation for being tough and first hosted a major tournament in 1949 with the U.S. Amateur Championship. An interesting note is the change in tournament format exactly 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 wants to see their favorite professional play the game (primarily the golf companies that sponsor the players), but in match play, the round rarely sees all 18 holes.

Let’s say Tiger has a great match play round, he has won six holes, and there are only five left to play. Match over. No more golf for Tiger. Tiger is happy, but the people who pay him to wear their stuff and the companies that 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.

If you enjoy watching the top players, too, turn on TNT. Coverage starts at 10 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

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