The PGA came into being in 1916, but before that there were golf professional organizations in the major metropolitan regions of the United States. Many of the golf professionals who were transplants from the British Isles were interested in having a national organization like the British PGA they had belonged to. At the same time there were concerns that the size of the United States would make a national PGA difficult to manage.
One of the early promoters of a United States PGA was Charles C. Worthington, who had made his money in water pumps. He purchased 8,000 acres in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania in 1903 where he built the Buckwood Inn. A golf course designed by A.W. Tillinghast came along later. Soon he was in the golf course mower business, as well. In 1912 Worthington held the first Shawnee Open for the professionals. Worthington tried his best to interest the golf professionals in forming a nationwide organization. He held meetings with them during his Shawnee Opens and even wrote a letter to some of them on the subject. The professionals would not make the commitment, but something happened in 1916 that brought the golf professionals together.
Wanamaker’s department store, which was founded in Philadelphia, had been a leading seller of golf equipment in the early 1900s. They imported clubs, balls and other golf items from Great Britain that they sold to the public at retail and to the golf professionals at wholesale. John Wanamaker and his son Rodman were members at Huntingdon Valley Country Club. The Wanamakers opened two stores in New York as well. Tom McNamara, an America born golf professional who had finished second in the U.S. Open three times, was Wanamaker’s golf expert and salesman.
The Wanamaker Trophy
By 1916 Wanamaker’s had been surpassed in golf equipment sales by A.G. Spalding & Bros., that had been created by a professional baseball pitcher named Albert Spalding. McNamara convinced his boss, Rodman Wanamaker, to help the professionals organize as it would be good for Wanamaker’s golf sales. On Monday January 17, 1916 McNamara, who knew all of the golf professionals, invited them to lunch at Wanamaker’s private restaurant in New York, the Taplow Club. Thirty-five golf professionals attended. Several of the leading professionals had misgivings as to the success of a national organization. Also some may have wished not to be beholden to Wanamaker’s, but when Rodman Wanamaker offered to put up the prize money for a championship along with a trophy, the professionals signed up.
At a meeting on April 10 in New York, the PGA of America was officially founded with 78 “Class A” members. At a later meeting of the PGA Executive Committee it was decided not to accept the Wanamaker money. Some of the professionals were complaining that when ordering from Wanamaker’s they were told that their order had been put on back-order, but at the same time Wanamaker’s had plenty of the product for sale at retail. As a later meeting they agreed once more to accept Wanamaker’s offer.
In October 1916 the first PGA Championship was played at the Siwanoy Country Club on Long Island. The winner was Whitemarsh Valley CC professional, Jim Barnes. The tournament was played with a match play format, because that is what Rodman Wanamaker wanted. The purse was $2,580 and $2,500 came from Wanamaker along with the perpetual trophy that was 28 inches tall and a gold medal for the winner. Wanamaker also paid the travel expenses for all of the 32 professionals that qualified for the tournament.
After a few years the PGA stopped accepting the Wanamaker money, but the Wanamaker Trophy still exists even though Walter Hagen lost it for a few years, but that’s another story. The winner’s name is engraved on the trophy each year.