This Day In History: December 22

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On December 22, 1894, the Amateur Golf Association of the United States—later renamed the United States Golf Association—is formed in New York to govern the sport. Five charter golf clubs join to form the association—Newport (Rhode Island) Golf Club; St. Andrews Golf Club in Westchester County, New York; Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois; Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York; and The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The Amateur Golf Association of the United States became necessary when the Newport Golf Club and St. Andrews Golf Club hosted amateur tournaments in the summer of 1894 and each labeled their tournament the national championship. Before the final day of the latter tournament, it was announced that in the ensuing months, an association composed of the five clubs would be formed, develop a written set of rules for the sport and oversee a universally recognized championship.

The following fall, the association hosted the first U.S. Amateur Championship at the Newport Golf Club as well as the first U.S. Open. Charles Blair Macdonald, a prominent course architect, defeated Charles E. Sand, 12 and 11, to win the U.S. Amateur Championship. An unheralded 21-year-old Englishmen, Horace Rawlings, took home the Open the following day. The first-place prize was $150. In 2021, the first-place prize was $2,500,000.

A few weeks later, in 1894, the association also hosted a U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, which took place at the Meadow Brook Club in Hempstead, New York. In 18 holes, Lucy Barnes won after carding a 132. (In 2021, Yuka Saso won the U.S. Women’s Open with a four-round average of 70.)

As golf grew in popularity, the USGA was tasked with ensuring that only the best players would be eligible to compete for its championships. In 1911 and 1912, Leighton Calkins, a member of the USGA executive committee, introduced two important concepts to golf that remain today: handicapping (a British system of averaging a player’s score over three rounds) and the objective of par.

On the former, Calkins wrote, “The object of handicapping is to put all players on the same lever, and if an allowance of a certain number of strokes is to be made to the less skillful player because he cannot play as well, some allowance ought to be made to the more skillful player because he cannot improve as much.”