A Brief History of the PGA TOUR

It is not easy to pinpoint the exact beginning of the PGA TOUR. Certainly, professionals have competed against each other from the earliest days of the game in the United States.

In 1895, 10 professional golfers and one amateur played in the first U.S. Open in Newport, Rhode Island, Shortly thereafter, tournaments began to pop up across the country, including the Western Open in 1899. But this was not “tour” golf. The events lacked continuity.

Interest in the game, however, continued to grow. American professionals were rapidly improving. When John McDermott became the first American-born player to win the U.S. Open in 1911, interest in the game blossomed. That interest became enthusiasm in 1913 when Englishmen Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, the world’s best players, came to the United States to play an exhibition tour and compete in the U.S. Open. When 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet defeated the pair in a playoff at Brookline, Massachusetts, golf became front-page news and a game for everyone.

In the early 1920s, a series of tournaments was held on the West Coast, in Texas and Florida. These events were held in the winter, and the golfers played their way east and up to Pinehurst, North Carolina, in the spring. By the middle of the decade, the tour was doing relatively well—offering $77,000 in total prize money.

The first “playing pros” organization was formed in 1932. Two years earlier, Bob Harlow had been named manager of the PGA Tournament Bureau. The tour became more structured following World War II and exploded in the late 1950s and early ’60s. When Arnold Palmer televised golf, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived on the scene in the late 1950s, the eyes of the world were on golf. This exposure inspired millions to try the game and made superstars of golf’s greats like Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Most golf historians trace the “formal” beginning of the PGA TOUR to late 1968, when the “Tournament Players Division” split from the PGA of America and hired Joe Dey as its first commissioner. That organization became the modern-day PGA TOUR, which celebrated 50 years in 2018. Dey served from early 1969 through February 28, 1974, and was succeeded by four-time PGA TOUR winner Deane R. Beman on March 1, 1974.

During Beman’s administration, the value of tournament purses escalated at an unprecedented rate. PGA TOUR assets grew from $730,000 in 1974 to more than $200 million, and total revenues increased from $3.9 million to $229 million in 1993. The TOUR also made a bold move in 1979, moving its headquarters to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, from Washington, D.C.

Tim Finchem became the TOUR’s third commissioner, on June 1, 1994 and served through December 31, 2016. During his 22 years in office, Finchem was instrumental in expanding the TOUR’s international footprint, growing earnings opportunities for PGA TOUR members and introducing events such as the Presidents Cup (1994), the World Golf Championships (1999) and the season-long FedExCup competition (2007). Charity was also a significant focus of Finchem’s tenure as commissioner. In January 2014, the TOUR and its tournaments reached the $2-billion milestone in charitable contributions, with $1 billion of that total raised since 2006.

Jay Monahan took office as the fourth commissioner of the PGA TOUR on January 1, 2017. Monahan joined the PGA TOUR in 2008 as Executive Director of THE PLAYERS Championship, and prior to being appointed commissioner, ascended to the position of Deputy Commissioner on April 1, 2014, with Chief Operating Officer added to his title on April 1, 2016.
The competitive scope of the PGA TOUR also is much broader today, thanks to the PGA TOUR Champions, Tour and the international tours: PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada and PGA TOUR-China. PGA TOUR Champions, in its 40th season, has been labeled the most successful senior sports venture in history. The Tour is the path to the PGA TOUR, whereby all 50 TOUR exemptions come via the Tour. Former Tour players who have gone on to star on the PGA TOUR include Jason Day, Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson.

When the PGA TOUR opened TPC Sawgrass in 1980, it introduced the era of stadium golf and record-breaking attendance. Owned and/or operated by the TOUR, the TPC Network courses are the only major-league sports venues owned by the players themselves. The 2007 PLAYERS Championship debuted the reworked PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, with refurbished fairways and rebuilt greens and a new, enlarged clubhouse. Further competitive enhancements and improvements were made following the 2016 event that furthered its stature as the truest test in golf.
For the first time since 1904, golf took part in the Summer Olympics in Rio in 2016, with PGA TOUR members Justin Rose (Gold) of England, Henrik Stenson (Silver) of Sweden and Matt Kuchar (Bronze) of the United States taking home medals on the men’s side.
In September of 2016, golf’s greatest ambassador, Arnold Palmer, passed away at the age of 87. The PGA TOUR, players, fans and tournaments memorialized Mr. Palmer throughout the 2017 season with the theme, “Making Mr. Palmer Proud.”

The debut of the FedExCup in 2007 was concluded by the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup, with Tiger Woods taking the inaugural FedExCup title. The PGA TOUR celebrated 12 years of the FedExCup in 2018, with Justin Rose taking home the FedExCup, while Woods capped his comeback with his 80th career PGA TOUR title at the season-ending TOUR Championship.

For the 2018-19 season, the TOUR introduced a 46-tournament schedule with significant changes, including THE PLAYERS move to March, the PGA Championship to May and the FedExCup Playoffs being reduced from four events to three and ending in August. For the final FedExCup Playoffs event, a new strokes-based scoring system was implemented, ensuring the winner of the TOUR Championship will also win the FedExCup.