Not many golf tournaments have been around 100 years. Among the few amateur events that are part of the elite group are the U.S. Amateur, British Amateur, Western Amateur and North & South Amateur.
Another will mark its centennial birthday when the Southern Amateur takes place July 19-22 at the Country Club of Birmingham (Ala.).
“Obviously we are really excited about this year’s tournament, being our 100th and being held at such a great club like the Country Club of Birmingham,” said Buford McCarty, executive director of the Southern Golf Association, which celebrated its 100th year of existence in 2002. “There are very few tournaments out there that have the history of the Southern Am, so our 100th is very significant.”
It’s also significant for the CC of Birmingham, as it will play host to the championship for the eighth time – most of any club in the event’s history.
“We have always been committed to amateur golf at our club,” said Birmingham golf chairman Winston McCalley. “We know this is a special year for the Southern Golf Association and this tournament and we want it to be a most memorable experience. We’re going to do a number of things during the week because our members want to make it special to all the players.”
For the club, this year also will have added meaning because of the induction of one of its own, Hubert Green, into the Southern Golf Association Hall of Fame. Green, who won two Southern Amateurs before going on to win the 1977 U.S. Open and the 1985 PGA Championship, is the 21st inductee and the first who played professionally.
“But induction is still based on what they’ve done as amateurs, not what they’ve done as professionals,” McCarty said.
Among the other members of the hall, which was founded in 1972, are Bobby Jones, Billy Joe Patton, Dale Morey, Vinny Giles, Charles Yates, Danny Yates, Downing Gray, Fred Ridley and William C. Campbell – all lifetime amateurs.
In the past, the Southern Amateur has been “strictly golf,” said McCarty, but for the 100th anniversary there also will be a Tuesday night dinner where Green will be the guest speaker.
“It’s a nice honor to be the first one who turned pro to be inducted,” Green said. “I hope this sets a precedent and they will let others in who have had outstanding amateur careers and then gone on to play professional golf.”
Green’s amateur career was highlighted by his two Southern Amateur titles in 1966 and ’69. The first came at the CC of Birmingham.
“I grew up playing that course, so to win in front of all the people there was great,” Green said. “Secondly, I think that was my first introduction into the world of competitive golf. I used that victory as a stepping stone to my career.”
Green’s name on the trophy is there with some of the game’s best, including Jones, who won the title in 1917, ’20 and ’22. Other past champions are Patton, Gay Brewer, Morey, Giles, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw, Bill Rogers, Bob Tway, Mark Brooks, Len Mattiace and Justin Leonard.
The Southern Amateur first was held in 1902 at Nashville Golf and Country Club, where A.F. Schwartz defeated Percy Whitling, 6 and 5. No tournament was held from 1942 to ’45 because of World War II. It was a match-play event until 1964, when it changed to a 72-hole stroke-play format.
In 1951, the SGA instituted a state team competition within the Southern Am called the Bob Jones Four-Ball Team Championship. All players are eligible, and the winning team is comprised by the four players from a particular state who have the lowest four-man score through 36 holes.
Each member of the winning team is awarded the Bob Jones Trophy, a large plaque that depicts the trophies of the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open and British Amateur, considered to be golf’s Grand Slam back in 1930 when Jones won all four titles.
“Believe me, this is one trophy everyone wants to win,” McCarty said. “It’s absolutely beautiful and one that all the past winners say they cherish.”
The Southern Amateur has a starting field of 156 players, with about half earning exemptions, primarily though the Golfweek/Titleist Amateur Rankings, according to McCarty, and the other half gaining spots through open qualifying at approximately 20 sites around the country.
While the Southern Amateur normally attracts a solid starting field, that should especially be the case this year, and not only because it’s the tournament’s 100th edition.
The past few years, the tournament has gone up against the U.S. Amateur Public Links and The Players Amateur. This year, the Southern Am will stand alone. It also doesn’t hurt that the event offers its champion an exemption to the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational held at Bay Hill in Orlando, Fla., the following year.
Australian Michael Sim earned the spot at Bay Hill with his victory in 2004 and Webb Simpson, a sophomore at Wake Forest, played this year as reigning Southern champion. Both had respectable showings. Sim, who finished 2004 as Golfweek’s top-ranked amateur, missed the cut by a shot in 2005; Simpson missed by two.
“It’s a great perk to have an invitation for our champion into that kind of tournament,” McCarty said. “It’s worked out really well for us and hopefully it will be a long-term relationship.”
Simpson said that the invitation to Bay Hill “is in the back of your mind when you start playing.”
When his final putt fell, Simpson said, he thought, “ ‘I just putted my way into Arnold’s tournament.’ That was very special, especially with me at Wake Forest (where Palmer attended).”
The Southern Amateur represents history, tradition and amateur golf at its finest. A tournament doesn’t last 100 years without it.