An unprecedented move by the U.S. Golf Association will end a pair of national tournaments that lost their uniqueness some time ago.
The USGA’s two championships for public-links players will cease after 2014, replaced by two national championships for a format new to the national scene: the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship and U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship, which will begin in 2015.
The U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links are the first USGA championships to be retired, according to John Bodenhamer, the association’s managing director, rules, competitions and equipment standards.
“It has been clear for some time that the APL and WAPL no longer serve their original purpose,” Bodenhamer said in an email to Golfweek.
The APL, started in 1922, is the USGA’s fourth-oldest championship. The WAPL dates to 1977. Many will theorize that the championships’ demise was caused by college players’ domination, which minimized the everyman appeal of a championship created for truck drivers, teachers and the like. Bodenhamer said the fields’ demographics weren’t the “primary” factor to pull the plug.
Instead, it was the 1979 decision to open all USGA championships to public-links players. That’s also when the USGA first considered ending the Publinks, he said.
“We kept coming back to the same place, which recognized that the barriers that necessitated the creation of these championships no longer existed, and that all players today have equal access to all USGA amateur championships,” Bodenhamer said.
Past participants contacted by Golfweek expressed regret at the championships’ demise.
“I appreciated that event because golf is looked at as a white-collar sport,” Hunter Mahan said.
Added Chez Reavie, the 2001 champion: “It’s too bad a lot of kids aren’t going to have the opportunity to play their way into the Masters. It’s too bad that they’re going to replace it with a four‑ball tournament.”
The elimination of the men’s APL means one less Masters invitation to be handed out each year. Augusta National Golf Club has expressed concerns about the size of the Masters field.
It’s unlikely the four-ball championship, because of its team format, will result in major-championship invitations. Team formats are less popular in the U.S. than abroad, but four-ball events are conducted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the USGA. Entry into the national championship is open to individuals with a USGA Handicap Index of 5.4 or lower for men and 14.4 for women. Teammates do not need to be from the same club, state or country.
The fields of the men’s and women’s events will consist of 128 and 64 teams, respectively. Thirty-two teams will advance to match play after 36 holes of stroke play. The events will be held between mid-March and May. These dates could deter college and high-school students from participating. Those are the same groups that contributed to the Publinks’ end. The USGA is not lamenting the loss, though. Instead, it plans to celebrate the tournaments’ legacy.
Said Bodenhamer: “We will also celebrate the fact that the barriers that necessitated their creation no longer exist, which we believe to be a very good thing.”
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History of the Public Links
1922: Inaugural event (140 entries), won by Edmund R. Held at Ottawa Park in Toledo, Ohio
1927: Carl F. Kauffmann, the only three-time champion, wins the first of three consecutive titles
1948: Format changes to all match play
1956: 36-hole stroke-play qualifying introduced before match play
1967: Format changes to stroke play
1975: Match play returns, preceded by 36-hole stroke-play qualifying
1991: David Berganio Jr. wins first of three consecutive stroke-play medals (he won the ’91 and ’93 match-play titles)
1998: Record 6,300 entries sign up for event at Torrey Pines (South) Golf Course in San Diego
Prominent recent champions: Billy Mayfair (1986), Tim Clark (1997), Trevor Immelman (1998), D.J. Trahan (2000), Chez Reavie (2001), Ryan Moore (2002, ’04), Brandt Snedeker (2003), Colt Knost (2007).
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1977: Inaugural event (686 entries), won by Kelly Fulks at Yahara Hills Golf Club in Madison, Wis.
1986: Record 1,085 entries sign up for event at SentryWorld Golf Club in Stevens Point, Wis.
2002: Format changes to 36-hole final
Prominent recent champions: Heather Farr (1984), Danielle Ammaccane (1985), Michelle Wie (2003), Yani Tseng (2004).
Source: USGA, staff research