The remarkable growth of senior golf prompted the USGA to establish
the Senior Amateur Championship in 1955. Many senior golf associations
had come into being on the local, state, and regional level, proving
that the competitive instinct among golfers was not diminished by age.
In 1955, the notion of a tournament only for seniors was not a new
one. Fifty years earlier, the Apawamis Club, in Rye, N.Y., had started
the oldest senior competition still in existence, which led directly
to the formation of the U.S. Senior Golf Association, a private organization
not linked to the USGA.
Apawamis extended invitations to golfers 60 years of age and older.
When the response was not overwhelming, the age minimum was dropped
to 55 to gather a representative field. Thus was the definition of a
senior amateur golfer established.
The U.S. Senior Golf Association conducted a fine tournament, but
membership in the organization was limited, and a long waiting list
developed. Because there was no one event open to all senior amateurs,
the USGA was asked to start a true national championship. The Senior
Amateur was added to the schedule in 1955. Entries were open to golfers
age 55 and over who had handicaps not over 10 strokes.
Addition of the Senior Amateur gave the USGA exactly twice as many
championships as it had conducted before World War II, when there were
just four: the Amateur, Open, and Women's Amateur, started in 1895,
and the Amateur Public Links (1922). From World War II until 1955, the
USGA added four more: the Junior Amateur (1948), the Girls' Junior (1949),
the Women's Open (1953), and the Senior Amateur (1955). The USGA now
conducts 13 national championships, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
The first Senior Amateur, at Belle Meade Country Club, in Nashville,
Tenn., drew 370 entries from 30 states and the District of Columbia.
J. Wood Platt, 56, the eight-time Philadelphia Amateur champion, defeated
George Studinger of San Francisco, Calif., 5 and 4, in the final.
In 1959, J. Clark Espie, who had won in 1957, became the Senior Amateur's
first two-time champion. Lewis W. Oehmig, a record six-time finalist,
is also the only three-time winner (1972, 1976, 1985).
Senior Amateur contestants may ride in carts, a concession not allowed
when the championship was first played. Traditionalists, who believed
walking was vital to a valid national title, finally gave in because
the championship is played in the fall, when it is difficult to obtain
caddies. Carts have been allowed since 1969.