Who Owns Golf’s Majors?
TL;DR: The PGA TOUR does not own or control any of the four Major Championships of golf.
The advent of the LIV Tour has exposed a lot of ignorance (particularly in social media) surrounding the organization of professional and amateur golf. Too many (including an antitrust lawyer trying to insert himself into the story) don’t seem to know the difference between the PGA and PGA TOUR. Others seem to think that the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour/European Tour somehow have the power to ban LIV players from the Majors (and are outraged at the thought).
In the interest of education, here is a summary of who owns and controls each of golf’s majors: The Open, the US Open, the PGA Championship and the Masters (in order of age).
It is important to note up front that the PGA TOUR does not own or control any of golf’s majors. All four of golf’s major championships predate the existence of the PGA TOUR (which separated from the PGA of America in 1968).
Similarly, the DP World Tour does not own any of golf’s majors. The European Tour (which has been renamed the DP World tour for its Dubai-based corporate sponsor) held its inaugural season in 1972.
The oldest of golf’s four majors, The Open, is organized by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (the R&A). The R&A organizes 21 championships in all, including the Women’s British Open, the Amateur Championship (aka the British Amateur), the Women’s Amateur and the Senior Amateur.
The R&A also co-organize, with the United States Golf Association, the Walker and Curtis Cups.
The first Open Championship was held in 1860, when eight golfers played three rounds over Prestwick’s twelve holes. The winner received a red belt with a silver buckle. The famed Claret Jug was first awarded in 1872.
Note that the R&A is not the same thing as the European Golf Tour (now known as the DP World Tour). The Royal and Ancient is the governing body of golf for the world outside of the United States and Mexico.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews was founded in 1754. In 2004, a separate organization, known simply as the R&A, was created to handle the governing and tournament operations.
The US Open
The United States Open is organized by the United States Golf Association. It is one of seventeen events organized by the USGA, including the US Women’s Open, the US Senior Open, and the US Senior Women’s Open. The USGA also runs a dozen amateur national championships. In 2022, the US Adaptive Open was added.
The United States Golf Association, along with the R&A, runs the Walker and Curtis Cups.
The first US Open was held in 1895 at Newport Country Club. Ten professionals and one amateur entered to play 36 holes in one day on the nine-hole course. Horace Rawlings was the winner.
The USGA is not the same thing as the PGA of America, or the PGA TOUR. The USGA is the governing body for golf in the United States and Mexico.
The USGA was founded in 1894.
The PGA Championship
The PGA Championship is organized by the Professional Golfer’s Association of America (PGA, or PGA of America).
Here’s where it gets a little complicated. The PGA of America was founded in 1916 as an association for professional golfers. At that time, there was no clear line between playing professionals and what are known as “club professionals” — the people who (mostly) manage courses and teach the game of golf. Playing professionals often also served as the “pros” at a golf club. For example, the PGA Championship winner in 1954, Chick Harbert, was the club pro at Michigan’s Meadowbrook Country Club.
By the mid- to late- 1960s, growing tv revenues created a rift between the PGA members who made their living primarily as touring players and the ones who were employed at clubs. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and other touring golf professionals negotiated a split. From that, the Tournament Players Division was created in 1968; it was renamed the PGA TOUR in 1974.
As part of the split, the PGA of America retained control of the PGA Championship and the American half of the Ryder Cup. The PGA of America also runs the Senior PGA Championship, the Women’s PGA Championship and several other events.
Since the split, the PGA of America — not the PGA TOUR — has run the PGA Championship.
To be fair, though, there is some crossover of the boards of directors of the two organizations. A PGA TOUR player (currently Charley Hoffman) is on the board of the PGA of America, and the PGA of America president (currently Jim Richerson) sits on the PGA TOUR Board of Directors.
The Masters is the property of Augusta National Golf Club. Both Augusta National and the Masters tournament were founded by the legendary amateur golfer Bobby Jones and investment banker Clifford Roberts.
The first Masters was held in 1934, although it was known as the Augusta National Invitational Tournament.” Horton Smith was the first winner (incidentally, Smith spent his later years as the head pro at Detroit Country Club).
The Augusta National Invitational was renamed The Masters in 1939.
Augusta National also runs the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship. Along with the USGA and the PGA Of America, it runs the Drive Chip and Putt junior golf development competition that holds its national finals at Augusta National Golf Club prior to the Masters.
Thanks to the reputation of its tournament, Augusta National is generally considered one of six biggest players in the game of golf, along with the USGA, The R&A, the PGA Of America, the PGA TOUR and the European (now DP World) Tour.
The Players Championship?
Likely because it controls exactly zero of golf’s majors, the PGA TOUR has spent a great deal of energy trying to promote their Players Championship as the “Fifth Major.”
Since the PGA TOUR owns The Players Championship, they can indeed ban LIV players if they wish. But it is not a Major, so the issue is irrelevant.
The TOUR Championship?
The TOUR Championship is the final event of the PGA TOUR’s FedEx Cup Playoffs.
It is not one of golf’s majors.
The Ryder Cup
While the Ryder Cup is certainly one of the golf’s biggest events, it is not one of golf’s Majors.
In any case, the Ryder Cup is jointly owned by the PGA of America (not the PGA TOUR) and Ryder Cup Europe, a joint venture of the PGA European Tour, the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland and the PGAs of Europe.