While winning a tournament sponsored by the USGA or R&A remains the gold standard for elite amateur golfers, there are a handful of events scattered across the nation top players circle on their calendars every year.
They are coveted tickets and hard to come by. There are no qualifiers and are played at some of the most storied clubs in the nation, which lends to their mystery and prestige. But a talented mid-am or senior who finds his way into one of these tournaments, plays well, and networks with the right people can often find himself in possession of several more invites down the road.
The competition on the course is fierce, but it's the vibe around these events that keep the players coming back year-in and year-out.
Following play on famed courses such as Seminole Golf Club, Winged Foot and the National Golf Links of America, the players' itineraries usually include a cocktail hour followed by a coat and tie dinner, where conversations about the course, shot selection, business, travel and other yarns form and strengthen great friendships which can last a lifetime.
Here's a look at our list of some of the most coveted invitations in amateur golf.
THE COLEMAN INVITATIONAL
Seminole Golf Club, Juno Beach, Florida
Seminole Golf Club is considered to be among Donald Ross’ best designs. The genius of the course is in the routing, which brilliantly utilizes a pair of dune ridges that sit beside the Atlantic Ocean, and in the greens, which are subtly contoured and very fast. As we saw in the Walker Cup, this course perhaps more than any other utilizes gravity as it's fiercest hazard, with fast turf and runoffs take errant shots to scary places. As Ben Hogan once said, "If you can play Seminole, you can play any course in the world.” That's if, of course, you can get on.
Named after the mining and oil tycoon who passed away in July of 1997, the George C. Coleman Invitational is the unofficial start to the spring season for some of the elite mid-amateurs and seniors who are fortunate to receive an invitation from the club.
More information about the Coleman
THE CRUMP CUP
Pine Valley Golf Club, Pine Valley, New Jersey
The George A. Crump Memorial Tournament -- named for the hotelier and course architect most famous for building Pine Valley -- is arguably the premier mid-amateur event in the United States. The invitational field is made of top players from around the United States and the UK. The format for the four days is two rounds of stroke play qualifying, followed by four rounds of match play. Players are flighted according to their qualifying position, and a separate Senior flight includes three of those flights. Jay Sigel has won the event the most times, with nine victories between 1975 and 1993.
There is no asking to get into the field. There are no applications, no open qualifiers. If Pine Valley wants you in the field and there is an opening, you will be invited. You can also be un-invited. Players are on their best behavior, and are told in unequivocal terms that the tournament is for gentlemen. Unbecoming conduct is the best way to be permanently removed from the field, and the definition of unbecoming conduct is stricter here than perhaps anywhere else.
That's not to say that it is a tournament that has everyone walking around on eggshells; on the contrary it is a very social tournament known for its camaraderie and opportunities to spend time with fellow players. But it probably isn't the tournament for PGA Tour-level grinders, those with temper problems, or those with self-discipline issues. The other way to be un-invited is to play your way out. Two years in a row of poor play and a finish near the bottom of the standings usually means another player will take your place in the field.
More information about the Crump Cup
WALTER TRAVIS INVITATIONAL
Garden City Golf Club, Garden City, New York
This tournament honors Walter Travis, three-time U.S. Amateur champ and the first American to win the British Amateur, in 1904. Travis reworked the original Devereaux Emmet design, incorporating challenging fairway bunkers of random depths, features seldom seen on this side of the pond.
An 18-hole qualifier establishes match play flights, so players cannot afford a slow start.
"The field is so strong that the difference in ability between a top seed and a bottom seed in any flight can be negligible," Garden City golf pro emeritus Gil McNally explained. "Moreover, the stroke-play portion of the competition is only one round, where anything can and will happen."
The Travis is defined by the generosity and selflessness of the members. "It's Christmas in May," said one member.
More information about the Walter Travis Invitational
THE ANDERSON MEMORIAL
Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York
John G. Anderson was only 49 years old when he passed away in 1933. He had won 53 amateur golf tournaments and had twice reached the final of the U.S. Amateur. He was one of the founders of Winged Foot Golf Club, and the tournament named in his memory was started only two months after he passed.
Winged Foot is one of America's golf treasures, with 36 A.W. Tillinghast-designed holes and a championship history as good as any in the country.
The Anderson Memorial has been called “the premier four-ball tournament in the world”. The event is contested with 36 holes of stroke play, one round each on the West and East Courses, followed by two days of one of golf's most fun formats, four-ball match play.
More information about The Anderson Memorial
THE C.B. MACDONALD INVITATIONAL
National Golf Links of America, Southampton, New York
This tournament honors Charles Blair MacDonald, who is considered to be the father of modern golf course architecture. He was the first U.S. Amateur champion, and his 1909 design of the National Golf Links of America was revolutionary. Many of the holes at NGLA are MacDonald's versions of famous holes from British courses, while others are entirely original and have served as templates themselves for future designers. Hard-running fairways, blind shots, and and emphasis of strategy over power make NGLA a true throwback.
Like Pine Valley, NGLA is a place that most will never see, although the Walker Cup was played there in 2013. But those invited to the C.B. MacDonald Invitational, also known more simply as The Singles, get to experience match play competition on one of the world's most unique and inspiring courses.
An 18-hole stroke play qualifying round is played to determine match play brackets (five for mid-amateurs, three for seniors), with four rounds of match play following to determine the champion.
More information about the C.B. MacDonald Invitational
GEORGE C. THOMAS INVITATIONAL
Los Angeles Country Club (North Course), Los Angeles, California
This 54-hole stroke play invitational with mid-amateur and senior divisions was created in 2012 to honor the architect of LACC's two courses, George C. Thomas, Jr. A founding member of Pine Valley, Thomas is responsible for some of California's true gems, including Riviera, Bel-Air, Ojai, and Stanford. He served in the Army Air Service during World War I, attaining the rank of captain. "The Captain" remained his nickname for the rest of his life. Thomas was a prominent rose breeder on the East Coast before gaining fame as a golf course designer.
Despite its pedigree, the club went over 60 years between hosting major golf championships, but it looks to be firmly in the USGA's rotation of host sites. Los Angeles Country Club was the host of the 2017 Walker Cup and hosts its first U.S. Open in 2023.
More information about the George C. Thomas Invitational
THE LUPTON MEMORIAL
The Honors Course, Ooltewah, Tennessee
John T. Lupton II, was born into a family that owned Coca-Cola's largest bottler. He would eventually inherit the company, grow it substantially and eventually sell it. A member at Augusta National Golf Club, Lupton reportedly became upset when he wasn't named chairman of the club in 1980 and decided to build his own club in his hometown where he would serve as a one-man board of directors.
The Honors Course is a spectacular Pete Dye golf course near Chattanooga. Mitch Voges won the 1991 U.S. Amateur here, and Tiger Woods won the 1996 NCAA Championship here despite a final round 80.
The John T. Lupton Invitational was established to host some of the finest mid-amateur and senior amateur golfers from around the country. The original intention was to be a “test run” in preparation of The Honors Course hosting the USGA Mid-Amateur Championship in 2005. Upon the death of Mr. Lupton in 2010, the name of this event was changed to the John T. Lupton Memorial.
Mid-amateurs play 54 holes of stroke play, while seniors, perhaps as a nod to the course's difficulty, play 54 holes of Stableford.
More information about the Lupton Memorial
THE STOCKER CUP
The Preserve Golf Club, Carmel, California
The Stocker Cup was founded in 1991 to honor the memory of Peter Stocker, who was called "the quintessential amateur golfer" by former USGA president Sandy Tatum. Stocker was a real estate developer who was one of the partners behind the creation of the Santa Lucia Preserve where the golf course now sits. The Preserve, located above the town of Carmel, has been described as "driving through a California postcard."
The 54-hole individual competition consistently draws many of the top mid-amateurs in the country. Like the PGA Tour's Pebble Beach National Pro-Am played just down the road, the Stocker Cup has concurrent individual and "am-am" competitions, with each player teamed up with a "B-player" in four-ball stroke play.
More information about the Stocker Cup
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