The U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship has been an unqualified success since its inception in 1922, giving exposure to many public-course players who otherwise might not have an opportunity to compete in a national championship.
The championship's prime mover was James D. Standish Jr., of Detroit, who convinced his colleagues on the 1922 USGA Executive Committee that the time was right for such a grass-roots competition. Standish pointed to the public-course golfer, whose ranks were swelling following World War I, and to the growing number of municipal and daily-fee courses in America.
The first championship was conducted at the Ottawa Park Course in Toledo, Ohio. The USGA had no way of knowing how many players to expect, but a satisfying 140 entries were received. Less than half that number wore golf shoes. The first champion was Eddie Held of St. Louis, who joined a private club soon after his victory and thus became ineligible to defend his title in 1923.
In 1923, the first team championship was conducted at the same time as the individual competition. East Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., was selected as the site, causing a great deal of excitement in the nation's capital. President Warren G. Harding, a golf enthusiast, donated the team trophy. Harding wanted to enter the championship himself, but time didn't permit, and besides, he was a member of at least one private club, which would preclude his entry.
That those earliest championships drew upward of 18 teams representing cities from coast to coast, was a tribute to the spread of public-course golf in America. From the initial entry of 140 players, today's annual entry has surged to a massive 6,000 competitors or more.
The historic invitation to the Masters Tournament for the champion of the Amateur Public Links began in 1989. Ralph Howe, who won in 1988, was the first Public Links winner to play in the Masters on that invitation. Thanks to the graciousness of Augusta National Golf Club that historical invitation has continued to be issued.
The championship had previously attracted bus drivers, bartenders, firemen, waiters, riveters, engineers, and college professors. Not as many participate as in years passed but the opportunity for a field with mixed occupations still exists. It has also been a springboard for the likes of U.S. Open champions Ed Furgol, Tommy Bolt, and Ken Venturi; British Open champion Tony Lema; PGA champions Dave Marr and Bobby Nichols; and Masters winner George Archer. In 1959, it produced the first African-American winner of a USGA championship in William A. Wright, who later became a golf instructor.