The Stunningly Low Amount The First PGA Champion Made

Each spring, the Professional Golf Association of America, commonly known as the PGA, hosts the PGA Championship tournament. Since 1916, tournament winners, ranked among the best golfers on the planet, take home the esteemed Wanamaker Trophy, which they keep for the year. (They also have the option of buying a slightly smaller replica, which they can keep.) They also earn bragging rights, and a hefty cash prize of more than $2 million, per Boardroom. Each year, the event is held at some of the most exclusive golf courses in the country, such as Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the 2022 championship is set to take place (via Fansided).

Almost all major sporting events offer some cash incentive, with the Cricket World Cup ranked the most lucrative. In that event, the winning team takes home nearly $4 million. Split that up among the cricket team members and coaches, however, and the take-home amount per athlete is far less than what the modern-day PGA champion earns, as Pledge Sports explains. The first PGA champion took home far less money than they do now, though.

The first PGA championship was held in the fall

Held only shortly after the formation of the PGA itself, thanks in part to department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker after whom the PGA prize trophy is named, the inaugural PGA Championship was held at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, New York. Now held in May, the inaugural event was in October with a field of 32 golfers. 

In addition to the now highly-coveted Wannamaker trophy, modeled after the trophy given to the PGA champion in Britain — much as Wanamker drew inspiration from that other golf organization across the Atlantic for the American PGA — Wanamaker ponied up a total purse of around $2,500, as the official PGA website explains. That's about $68,000 in today's money, per Dollar Times

By today's standards, $68,000 doesn't sound like much for professional sports prize money, especially after that total amount is divided among all the participants. With the grand prize at more than $2 million in modern-day PGA tournaments, all golfers who make the cut take home some money, with the total purse reaching $12 million, according to Boardroom. As U.S. News & World Report notes, though, in 1915, just one year before the first PGA Championship tournament, the average annual salary in the United States was a bit less than $600, and the average home cost around $3,200. With that in mind, a total purse of $2,500 at the first PGA Championship makes much more sense. 

Jim Barnes won the first two PGA championships

The first golfer to have his name etched in the Wanamaker trophy was Jim Barnes. Barnes would go on to accomplish the feat two years in a row. Each year, the PGA champion lays claim to the Wanamaker, in addition to having their name etched in the side of the trophy for perpetuity. When tournament time comes around, that champion golfer must hand the trophy over to the next winner, as Golf Monthly reports. 

After entering the final three holes 1-down, Barnes bested Scotsman Jack "Jock" Hutchison in the 1916 PGA championship. Hutchison would win two major golf titles in his career. Barnes would win four, according to Golf Compendium. (Barnes and Hutchison are pictured above.)

Jim Barnes is clearly an important name in the history of professional golf. How much, though, did he take home for the distinction of being the first-ever golfer to win the PGA championship? Out of a total purse of $3,000, Barnes laid claim to only $500 (about $14,000 in today's money, via Dollar Times), while Hutchison took home $250. That same year, semifinalists won half that amount, or $125, and quarterfinalists $75. Players who failed to emerge from the second round made only $60. Compare that to another major American golf tournament in 1916, the U.S. Open, with a total purse of $900, and early on, a PGA championship was still lucrative. The grand prize, though, was a far cry from what many pro golfers make today.