In 1927, when a loaf of bread cost 9 cents and the typical round of golf was between 25 and 50 cents, Lakewood Country Club (now St. Petersburg Country Club) started a small, local amateur tournament called the New Year's Invitational. A.T. Cooper, playing with hickory-shafted clubs, became the answer to a trivia question when he won the inaugural event.
The New Year's Invitational has been played continuously for the past 89 years. Despite the Great Depression, a World War and a fire that burned down the original clubhouse, players have teed it up the first week of January.
Through its history, the tournament has produced champions who have gone on to have stellar professional careers: Bob Goalby in 1956, Gary Koch in 1974, Gary Hallberg in 1980, J.B. Holmes in 2003, Brandt Snedeker in 2004 and Jeff Overton in 2005.
The 90th edition of the tournament begins today. The 128-player field is filled with some of the best amateurs in the country. LSU junior Brandon Pierce, who finished second last year, returns. Other top college players such as Will Long (Auburn), James Clark (Georgia Tech) and Ryan Snouffer (Seton Hall) are in the field.
Locals Jimmie Jones (Florida Southern, Freedom High), Ryan Orr (Florida, Clearwater Central Catholic), Jimmy Stanger (Virginia, Gaither), Joe Alfieri (USF graduate) and Greyson Porter (Shorecrest) are also in the field. One player who is not entered is two-time defending champion Sam Horsfield, now at the University of Florida. He had a scheduling conflict.
"The field fills up very quickly," said St. Petersburg Country Club head professional Terry Decker, who is running his 21st New Year's Invitational. "For the past three years or so we've had about 60 players on the waiting list. Before that it's been about 40."
Decker said the tournament committee selects about half the field on a first-come basis. The others are selected by their past performances. A few spots in the championship field are held for high school players such as Porter, who recently completed his senior season by finishing second at the Class A state tournament.
The tournament is also popular because it acts as a tuneup for the college season. At most colleges, school does not resume until next week. The New Year's Invitational allows college players to get in a competitive four-round tournament before the spring season begins.
And at St. Petersburg Country Club, the tournament is highly anticipated every year.
"It's a great way to carry on the tradition of the club," Decker said. "It's the oldest continually run amateur tournament in the country."
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