DUNCANSVILLE - Conducting national golf championships is one of the main functions of the United States Golf Association.
Founded in 1894, the organization is mostly known for staging one of golf's four major tournaments - the U.S. Open - in addition to other prestigious events like the U.S. Amateur, Women's U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open.
Earlier this year, the USGA announced the introduction of two new championships, the first national championships added to the organization's roster in more than 25 years. The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship and U.S. Women's Amateur Championship will be played between mid-March and late May beginning in 2015.
The USGA has a long history and tradition of conducting tournaments of the highest caliber, and these new championships are just two of 13 that the USGA conducts on an annual basis (the men's and women's U.S. Public Links Championships will be discontinued after the 2014 season.)
Semantically, "four-ball" is a golfing term also known as "better-ball" or "best-ball," representing a competition consisting of two-man teams - each playing their own ball on every hole and counting the lowest score between the two.
Best-ball format has become very popular in central Pennsylvania over the years.
The Park Hills Country Club led the way, in 1968, when it staged the first local best-ball classic. Within a few years, nearly all local clubs followed with a version of their own. Today, annual best-ball invitationals are typically the most popular event on any local club's golf calendar.
With its announcement, the USGA cited the growing popularity of the "best-ball" format as a major factor in creating these new championships. In 2012, more than 150 four-ball championships were conducted by regional golf associations across the country.
The Pennsylvania Golf Association has been holding its own better-ball championship for more than two decades while the West Penn Golf Association conducts one of the longest-running four-ball tournaments in the country. The WPGA, who claims that best-ball is the most common form of play in western Pennsylvania, held their first four-ball tournament in 1939.
With all that said, one may wonder why it took so long for the USGA to establish its own four-ball event. Nonetheless, the USGA is looking forward to adding this new format to their portfolio of national championships.
"We couldn't be more excited about the creation of national four-ball championships, given the popularity and enjoyment of this competitive format at the amateur level," USGA Championship Committee Chairman Thomas J. O'Toole, Jr. said. "Because the four-ball format lends itself to spirited team competition and aggressive risk-reward shot-making. We are confident these championships will deliver exciting amateur golf to the national stage for both players and spectators alike."
The USGA's Four-Ball Championships will begin with sectional qualifying at several sites across the country in 2015 - open to all amateur golfers with a handicap index of 5.4 or less. The championship field will consist of 64 two-player teams playing 36 holes of stroke play. The low-32 teams will then be seeded for a match-play format used to determine the champion.
In our area, the summer months are filled with some of the finest best-ball tournaments in the state. The new USGA Amateur Four-Ball Championships will give many of our top competitors the opportunity to compete for a national championship in this popular format.
The area's best amateur golfer, Artie Fink, Jr., has been very successful in local best-ball events over the past two decades. He also has experience competing in USGA events, having been selected to compete in the 2010 USGA State Team Championships.
"Anytime you get the chance to compete in a USGA event, it's an honor," Fink said. "They always do a great job with their tournaments, and the events are typically played on some of the best courses in the country. I'm looking forward to the opportunity of competing in this new tournament format."