The history of United States Golf Association club membership cannot be discussed without reference to the birth of golf in the United States and the beginnings of the USGA as a golf organization.

The origin of golf clubs in North America can be traced to the year 1786 with the founding of a club in Charleston, S.C., and the charter of the Royal Montreal Golf Club in 1873. Golf was played at Oakhurst, W. Va., in 1884, the Dorset Field Club, Vt., in 1886, and in Foxburg, Pa., in 1887. The St. Andrews Club in Hastings-on-the-Hudson, N.Y., has been documented as the longest continually running club since its founding in 1888.

As much as historians focus on golf history in the Northeast, USGA club members have told us that the game was introduced to other areas, some not often referenced in history books, including Brookline, Mass., in 1882; Princeton, Ind., 1883; Tacoma, Wash., 1884; Kingman, Kan., 1887; Fullerton, Neb., 1887; St. Paul, Minn., 1888; Rockwood, Maine, 1889; Indianapolis, Ind., 1891; Chicago, Ill., 1892; Gearheart, Ore., 1892; Southampton, N.Y., 1892; Burlingame, Calif., 1893; Newport, R.I., 1893, and many more cities prior to 1900.

In 1894 both St. Andrews and Newport, R.I., golf clubs declared that the winner of their respective invitational tournament was the Amateur Champion of the United States. This dilemma, as well as the need to codify, interpret and modify the Rules of Golf and the Rules of Amateur Status, reinforced the need to create one authoritative body governing golf in the United States.

Delegates from five clubs: St. Andrews, N.Y.; Newport, R.I.; Shinnecock Hills, N.Y.; Chicago Golf Club, Ill.; and the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., met in New York City in the fall of 1894. The Amateur Golf Association of the United States, later to be known as United States Golf Association, was formed on Dec. 22, 1894. Championship play began at Newport Golf Club where both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open were played in October 1895.

The United States Golf Association, founded in 1894, evolved to be a golf service organization of member clubs, courses, and qualified training facilities, incorporated as a non-profit organization. The USGA is guided by 30 committees, comprised of 1,400 volunteers, under the direction of a 15 member Executive Committee. The USGA is governed by nine articles that comprise its formal organizational by-laws.

While being the authoritative body concerning the Rules of Golf and amateur status in the United States, the USGA would ultimately grow to conduct 13 national championships, including the U.S. Open and the U.S. Amateur.

The five founding members began to invite other club representatives to their annual meeting and slowly added members to the USGA. Member dues started at $25 for clubs waiting to be declared full members. In 1939 all clubs paid $30 to maintain their membership. Club membership increased from 267 members in 1910 to 1,138 members in 1932, then fell to 816 clubs primarily because of the Great Depression and the start of World War II. By 1947 the USGA gained enough members to pass the 1932 membership level, and start a slow ascent. In 1980 the USGA roster exceeded 5,000 member clubs.

Aided by an unprecedented course building boom in the golf industry and a campaign to recruit new members, the USGA added 3,300 club members between 1987 and 1997, then added another 700 members by the end of the Millennium. Today the USGA club membership includes more than 9,700 golf clubs, golf courses and qualified training facilities.

In the late 1980s the USGA actively encouraged the formation of clubs without real estate. Today clubs without real estate have grown to a 5 percent representation of the total membership.

In 1995 USGA member by-laws were modified to allow enrollment of qualified golf practice centers and schools under the banner of "training facilities".

As recently as 1985 the USGA club membership was comprised of 75 percent private clubs. In the past 20 years the organization’s profile changed to having 64 percent of its members organized as public or semi-private golf courses, public non-real-estate clubs and practice facilities. In the past five years, three out of every four new members had a public golf orientation.

Today, USGA member club representatives control or own 10,600 golf courses with 171,000 holes, providing employment for thousands of people and places of play for millions of golfers. More than 680 clubs hold qualifying rounds for USGA or state golf championships. More than 400 member clubs have hosted a USGA championship.

Above all, USGA member clubs proudly uphold the traditions of golf and the USGA, established more than 111 years ago.