The Professional Golfers' Association was the brainchild of Rodman Wanamaker, a retailer in New York, who saw the opportunity for further sales by establishing the association and a major tournament in 1916. Walter Hagen was one of the 35 attendees at the first meeting to explore the concept of an organization of professional golfers. The first PGA Championship was played a few months later at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, New York. World War I prevented the tournament from being played in 1917 and 1918, but it resumed in 1919.
The championship's original format was match play, with players playing 36 holes per round and the loser in each match eliminated. The match-play format continued until 1958, when the tournament was changed to stroke-play competition over 72 holes. In 1976, the PGA Championship became the first major championship to change from an 18-hole playoff to the sudden-death format.
Walter Hagen dominated the first decade of the Championship, winning five times (1921, '24, '25, '26, '27). Gene Sarazen set a number of records. He was only 20 years old when he won in 1922, the youngest to win the PGA title. He won in again in 1923 and '33. Sarazen also set a record by playing in 1972 at age 70, the oldest player to ever participate in the PGA Championship. The 1940s were dominated by golf legends Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, who won six championships among them in that decade. After the tournament resumed in 1919, it has been played every year with the exception of 1943, when it was canceled because of World War II. After Snead's 1951 victory, the event had 19 different champions over the next 19 years (1952-1970). The 1960s through 1980s saw the blossoming of golf stars Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer. Missing from the stellar lineup of PGA Championship winners is Palmer. He finished second in 1964, '68 and '70. However, Palmer does have at least one PGA Championship record. He was the first player in the event to post four rounds in the 60s. Nicklaus finally tied Hagen with five PGA Championships when he won at Oak Hill in 1980. That duo is followed by Tiger Woods with four PGA Championship victories. Woods won his first PGA Championship at age 23 in 1999, after winning the Masters and British Open earlier that season. Woods went on to win three more PGA titles (2000, '06, '07). Since 1994, the PGA Championship has been the major championship with the most top-100 players in the world rankings, giving it the most depth of any major field. The 2002 PGA played at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota set a record with 98 of the top 100 players entering.
The first PGA Championship purse was $2,500 in 1916. By 1950, it had grown to only $17,700, with the first-place winner taking home $3,500. When the format changed to stroke play in 1958, the purse was increased to $39,388, with the winner earning $5,500. From 1964, when the purse totaled $100,002, prize money more than doubled to $225,000 in 1974. The purse was $700,300 in 1984; $1,748,125 in 1994; and $6,225,300 in 2004. In recent years, the purse has escalated to $8 million, with 2011 champion Keegan Bradley receiving $1,445,000 for his victory.
While the early championships were played on mostly private courses, public courses have come to the forefront during 1990s and on into the 21st century. Through 2011, the tournament had taken place on 71 courses in 25 states. Ohio has seen the most championships, followed by New York and Pennsylvania.