Beginning in 2013, The Southwestern Golf Association (SWGA) and Desert Mountain announced an agreement calling for the tournament to be contested on one of Desert Mountain’s seven golf courses. Desert Mountain is one of the world’s premier, private golf meccas offering six award-winning Jack Nicklaus Signature golf courses, more than any other private community in the world.
Started in 1915 as a regional tournament for private club members to compete against the top amateurs from other southwestern golf clubs, the Southwestern Golf Association was organized in Douglas, Arizona. Pre-dating the Arizona and Sun Country Golf Associations, the Southwestern Golf Association was the original organizing body for the clubs around the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas.
Developed with volunteers from each member club, the Southwestern Golf Association’s original mission was to annually conduct the Southwestern Amateur Golf Championship and promote golf throughout the amateur communities in the desert southwest. Today, the volunteer Board of Directors carries on this tradition.
Several of the original members of the association have histories longer than the states in which they reside. Original member clubs hosting the Southwestern Amateur include Phoenix Country Club, Tucson Country Club, El Paso Country Club, Arizona Country Club and Yuma Country Club. Several of the original member clubs represented have now become resort facilities including the Biltmore, Wigwam and San Marcos.
As the longest running regional amateur tournament in the southwestern United States, the tournament has been played on an annual basis at a variety of sites in Arizona, California, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico and across the border in Juarez, Mexico.
E.C. Robinson won the inaugural tournament played in Douglas, Arizona. Club professional Scott Frisch won the championship three straight years (1987-1989) and noted Tucson amateur Dr. Ed Updegraff captured four titles in 1954-55, 1961 and 1969.
The tournament format was originally match-play between competitors and included a team competition. Some history of the tournament indicates the team competition was actually conducted as early as 1908, before the association of golf clubs was formally developed. The earliest competitions included only 30 to 40 players.
The tournament format was changed in 1966 to the current day format of stroke-play. Golf was becoming extremely popular across the United Sates and interest grew because of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. In an effort to make the tournament accessible to more players and many of the top-ranked amateur players from around the country, the tournament format was changed and the field size increased to 90 then later to more than 144 players.
As demand for top-ranked amateur players has increased, the tournament committee now issues invitations to participate in the tournament. Players not previously invited may still enter the tournament after January 1st through an application process. In order to submit an entry, men must possess a verifiable handicap index of 1.4 or better and women must possess a verifiable handicap index of 3.2 or better.
Although the tournament’s popularity continues to grow, the Directors have had to limit the field size. In the 1990’s the Directors established an exemption list of players that meet certain qualifications or those that have obtained national status or reputation from their results in other top amateur tournaments.
In 2011 the SWGA Board decided to make a big step to improve the championship by moving the annual event from a different course and venue every year, to what the Board considered the best venue in the Southwest. The result was a creation of a Partnership with the Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Club has six championship courses on property with some of the best amenities of any resort/club. Desert Mountain has hosted the PGA TOUR Champions major, The Tradition, as well as the PGA TOUR Champions final event, the Schwab Cup, and several other amateur tournaments.
With the continued growth and international popularity of the game, especially with women, the Board undertook another significant improvement in 2019. The Board opened the field with the implementation of the Southwestern Amateur Women’s Division. The 2020 championship was cancelled due to COVID. However, the 2021 championship, played on Desert Mountain’s Outlaw course was a success, with a full field of 72 women. The WAGR tournament power ranking placed the Women’s Division championship in the top 10 for women’s tournaments open “to all ages”.
The fields for both the Men’s and Women’s Divisions feature players from all over the USA and many other countries. In 2021 there were players from 22 different states and 12 countries.
Le Ann Finger
Founded in 1983, the Junior Golf Association of Arizona (JGAA) is a non-profit organization that introduces Arizona’s youth to the game of golf and helps junior golfers develop golf and life skills through competitive programs and tournaments. In addition to developing programs at schools and assisting Arizona golf courses with their junior programs, the JGAA conducts more than 100 programs and activities, including etiquette clinics, tournaments, and college prep seminars throughout Arizona each year. Our mission is to educate, motivate and inspire future leaders through the game of golf.
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