The New Year’s Invitational has been played at St Petersburg Country Club every year since 1927. Its original format was match play, changing to stroke play in 1956.
The tournament’s early decades featured mostly local competitors with a few notable exceptions. In 1928 the winner was 17-year old Johnny Revolta, at the time serving as one of the club’s lockerroom attendants and part-time course ranger. Revolta went on to a professional career with 18 victories including the 1935 PGA Championship. Beginning in 1939, Jim Caputo of Andover, Massachusetts won six consecutive Invitationals, setting a record not likely to be eclipsed.
The first stroke play winner was Bob Goalby. He went on to a long PGA Tour career, including a Masters title in 1968. Pete Arend, a New Jersey native who wintered in St Petersburg, set the early-72 hole record in 1959 with a 285 total. Arend’s second round 63 remains the lowest score recorded in the tournament.
In 1965, the tournament was reduced to 54 holes, retaining that format through 1975. Jack Veghte, one of Florida’s finest amateurs in the 1960’s and 70’s, produced the lowest winning total, shooting 207 in 1965. Gary Koch won in 1974 and subsequently seven times on the PGA Tour. Buddy Alexander won the first of his six Invitational titles in 1972. Buddy’s father, Skip Alexander, was our head professional from 1951 to 1984.
In 1976, the tournament returned to 72 holes and made a concerted effort to invite some of the best amateurs around the country. Players from college golf powers like Wake Forest, Florida and Oklahoma State began participating on a regular basis.
Pete Arend’s scoring record of 285 set in 1959 was not bettered until 1980 when Wake Forest’s Gary Hallberg won with a 277 total. This record stood until Buddy Alexander won his sixth Invitational in 1991 with rounds of 68-67-71-66 for a 272 total. In 1999, one of Buddy’s players at Florida, Steve Scott, lowered that record by a shot. Steve is perhaps best remembered as the runner-up to Tiger Woods in the 1996 US Amateur, that final match going 39 holes.
Just a year later, Jeff Klauk from Florida Southern celebrated the millennium by shooting what remains the 72-hole record with rounds of 67-68-67-65-267. Jeff had been runnerup in the 1998 and 1999 New Year’s but left no doubt with an 8-shot victory on his third try.
2002 marked the last victory by a mid-amateur when John Corzilius, then 40, defeated Brandt Snedeker by 3 strokes to win his third New Year’s. Between 1987 and 2004, John finished sixth or better in the Invitational 15 times, a remarkable record for consistency.
In 2003, J B Holmes passed third round leader Snedeker with a final round 66. Brandt returned the favor in 2004, closing with rounds of 67-66 to beat J B on the 72nd hole by a shot. In 2005 Indiana’s Jeff Overton came from 5 shots behind to win. Later that summer Jeff won the clinching match for a victorious US Walker Cup side.
Peter Uihlein won the 2009 Invitational and went on to win the US Amateur the same year. 2010 saw the first playoff since 1995, with Florida’s Tommy Mou defeating Michael McGowan and Nuno Henriquez on the second extra hole. In 2011, Cal-Berkeley’s Brandon Hagy established a lead in the final round, lost it but came back with eagle at 18 to win by a shot. 2012 witnessed another playoff, taking a record-setting six holes. Virginia Tech’s Garland Green prevailed over Tennessee-Chattanooga’s Stephan Jaeger and former USGA Junior champ Jim Liu.
Toni Hakula of the University of Texas played the last 4 holes in 5 under par to win the 2013 title. Sam Horsfield, then a high school junior, won in 2014. Sam repeated in 2015, chipping in on the 72nd hole for eagle to win by a shot over LSU’s Brandon Pierce. Sam will be a freshman at the University of Florida this fall and we look forward to his defending his twice-won title.
The Invitational established a senior division in 1983. Having been through several format modifications, in 2009 the competition settled on a 54-hole event ending Saturday, all senior play from the white tees. Several notable amateurs have won our senior division, including famed golf artist Bud Champman and former New Year’s winners Bob Rankin and Phil Leckey. In 2012 Jim Holbrook added a second senior title to his 2009 win and, at 70, became the senior division’s oldest winner. Tom Hyland won in 2013 and 2014. Dennis Monahan, one of our area’s best senior players, shot even par 216 to win in 2015.