What became recognised as the first Amateur Championship was held at Hoylake in 1885, although earlier national amateur competitions had been played at St Andrews in 1857, 1858 and 1859 and the R&A had considered holding a national amateur tournament in 1876 but decided not to proceed with the idea.
In December 1884, Thomas Owen Potter, the Secretary of Royal Liverpool Golf Club, proposed holding a championship for amateur players. The event was to be open to members of recognised clubs and it was hoped that it would make the game more popular and lead to improved standards of play.
A total of 44 players from 12 clubs entered the first championship. The format was match play, with the ruling that if two players tied they would both advance to the following round and play one another again. There were three semi-finalists, John Ball, Horace Hutchinson and Allan Macfie. After a bye to the final, Macfie beat Hutchinson 7&6.
Following the success of the first tournament, it was agreed that a championship open to all amateurs should be played at St Andrews, Hoylake and Prestwick in rotation.
A total of twenty-four golf clubs subscribed for the trophy, which was acquired in 1886. They were:
- Honourable Company
- King James VI
- New North Berwick
- Royal Aberdeen
- Royal Albert (Montrose)
- Royal and Ancient
- Royal Blackheath
- Royal Burgess
- Royal Liverpool
- Royal North Devon
- Royal St George's
- Royal Wimbledon
- West Lancashire
Representatives, known as Delegates of the Associated Clubs, were elected from these clubs to run the championship and in 1919 they approached the R&A to accept future management. The Club agreed and in 1920 the Championship Committee was formed. This committee became responsible for organising the Amateur and Open and for making decisions on the conditions of play.
It was not until 1922 that the 1885 tournament was officially recognised as the first Amateur Championship and Allan Macfie the first winner.
The venue circuit gradually increased. Sandwich was added in 1892, Muirfield in 1897 and Westward Ho! in 1912. In its entire history, the event has been to 22 locations throughout Britain. It first went to Ireland in 1949 (Portmarnock) and Wales in 1951 (Porthcawl).
Prior to 1930, only two non-British players took the Amateur Championship title, Walter Travis, who won in 1904, and Jesse Sweetser, who won in 1926. Both hailed from the United States, the former via Australia.
The Americans began to make their presence felt more strongly in the 1930s, with four Americans winning five Amateur Championships. Bobby Jones took the title at St Andrews in 1930, the year in which he achieved the grand slam. Lawson Little won in 1934 and 1935, Robert Sweeney in 1937 and Charles Yates in 1938.
Following a break during World War Two, the Amateur resumed in 1946 at Birkdale when the handicap limit was raised from one to two as an encouragement to those amateurs who had been on war service.
Attempts were made during the 1950s and 1960s to control large numbers of entries. In 1956, the field was limited to 200, so that the quarter-final and semi-final matches and the final could be played over 36 holes. This experiment lasted two years, when it was decided that only the semi-finals and final should be played over two rounds.
Regional qualifying over 36 holes was introduced in 1958 when 14 courses throughout the UK were selected. Using this method, the original entry of 500 was reduced to 200. Any play lay stages."