The Nebraska Golf Association has been around in one form or another since the first Nebraska Amateur was conducted in 1905.
The amateur association conducted the championship into the 1950s, but eventually handed the tournament over to the Nebraska PGA. The pros conducted the championship for over a decade, but began to struggle with obtaining host sites.
In addition, golf in the state of Nebraska needed some structure. That’s when Bob Fraser and his friends stepped in.
On November 11, 1966, the Omahan Fraser led a meeting at Lincoln Country Club. In that meeting, the Nebraska Amateur Golf Association became an official entity. Fraser was voted president with Lincoln’s Larry Romjue his vice president. Omaha’s Don Stern was named secretary-treasurer, and other elected board members included Howard McCollister of Omaha, Tom Ludwick of Lincoln, P.M. Anderson of Lincoln, Del Ryder of Grand Island, Don Bridge of Norfolk and Al Blessing of Hastings.
Fraser, a three-time Nebraska Amateur Champion, and the board of directors were tasked with two objectives; give the Amateur a ‘shot in the arm’ and accentuate junior golf.
It didn’t take long for the board to accomplish the first big step toward either objective. In its first attempt at conducting the Amateur, the Association locked down a premier site and crowned a great champion.
Omaha Country Club played host to what would be Bob Astleford’s eighth and final Nebraska Amateur title. It was also his sixth straight. Both are records for the Amateur.
Astleford did it in spectacular fashion too. Just a couple years earlier, he had completed an incredible comeback from seven strokes back in the final round to win the 1965 title in a play-off over Matt Taber of Lincoln. In 1967, it was almost inevitable. Despite being six strokes back to start the final round, with a host of contenders in his way, Astleford leaped the field and finished in a tie with Lincoln’s Charlie Borner. Astleford went on to win his title on the first play-off hole.
The following year, 1968, was a big one for the Association. The Nebraska Junior Amateur was introduced and initially won by Omaha’s Bob Swahn at Holmes Golf Course in Lincoln. The championship began as a combination of match play and stroke play, with 32 players competing in a match play bracket until only eight players were remaining. The format then switched to stroke play, as the top eight players played 36-holes to crown the champion.
Also in 1968, the Association brought back the match play format at the major level, introducing the Nebraska Match Play Championship. The Nebraska Amateur began as a match play tournament in 1905 and continued in the format until the first stroke play only championship in 1956. The Nebraska Match Play started with just the top 16 finishers from the previous year’s Amateur. Lincoln’s Tim Bateman defeated Norfolk’s Don Bridge, 4 and 3, to win the first title. The bracket was eventually expanded to 32 in 1972, with qualifying held for the additional 16 spots.
Del Ryder eventually took over as Executive Director and served in that role till 1988. The Association progressed significantly under the guidance of Ryder. In 1973, the Ryder announced a state-wide handicapping system, to be included in membership of the Association.
A few years later, Ryder arranged for golf courses in Nebraska to be “rated” for the first time. Under a system developed by the United States Golf Association, ratings were conducted by a team from the University of Minnesota.
In 1988, the Association entered a new era, as former Lincoln Journal Star Sports Editor Virgil Parker took the reins from Ryder as the Executive Director. Under Parker the Association continued to grow in numbers and scope, adding several championships along the way. Under Parker, long known as the Nebraska Amateur Golf Association (NAGA), the “Amateur” was dropped from the moniker, becoming the NGA as it is known today.
The Inaugural Nebraska Junior Match Play Championship was conducted in 1990 at Ashland Country Club, and won by Kearney’s Chad Lydiatt. In 1999, the Nebraska Senior Amateur Championship and the Nebraska Mid-Amateur Championship were conducted for the first time. Beatrice Country Club hosted the championships in conjunction, with Lincoln’s Bob Hughett winning the senior title and Friend’s David Clouse winning the mid-amateur title.
Parker served as Executive Director until he passed away in 2001.
Craig Ames, who started as a USGA P.J. Boatwright Intern with the NGA in 1997, took over as Executive Director in 2001 and continues to serve in that role today.
Under Ames, the Association has continued to grow its championship schedule, while also adding other competitive outlets for players of all ages and skill levels. Junior golf is still a main priority of the Association, and juniors in the state now have an unmatched amount of opportunities to learn, play, and compete.
Today the Nebraska Golf Association upholds the traditions of conducting state championships, now totaling 11, while also conducting qualifying for eight USGA Championships. In addition, the NGA presents three select team events, an Interclub program, Fall Junior Series and an Intercollegiate Tournament.
On the junior golf side, the NGA's FORE! program began in 2012 and has given thousands of juniors a chance to play golf for just $4 per round. In a partnership with the Nebraska PGA Section, the NGA presents the Nebraska Junior Golf Tour, which offers over 70 competitive events for juniors of all ages, experience and skill levels. The two organizations also conduct the state’s Drive, Chip and Putt qualifiers, giving juniors a chance to make it to Augusta National Golf Club.
The NGA presently has around 23,000 individual members and more than 150 member clubs, and is the Handicapping, Course Rating and Rules of Golf and Amateur Status authority in the state. Among other benefits, Individual members of the NGA receive a USGA Handicap Index as part of their membership, while member clubs are provided with the USGA's GHIN products, and Course Rating services free of charge.
Through the support of those members and member clubs, the NGA has strengthened the game of golf in Nebraska, and will continue to do so for many years to come.