What Is an 'Invitational' Golf Tournament?

Caddie bibs for the PGA Tour's WGC Bridgestone Invitational tournament
Caddie bibs for the Bridgestone Invitational, a WGC invitational tournament on the PGA Tour. Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

An "invitational" is a type of golf tournament in which the golfers who are competing are limited to those who have been issued an invitation to play, or who have met pre-set criteria that automatically qualified them to receive an invitation.

Golf Invitationals vs. Opens

Invitationals and opens are the two main types of golf tournaments, as far as classifying the type of player roster. (A third, the close or closed, is a tournament type that is limited to a specific sub-set of golfers. The Irish Close Amateur, for example, is limited only to amateur golfers who are from Ireland.)

An "invitational" is distiguished from an "open" thusly: The Podunk Golf Association Invitational would only be open to members of the Podunk Golf Association or those golfers the Podunk Golf Association specifically invited to play. However, the Podunk Golf Association Open would be open to any golfer in the community who wanted to participate and who met any criteria set by the association.

Invitationals vs. Opens in the Major Championships

There are four major championships in men's golf. Two of them are opens and two of them are invitationals:

The U.S. and British opens both have requirements in place of any golfer who wants to try to play (maximum handicaps, entry fees). But any golfer who can meet those criteria can attempt to play his way into the field by entering qualifying events.

The Masters and PGA Championship, on the other hand, are not open to anyone who wants to try to qualify. They both use a list of automatic qualifying criteria, and only the small number of golfers who meet those criteria are invited to play. There is no way for an average golfer to attempt to play his way into those fields outside of those automatic qualifying criteria. That makes them invitationals.

(Note that there is one open element to the PGA Championship—PGA club professionals can play their way into the tournament via the PGA Professional Championship. Those golfers are given 20 spots in the PGA Championship field, the rest of which is filled as an invitational.)

As for the five major championships in women's pro golf:

(Note that a very small number of spots in the field for the three invitationals are awarded via qualifiers, giving each of them a very small number of "open" spots.)