The name changes came as a result of various athletic groups combin-
ing or withdrawing charter support.
When the Athletic Club of Philadelphia withdrew its backing and
World War I started, the club found itself in some financial turmoil. In
stepped Thomas Fitzgerald of Lansdowne, Pa., a wealthy furniture retailer
and part owner of the Philadelphia Athletics. He purchased several parcels
of property the club sat on between 1915 and 1918 to become the
club’s owner. Prior, the course land was leased.
It also began the time of great transition. The greens were converted to
grass in 1916. Fitzgerald acquired all of the property the course lived on
by 1918. In September of that year, a fire destroyed the clubhouse and
killed two employees, including William Furlong, the general manager.
Fitzgerald singlehandedly took up the resurrection of the clubhouse and
reorganized the club’s charter as Llanerch.
On May 28, 1919, the new Llanerch charter was procured and stated
its purpose, “ … a club for social enjoyment and the encouragement and
perpetuation of games of golf, cricket, tennis and athletic sports.”
The Scotsman Findlay was consulted in 1922. The new course
opened on Labor Day in 1924.
In 1927, Fitzgerald added more adjacent acreage, and another nine holes
was constructed, making it a 27-hole facility. Economics became an issue after World War II, though, and all the property south of Edmonds Avenue to
Concord Avenue was developed with houses. In 1946, the club purchased
119 acres and hired James McGovern, a Donald Ross associate, to develop
a new 18-hole rotation. McGovern built four greens and 12 tees. The club
then purchased an additional 17 acres in 1948 it was already using. The
new layout opened in April 1949 and measured 6,482 yards and played
to a par 72. That’s what lives today
(although it is now a par 71).
Precision strikes and small,
treacherous putting surfaces remain
Llanerch’s calling card. Don’t be
above the flag.
The course underwent its most
recent renovation in 2004. That included bunkers, greens, tree removal
and expanding irrigation to include
the rough. Healthy turf, accurate shot
making and splendid course views
rule the day. There are now various
junctures on the property where
more than half the holes are visible
from a single vantage point.
Beginning this year, and continu-
ing through next, a new renovation
project is slated. All bunkers will be redone. Irrigation heads are going
to be brought to the greens. And the green complexes themselves are to
be expanded back to those early-to-mid 1900 times. An example: No.
18 currently is 40 feet wide by 55 feet deep. It will be 60 feet by 70 feet
when the project is done.
Renaissance Golf Design and Brian Schneider are spearheading the project. o
GOING HAND-AND-HAND with its love of the course is
the club’s penchant to give back to the local golfing community.
Llanerch regularly hosts amateur and professional events.
It was the site for the 1945 Philadelphia Inquirer Invitation tourna-
ment, a PGA TOUR event. Byron Nelson was the winner, shooting a
final-round 63 to beat Jug McSpaden by two shots. That was Nelson’s
seventh of 11 consecutive victories – still a PGA TOUR record.
In 1958, it changed one of golf’s professional Majors for good.
Host of that year’s PGA Championship, then pro Marty Lyons recom-
mended to the Professional Golf Association of America to change the
format from match to stroke play.
In a letter to then PGA of America President Joe Cronin, Lyons, who
himself was a leader on both the local and national golfing scene, spelled
out six reasons to make a change. The bulleted points ranged from
watching professionals play for four days over 18 holes (not all top stars
played before due to the match play component) to generating more gate
revenue with more spectators.
The PGA agreed. Dow Finsterwald won by two shots over Billy Casper
and Sam Snead that year. It was Arnold Palmer’s first ever PGA.
The year before the Championship lost money. With the changes,
the Philadelphia Bulletin reported the 1958 event was going to clear more
than $40,000. Attendance that week, with a better field playing more
golf, was 45,000.
If that wasn’t enough, it was the first PGA Championship broadcast
by network television. CBS provided nationwide coverage Saturday and
Sunday. Famed golf producer/director Frank Chirkinian, the father of
This early 1900s postcard solicited prospective members to
Delaware County Field Club, as Llanerch was once called.
The gallery gathers around the then hole No. 8 during the 1945
Philadelphia Inquirer Invitation, which was won by Byron Nelson
– the seventh of his record 11 consecutive victories that year.