Photo courtesy of Philadelphia PGA
Celebrating its centennial, the Philadelphia PGA takes a look at its past events throughout Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.
Tredyffrin Country Club is long gone now, having perished in 1943 after a relatively brief 26-year existence on the southern section of what was the Dingee Farm in Paoli. But in terms of golf history in the Philadelphia region, it holds a unique and important designation. On June 2, 1922, seven months to the day after the Philadelphia Section of the PGA was formed, Tredyffrin hosted the first-ever section championship. The one-day, 36-hole tournament ended in a tie. The two men deadlocked at the top—Charley Hoffner and Jack Campbell—played an 18-hole tiebreaker two days later, with Hoffner’s becoming the first ever champ.
Those days of bowties and plus-fours seem quaint in 2021, but they were vital to a region that’s now teeming with golf enthusiasts and filled with places to play the game. Now, 100 years after its Dec. 2, 1921, formation, golfers and club pros throughout the Philadelphia section’s sphere of influence are celebrating its centennial. And it’s quite a sphere—from State College to the east in Pennsylvania, Trenton to the south in New Jersey, the entire state of Delaware, and a piece of Maryland. “The game is as popular as it’s ever been,” says Geoff Surrette, the section’s executive director. “It’s a cradle-to-grave pursuit that’s built around camaraderie and fair play.”
The PGA was formed nationally in 1916. That same year, worried that one organization wouldn’t be able to serve golfers from coast to coast, pros from around the country convened in New York to discuss creating chapters. Of the seven sections that were created, the Philadelphia group was initially combined with West Virginia and the rest of the Eastern Seaboard. That lasted nearly five years before members decided there needed to be greater segmentation. Seven became 24, and the Philadelphia section was born.
There had been talk about starting a Philadelphia-area section for a while, and when the area’s best golfers gathered at Tredyffrin in November for the Main Line Open, much of the chatter was about the possibility. Less than a month later, the Philadelphia PGA was born, and the first meeting was at the A.G. Spalding and Bros. building in downtown Philadelphia, with president Bob Barnett presiding. There are two ways to become a member. One is to complete the Professional Golf Management program at one of 18 different universities throughout the country, including Penn State University. The other is through 800 hours of training and testing in the Green Grass Associates program. “The PGA’s role is to introduce people to the game and keep them in the game,” says Pete Trenham, a former club pro at Philadelphia Country Club and St. Davids Golf Club who’s now the Philadelphia PGA’s historian. “It’s a difficult game, and people take it up and find out that it’s too hard for them.”
While the area’s PGA affiliate has helped golfers for a century, it’s also been able to provide service to the community over the years. In 1943, at the height of World War II, member professionals from the Philadelphia PGA, along with the men’s and women’s chapters of the Golf Association of Philadelphia staged a golf exhibition at Bala Golf Club to raise funds for a Red Cross ambulance. What ended up coming out of the event was a golf course, built just south of Phoenixville at the Valley Forge General Hospital, for wounded veterans. It opened in 1944. Eventually, the PGA pros helped sponsor the construction of four other facilities for injured vets.
Starting in 1976 and extending to 2005, the Philadelphia PGA worked to raise funds and awareness for the Variety Club.
Two legendary stints at section clubs are highlights of the Philadelphia PGA’s rich 100-year history. It’s hard to imagine a more august applicant pool for a head professional’s job than the one Reading Country Club boasted in 1937. Two Texans, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan—who’d each be considered among the greatest ever to play the game—vied for a spot that eventually went to Nelson. It was a pretty big few years for Nelson at his post. He won his only Masters tournament in 1937 and his only U.S. Open two years later. Hogan eventually landed at Hershey Country Club, another Philadelphia PGA section club, from 1941–51. During that time, he enjoyed his most prosperous period, winning two U.S. Opens, two PGA championships and a Masters. In 1946, he won 13 PGA Tour events, and in ’48, he captured 10.
Section clubs have hosted the PGA Championship five times, including Llanerch in 1958, when unheralded Don Finsterwald shocked the golf world by winning, and four years later at Aronimink, when South African Gary Player took the trophy. “Those are all great moments,” Surrette says.
In 2003, the senior PGA tournament took place at Aronimink Golf Club, and the PGA Championship returns there in 2026.
The 100-year celebration will take many forms, including a centennial print created by noted golf artist Lee Wybranski that commemorates the first-ever section meeting against the backdrop of Aronimink, with all different section logos over the past 100 years displayed. Throughout the first part of this year and continuing for the rest of 2021, the Philadelphia PGA website has been featuring icons throughout its history. Included are Charlie Sifford, the first person of color to compete in a PGA Tour event and a regular at the Cobbs Creek course in Philadelphia. Also featured is Norristown’s George Fazio, who was a pro at six different area clubs. “We’ll be tweeting and posting about our members and some of the bigger events in our history,” says Matt Frey, the section’s communications director.
Local TV’s Inside Golf will feature regular installments on the area’s golf history, and the celebration culminates Oct. 18 with the Centennial Pro-Am at Saucon Valley Country Club. Golf pros from clubs around the section will team with three of their members in the team event. PGA of America president Jim Richardson will be on hand to help commemorate the landmark anniversary that has been 100 years in the making.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia PGA remains committed to its work in the community. Among its initiatives: free clinics for veterans, a diversity scholarship for junior golfers, and participation in the national PGA’s First Tee and Reach efforts. “We’ve always used the catch phrase, ‘Our sport needs to look more like the community,’” Surrette says. “For golf as a sport to continue to exist, we need to invite as many people in as possible.”