“DID YOU KNOW’
A club professional was responsible for changing the PGA Championship to stroke play!
In July 1957 Lyons and several Llanerch members took a trip to Ohio to check out the PGA Championship that was being played at the Miami Valley CC. They were there to learn what they could about hosting a major golf championship.
On returning home, Lyons began talking to the Llanerch members along with PGA club professionals and playing professionals about the possibility of changing the format of the PGA Championship, which had been contested at match play for 42 years, to stroke play. Finding a large majority in favor of a change, Lyons wrote a letter to the PGA of America laying out his reasons for a change to stroke play.
He wrote that he had recently witnessed the best championship the PGA had ever held, but it had lost money. The $42,000 in prize money was almost $14,000 more than that years’ U.S. Open but some of the PGA’s best players did not enter. He said there was something missing other than losing money.
With stroke play more PGA members could play in the tournament and the best players in the world would enter. Four days of stroke play would draw more spectators than match play. The tournament would show a profit and more facilities would be bidding to host the championship. Also with stroke play television companies might be interested, which would make the tournament even more profitable.
In November Lyons was in California at the PGA’s national meeting campaigning for changing the PGA Championship to stroke play. The delegates from the various PGA Sections then voted in favor of a change to stroke play. With the change in place Lyons spoke to Llanerch member John Facenda, who was the nightly news anchor at Philadelphia’s CBS affiliate WCAU, and later the voice of NFL films, about televising the tournament. Facenda spoke to his superiors at CBS. A contract with the PGA was worked out.
When the championship was played in July 1958 the last three holes on Saturday and Sunday along with the trophy presentation were televised, for a total of two and one-half hours. A young man named Frank Chirkinian who was the program director for WCAU produced the telecast and Jack Whitaker, who reported on sports, interviewed the stars like Tommy Bolt who had just won the U.S. Open.
Lyons spent many hours promoting the tournament. He made 70 talks to civic groups and the media, sold advertising for the program book and tickets to the tournament. Before it was all over Lyons had attended more than 100 planning meetings at his club.
After the tournament was over and all the counting had been done the PGA officers announced that their championship had turned a profit for the first time in recent years. Attendance for the week was 45,000 and the receipts from the ticket sales were $81,557. Revenue from advertising in the program book came to $43,919. The PGA and their tournament manager received 60% of those monies and the other 40% went to the Llanerch Country Club. The PGA paid out $37,500 in prize money and other expenses from its share. Llanerch kept all the money from concessions such as food and parking.
As a bonus the PGA and its championship received a great deal of added publicity.