Beginning with the first Ryder Cup match between the PGA of America and the British PGA, the matches always operated at a financial deficit. Over the years the Ryder Cup only existed with the financial assistance of those two organizations. Not only would they lose money on the Ryder Cup, the team members were impacted financially. There was no prize money and due to travel being by ocean voyage until the 1950s, the visiting team members would be away from home for a couple of weeks. As most of those professionals were head professionals at golf facilities, being away meant loss of income from golf lessons, tournament play or exhibitions. Only a few professionals, like Walter Hagen or Gene Sarazen, were able to make a living by just playing golf.
The Ryder Cup was played every other year from 1927 to 1937, only to be put on hold due to the war in Europe in 1939. The 1939 match was to have been hosted by the Ponte Vedra Inn & Golf Club near Jacksonville, Florida. A.B. “Al” Nelson, who had been the professional at the Yardley Country Club, and a Philadelphia PGA officer, was now the professional there.
During the war years the PGA still continued to select Ryder Cup Teams. The Cup Team would play challenge matches against other professionals of note with the proceeds going to wartime charities. Following the war, the matches resumed, but continued to lose money.
In 1953 a challenge match was played with the ten Ryder Cup Team members facing off against ten challengers in the Ryder Cup format on the third weekend of September. The plan was to help defray the expenses of the team members who were going to be competing in the upcoming Ryder Cup match in England. A similar match had been played in Boston in 1949. It was through the hard work of the Berks County Golf Association and its history of having recently hosted five successful Reading Opens that Reading was selected by the PGA.
On Friday, the 20 professional golfers, along with some local pros, played in a pro-am at Reading’s Berkshire Country Club, which offered $1,500 in prize money. Jackie Burke picked up $350 for the lowest professional score, while putting together a course record 63.
On the weekend the professionals were at Reading Country Club for the challenge matches. There were five two-ball (alternate stroke) matches on Saturday, five four-ball matches on Sunday morning and ten singles matches on Sunday afternoon. Tickets for spectators were $2 on Friday, $3 Saturday, $4 Sunday or $6 for the three days.
Lloyd Mangrum was the playing captain of the Ryder Cup Team. Two of his team members were Philadelphia PGA members, Ed “Porky” Oliver and Dave Douglas. The Challengers captained by Jimmy Demaret were a formidable group, with several players, like Tommy Bolt, Doug Ford and Lew Worsham who won major championships. He also had three Philadelphia Section members, Henry Williams, Jr., George Fazio and Al Besselink, on his team. The Ryder Cup Team members prevailed by the count of 12-1/2 points to 7-1/2. The exhibition drew 3,000 spectators on Saturday and 3,000 again on Sunday. Each Ryder Cup Team member received $850 and each challenger received $400. Another $2,500 was presented to the Ryder Cup Team to help with its expenses.
Reading, a small city of 100,000, had raised $15,000 along with the pro-am money, for the PGA of America and its Ryder Cup team members. The total purse at the PGA Championship that year had been $20,700. It was not a bad three-day gig, even for the challengers. One week earlier a tie for eighth at the $15,000 Eastern Open in Baltimore had earned $460.