“DID YOU KNOW”
The 1963 Whitemarsh Open, the richest yet, wasn’t even on the PGA schedule on January 1!
On March 8, 1963 Whitemarsh Valley Country Club member Anthony Cimino and his construction business partner Don Amato, who said he had just learned that a golf ball was round, announced that they would be sponsoring a PGA Tour Whitemarsh Open in the first week of October. The prize money would be $125,000; $15,000 more than the Cleveland Open, scheduled for June. The announcement made it into newspapers all over the United States.
Cimino said that he was confident that 55,000 daily tickets would be sold at an average price of $5. Along with television, a pro-am, parking, concessions and a program book, there would more than enough receipts to cover the tab. Twenty percent of the gross would go to charity. He was hoping the charity connection would encourage the amateur golfers to purchase spots in the pro-am and promote the sale of daily admission tickets. The 1962 PGA Championship at Aronimink Golf Club had drawn 67,000 and Cimino thought Whitemarsh could top that.
The Ryder Cup was being played in Atlanta one week after the Whitemarsh Open. The tournament director said that the British PGA had promised that their players would be playing at Whitemarsh. It was also hoped that most of the United States team would be entered.
Tournament expenses would be around $300,000. Whitemarsh Valley was charging Cimino $25,000 for the use of the course. Daily ticket prices would be Monday and Tuesday $2; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday $5; Saturday and Sunday $6. A ticket for the week, which included grounds, clubhouse and parking, was $35. Grounds and clubhouse was $25. A grounds only pass was $17.
The tournament would be competing for attendance and attention with college football, baseball’s World Series, which was still being played in the afternoons in 1963, and the Philadelphia Eagles would be playing the Dallas Cowboys at home that Sunday.
The second week of August was available, as the $35,000 Eastern Open in Baltimore had recently been canceled. The sponsors told the PGA that after 13 years of the Eastern Open being unprofitable; it was time for better dates. In August the Baltimore golf courses were in poor condition and many local people were vacationing. Even though the August dates were available, WVCC would not give up that week to the Whitemarsh Open.
The 1963 PGA Tour schedule had been planned with a two week gap between the second West Coast swing of the year and the Ryder Cup. But with the offer of $125,000, the Whitemarsh Open was now in that second week.
In July Carling Brewery announced that they would be holding a $200,000 tournament at Detroit in 1964. The Whitemarsh Open tournament director retorted that Whitemarsh would be $210,000 next year.
No one had to enter Whitemarsh, but the money was enticing. Pros that had not been seen on the PGA Tour in years showed up. Just like the 1940s, 1944 PGA champion Bob Hamilton and 1946 Masters champion Herman Keiser drove in together. PGA champions had lifetime exemptions on the PGA Tour. Former PGA champions Jim Turnesa 1952, Walter Burkemo 1953, and Chandler Harper 1950 were entered. Jimmy Demaret, a three time winner of the Masters (1940, 1947, 1950), had entered as well. All 10 members of the US Ryder Cup team were in the field, but no one from the British team was there. They were in Atlanta practicing for the Ryder Cup match, which the US would win 23 points to 9.
With the tournament being played in October the weather was cool and breezy, which made scoring difficult. A five under par 67 led the first round and a pair of 138s led after 36 holes. 151s made the cut. On Saturday Arnold Palmer, who had started with rounds of 70 and 71, put together a 66 to take a three-stroke lead into the final round. On Sunday Palmer had an up and down round of 74. His 281 total edged out 1957 PGA champion Lionel Hebert (282), by one stroke. 51-year old Sam Snead shot a 66 on Sunday to tie Al Balding for third at 283. Palmer picked up the largest check of his career to that time, $26,000, and paid his local Whitemarsh Valley caddy $1,500. Last money was $170, as everyone who made the cut won money. It was Palmer’s lone PGA Tour victory in his home state of Pennsylvania.
The professional golfers made out well. Gary Player, who was traveling with his wife, three children, a nanny and 22 pieces of luggage, made a profit. His expenses for the week were $2,300.
But the tournament was not a financial success for the sponsors. There was no TV contract and only 48,500 paying customers turned out. However 20,500 were there on Sunday, which led to an announcement by the sponsors that the tournament would be back in 1964 with better dates and a purse around $200,000 (1964 was again $125,000). The tournament lasted for 18 years, 1963 to 1980, with different names and different sponsors.