President Warren G. Harding’s schedule changed the dates of the 1921 Philadelphia Open!

President Warren G. Harding’s schedule changed the dates of the 1921 Philadelphia Open!

At the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s annual meeting in early 1921, it was announced that its Philadelphia Open would be played in southern New Jersey at the newly constructed Pine Valley Golf Club. The Pine Valley officials said that the GAP should be ready with a back-up plan as there were four unfinished holes on the course. As the year wore on it became apparent that Pine Valley would not be ready by the July tournament dates, so Whitemarsh Valley Country Club agreed to host the tournament.  

On July 10 the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the starting date of the US Open, which had been scheduled to begin on Monday July 18, was being moved to the 19th due to US President Warren G. Harding’s schedule. The US Open was being hosted by the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The USGA wanted to have President Harding play the first tee shot of the tournament, and then be in attendance on the last day for the closing ceremony, to present the trophy to the winner. 

With that, the GAP had a problem. Their plan had been for the two-day Philadelphia Open to begin the day after the US Open ended. The players could hop a train at the conclusion of the US Open and travel north to compete in the Philadelphia Open the next two days, a Friday and Saturday. Now the GAP needed both a Saturday and Sunday in July from Whitemarsh Valley. The Club’ officials said no to that. The tournament could not be held the next Monday and Tuesday as the Met Open was beginning on Tuesday near New York.

Harding, McLeod, Barnes 1921

At the US Open, President Harding drove off the first tee shot on Tuesday the 19th and awarded the trophy to the winner Jim Barnes on Friday the 22nd. Barnes, the professional at Whitemarsh Valley from 1914 to 1917, won by nine strokes over Walter Hagen and the host professional, Fred McLeod, who tied for second. The USGA was fortunate that there was no 18-hole playoff needed, as President Harding had another conflict. That next morning President Harding left the White House and traveled to western Maryland to spend the weekend on a 200-acre farm, camping with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. They referred to themselves as the Vagabonds.

The Philadelphia Open was played on the first Monday and Tuesday of August. Despite having a first prize of $225 and a total purse of $575, the starting field was composed of mostly local players. Held over two windy days, New York’s Willie Macfarlane (1925 US Open champion) won by 13 strokes. Whitemarsh Valley member Woody Platt finished second, and Jack Campbell, a three time winner of the tournament, was third.

If the tournament could have been played at the brand new and highly anticipated Pine Valley Golf Club, there probably would have been a world class field. Sometimes the best of plans doesn’t work out.

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