Leo Diegel Played 90 holes in Two days to Win the 1924 Shawnee Open!

Leo Diegel played 90 holes in two days to win the 1924 Shawnee Open!

Between 1912 and 1937 the Shawnee Open was played 20 times at the Shawnee Inn, Shawnee-on-Delaware, Pennsylvania. The tournament was won by the biggest names in golf like Walter Hagen, Johnny McDermott and Jim Barnes. The Shawnee Inn was owned by Charles C. Worthington, whose family had made its money in steam pumps. A few years after purchasing the inn in the Poconos, Worthington hired A.W. Tillinghast to layout a golf course for the facility. It was Tillinghast’s first course design. Many years the Shawnee Open offered the largest purse of any privately funded tournament east of the Mississippi River. 

The 1924 Shawnee Open was played in mid July, just three days after the Metropolitan Open ended in New York. Hagen, having won the British Open in late June, was still in Europe playing exhibitions, but another strong field on hand, with players like Gene Sarazen, Tommy Armour and Johnny Farrell. The tournament was scheduled for 72 holes in two days. Trick shot artist Joe Kirkwood led the first day at 143 with Leo Diegel at 144. Par was 74. The next day Diegel put together rounds of 72 and 71 for 287 that left him in a tie for the top prize with Willie Macfarland who was also in at 287 with the help of a third round 69. Kirkwood fell one stroke short at 288.

The tournament committee decreed an 18-hole playoff that same day was in order. In those days most important tournament ties were settled with 18-hole playoffs and on occasion they were 36 holes. The 1931 U.S. Open took two 36-hole playoffs to determine a winner. Nowadays anything more than 18 in one day is considered quite a challenge. The players caught a break as the high temperatures in the Poconos, for the two days, was in the low 70s.

Diegel, a superb ball striker who struggled with his putting, but when he was on form he was practicably unbeatable. Diegel known to be a great twilight golfer. With the sun just above the mountain tops, the two professionals set out for another 18. Form held as Diegel equaled the low round of the tournament with a 69 against a 75 for Macfarlane. First money was $500 from a prize pool of $1,300. Six professionals picked up checks. The prize money at the U.S. Open earlier that year had been $960.

A year later Macfarlane won the U.S. Open and Shawnee. Diegel went on to win the 1928 and 1929 PGA Championships. From 1934 to 1945 Diegel was the professional at the Philmont Country Club.   

A Philadelphia PGA Founder Won the First Irish Pro Championship at Royal Portrush GC!

A Philadelphia PGA founder won the first Irish Professional Championship at Royal Portrush!

James Dunlop “Jim” Edmundson was born in Portrush, Ireland in 1886 and learned golf as a caddy at the Royal Portrush Golf Club. By 1905 he was the professional at the club. In 1907 the first Irish Open was contested. Royal Portrush was the host club, and it will also host this year’s British Open in July.

Edmundson won the First Irish Professional Championship, and in 1908 he was the winner again. Along with that, he finished second in 1909, 1910 and 1911.

He played in The Open four times, with his best showing being a tie for 11th in 1908.

After six years at Royal Portrush, Edmundson moved across the Irish Sea to England as the professional at the Bromborough Golf Club. At Bromborough he instructed Gladys Ravenscroft, who would win the 1912 British Ladies Championship and the 1913 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.

With the onset of World War I, Edmundson volunteered for the British Army’s artillery division, seeing action in France for two years. When the war was over he could not find another head professional position. In early 1921, his brother John, who was the professional at the Llanerch Country Club, wrote to him saying that he should visit the states. John’s letter mentioned that there were clubs with well-to-do members near Llanerch looking for experienced golf professionals.

Jim Edmundson set sail for America, and soon after arriving he was hired as the professional at the North Hills Country Club, just north of Philadelphia. Later that year on December 2, the Philadelphia Section PGA was formed. Having been a member of the British PGA, he became a founder of the Philadelphia PGA, with much to contribute. He was an officer for two years and was elected Section president in 1930.

In 1923 at the age of 39 he won the Pennsylvania Open, and finished second in the Philadelphia Open. He also had a second place finish in the Philadelphia Section Championship in 1926.

After North Hills, Edmundson was the head professional at the Hi-Top Country in Drexel Hill, which had been Aronimink Country Club before moving to Newtown Square.

An Amateur Could Have, Maybe Should Have, Won the 1939 US Open!

An amateur could have, maybe should have, won the 1939 US Open!

The 1939 United States Open Championship was played at the Philadelphia Country Club’s Spring Mill Course, which was near Gladwyne, a few miles west of its main clubhouse on City Line Avenue. The golf course, usually a par 71 was played at a par of 69. Two par five holes, the eighth and twelfth, were played from forward tees as par fours.

Most golfers, even 80 years later, have heard the stories of how Sam Snead appeared to be a sure winner when he teed off on the 71st hole with a two stroke lead, only to make a bogie 5 on that hole and a triple bogie 8 on the last hole. When all the scores were posted he tied for 5th at 286. Playing right in front of Snead, Reading Country Club professional Byron Nelson posted a 68 for a total of 284, which made him the leader in the clubhouse. 25 minutes later Craig Wood reached the last green with two big shots. His birdie 4 gave him a 72 and he was in at 284. In those days there were no gallery ropes, so in order to spread out the spectators the leaders were not paired together. The players had been paired in twos, at five minute intervals for Saturday’s final 36 holes. Former Llanerch Country Club professional Denny Shute, who had teed off 55 minutes after Nelson, shot a 72 for another 284 and a three-way tie for the title.

Lost in all the commotion over Snead’s triple bogie on the last hole and then the three-way tie for first, was Marvin “Bud” Ward, an amateur from the state of Washington, who had begun the day in a tie for fourth. Ward’s tee time was earlier than any of the leaders and more than an hour before Denny Shute, who he was tied with. Not an unknown Ward had been a member of the 1938 Walker Cup Team. With nine holes to go, Ward was within one stroke of the leader, Sam Snead. On the short downhill par 3 eleventh hole, Ward was bunkered twice and made a double bogey 5, but he birdied the next hole to remain in contention. On the 200-yard thirteenth hole Ward played a solid 2-iron toward the right side of the green. With most of the marshals assisting the big names, a young lady was standing almost on the thirteenth green. Ward’s tee shot struck the lady ending up in a bunker, nearly unplayable. Two stokes later he was on the green and two putted for another double bogey. Ward made a birdie on the next to last hole and finished with a 285 total. He was the leader in the clubhouse, but not for long. Ward finished alone in fourth place, behind Nelson, Wood and Shute. There was scant mention of his misfortune in the newspapers. The outcome could have, and maybe should have been, entirely different.

Byron Nelson won the playoff that took two days and Bud Ward went on to win the US Amateur Championship later that year and again in 1941.

A Club Professional was Responsible for Changing the PGA Championship to Stroke Play!

A club professional was responsible for changing the PGA Championship to stroke play!

In the early 1950s Marty Lyons, who had been secretary of the PGA of America in 1949, sold the PGA and his club, the Llanerch Country Club, on hosting the 1958 PGA Championship.

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.

Byron Nelson’s 1937 First Place Master’s Check Was Far From His Largest That Year!

                                                      “DID YOU KNOW”
Byron Nelson’s 1937 First Place Master’s Check Was Far From His Largest That Year!

In April 1937, 25-year-old Byron Nelson won the Masters Tournament, by finishing two strokes in front of Ralph Guldahl and three ahead of Ed Dudley, the host professional.

A few days later Nelson reported to Reading, Pennsylvania as the new head professional at the Reading Country Club. It was a busy summer for the new head man. In May he played in the PGA Championship and in June he was competing in the U.S. Open. Even though Nelson had won the Masters and was fifth on the PGA Winter Tour money list, he had to qualify locally for both the PGA and US Open

Next Nelson was off to Southport, England for the Ryder Cup which was held in late June. In the second week of July he was playing in the British Open in Scotland. Soon after returning from Scotland he won the one-day 36-hole Central Pennsylvania Open at his home course, RCC. Tying for first he won an 18-hole playoff five days later. First prize was $150. The country was in the middle of “The Great Depression” and money was tight.

In early September Nelson was playing in Milton Hershey’s 72-hole Hershey Open, which had a first prize of $1,200. Nelson’s first prize from the Masters win had been $1,500. He would later tell people that he used the $1,500 to stock his golf shop at the Reading Country Club. First prize at the U.S Open that year was $1,000 and $1,200 at the PGA Championship. The best was yet to come, later that month.

In the fourth week of September the golf professionals were in Massachusetts vying for the largest purse of the year, along with some amateurs. The Belmont Country Club was hosting the Belmont Open Match Play, with a purse of $12,000. That year the purses at the Masters, US Open and PGA had been $5,000, $6,000 and $9,200.

Even though the Philadelphia PGA Championship was less than seven days away, every Philadelphia golf professional who thought he could play a little was there, 16 of them. It seemed like everyone was there, 221 golf professionals and amateurs were entered. A 36-hole qualifying tournament was held for all entries with a cut to the low 150 players after round one. After 36 holes the low 64 qualified for match play.

The first two matches were 18 holes and the four after that were 36-hole matches. After seven days and 180 scheduled holes, Reading Country Club’s Byron Nelson and Hershey Country Club’s Henry Picard were in the final. At the end of 18 holes the match was even. In the afternoon there was a steady pelting rain, but it did not seem to bother Nelson who prevailed by the margin of 5&4. First prize was $3,000 which was double what Nelson had won at Augusta in April and Picard picked up a check for $2,000.

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