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History of Llanerch Country Club

The following is a historical account of Llanerch, a Welsh word meaning “open space.”

Llanerch Country Club was organized in 1919; however, the property captivated golfers as early as 1895 when a sand course was used by the Penn Athletic Club. The golf course is possibly the oldest in the city operating at its original site.  And the organization from which Llanerch sprung was one of the earliest in the district.
First Club House, Joseph Oat’s Mansion
The first record deed transferring the property known then as “Manoa Park” is dated March 4, 1747.  The deed states Jos. Lewis transferred the property to Daniel Lawrence for 250 pounds, about $60,000 in today’s money.  The land consisted of 60 acres, comprising of about 5 acres of woodland.  Eventually, the property was turned over to Joseph Oat who built the mansion that turned into the first clubhouse.  The place was called “Willow Brook” in Mr. Oats time.   In the early 1890’s the property passed into the hands of William Pyott and Edward Longstreth prior to the Delaware County Country Club being formed in 1901.
The area was primarily farmland until 1898 when the Pennsylvania Railroad built a trolley line from Philadelphia to West Chester, with a stop at Llanerch, that ignited the development of homes in the area and the establishment of a golf course. John Reid, who had been working at the Atlantic City Country Club, was hired as the first professional, and helped establish a 9-hole routing. In June 1903 the course was expanded to 18 holes, including a 655-yard par 6, which at the time was one of the longest holes in the world. One would tee off from the current 9th tee, but in the opposite direction over Steel Road, and the green was just shy of City Line Ave. Then you would play 3 consecutive par 3s, all about 180 yards, that formed a diamond shaped loop and finish around our current 12th tee.    
18 green in late 1920’s,
prior to additional bunkering on the approach
10 green in late 1920’s, looking back towards the tee, you can see the lost par 3 in the hill on the right
In the early days the club was known by several names. First, as Delaware County Country Club from 1901-1904. In 1904, the Country Club became Delaware County Field Club until 1911 when it merged with the Athletic Club of Philadelphia, so the club could offer both a city and country location to its members. In 1914, it was renamed for a fourth time as Bon Air Country Club until 1918 when the club championship match between a Mr. Lewis and a Mr. Landers caused such a rife it broke up the club.  After 12 holes Mr. Landers was 3 up with 6 to play when rain postpone the match till the next morning.  When Mr. Landers came back to the course the next day he found that someone had gotten into his locker overnight and sawed the heads off all of his clubs.  He left in a furry and never completed the match. This event left the membership in disarray and Thomas Fitzgerald saved the club by purchasing the land and organizing Llanerch Country Club on May 18, 1919. Over the winter of 1919 a fire destroyed the clubhouse, Mr. Oats’ mansion, and Mr. Fitzgerald spent $70,000 to build the clubhouse that stands today.
Alexander Findlay
The original course was a 6300-yard sand layout for many years until the greens were converted to grass in 1916. It was decided in 1922 that a true championship links should be designed. Mr. Fitzgerald consulted with Alexander Findlay. Findlay worked for Wannamaker’s department store in Philadelphia and oversaw designing golf clubs, designing courses and promoting the game of golf in the United States. Findlay was a Scotsman who has been called “The Father of American Golf.” He came to the United States in 1887, at the age of 20, with dreams of becoming a cowboy and worked on a ranch in Nebraska. However, his childhood love for golf led him to design his first course, a 6-hole layout on the farm, which was also one of the first courses in the United States. Findlay went on to design over 130 courses in his lifetime.

When Findlay had completed his preliminary survey, he recommended the construction of six new holes (it’s unclear which of today’s holes were part of that construction) and extensive bunkering on the remaining holes. In the fall of 1923 work began under the supervision of Robert Pollock, the superintendent, and by Labor Day of 1924 the new course was open for play.
1926 Dallin Aerial Survey

Link to the 1924-27 routing

Hole 17 in 1930’s
Llanerch enjoyed so much popularity, Findlay was tasked to expand it from 18 to 27 holes. Additional land was leased to the club by Mr. Fitzgerald and Findlay designed 9 new holes (today’s holes 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 are from that expansion). The 27-hole course was opened on May 13, 1928.    

After seeing the club in the 1930’s, Philadelphia native, A.W Tillinghast wrote “let me say that the 165 yard Seventeenth is truly a gem,- a rarely fine hole.” This hole is called the “Eagles Nest” as it is based on a notable hole from the Glen Eagles course in Scotland.

Link to the 1928-1948 routing

The first major tournament hosted at Llanerch was the 1931 Philadelphia  Amateur  Championship  and “125 golfers, being the outstanding niblick and mashie wielders in the Philadelphia District” got to test the championship eighteen (red and white nines). It was a four day tournament with 36 holes of qualifying and then five rounds of match play that was won by Robert H. Albertus of CC of Lansdowne. It was a resounding success for the club and showed the challenging test that Llanerch presented.

In 1933, the club hired Denny Shute to replace John Edmundson as the golf professional. He was a prominent pro who had won several tournaments and was a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 1932, 1933 and 1937. In his first year of representing Llanerch, he won the British Open and later won two PGA Championships. Later in his career Denny was named to the PGA and World Golf Halls of Fame. Denny left Llanerch to tour full time and the members replaced him with Marty Lyons, who had started his Llanerch association as a caddy in 1914 and had advanced to caddy master and then assistant pro. He was hired as the head golf professional in 1935. 
Byron Nelson
Due mainly to Lyons’ influence, the club hosted at least one professional tournament every year from 1935 through 1946. In 1935, it hosted the First Annual Invitational Tournament of the Philadelphia Professional Golfers’ Association, one of the first big Pro tournaments ever held in America, which was won by Syd Brews. These tournaments attracted the best professionals in the country. Probably the most famous of these events was the 1945 Philadelphia Inquirer Invitation Tournament which was the seventh of eleven consecutive tournaments won by Byron Nelson. Nelson shot a record breaking 63 in the final round to beat Jug McSpaden by two shots. Also prior to the event a Pro Member Tournament was held and won by Ben Hogan and Bill Cole, but as Hogan was still in the Army he played under the name Gordon Jones.
Another notable event was in May 1943 when Bing Crosby and Bob Hope came to Llanerch to host an exhibition to help support the War effort and though they were rained out after only 5 holes they gathered the crowd around the driving range and put on a show of laughter and games until they sold $5,000 in war bonds. Hope had borrowed clothes from Marty Lyon’s for the day and even sold them off his own back.     

Economic times after WWII were challenging for the club. The land east of Steel Road had been leased, so it was decided to buy only enough property to keep an 18-hole course. Everything south of what is now Edmonds Ave to Concord Ave was developed for houses. On May 1, 1946, the club purchased approximately 119 acres and hired James McGovern to reconstruct an 18-hole course. McGovern, an associate of Donald Ross, designed today’s holes 2, 3, 5 and 8. The new routing opened for play in 1948.

The course has changed dramatically over the years. Here is an overlay of aerials from 1939 and 2017 that you can scroll over to see the changes. 

Dorothy Germain Porter
In September of 1949, Llanerch member, Dorothy Germain Porter won the USGA Women's Amateur Championship, at Merion Golf Club, 3&2 over Dorothy Kielty of Long Beach, California.  She had been one of Lyons’ first junior-junior students in 1935 and Lyons said that his "biggest thrill in golf was seeing Dottie win at Merion."

Lyons, who had become a leader in the Professional Golfers Association of America, arranged for Llanerch to host the 1958 PGA Championship. That tournament was the first time they changed from match to stroke play in the PGA Championship. This change was influenced greatly by a letter from Lyons to Joseph Cronin, PGA of America President, requesting such a change. Dow Finsterwald, the runner up in 1957, won by two shots over Billy Casper in 2nd and Sam Snead in 3rd. Snead had led after 54 holes but faded with a final round 73. The course was played as a 6710-yard par 70. This was also Arnold Palmer’s first ever PGA Championship, he finished - T 40.  
Dow Finsterwald     Sam Snead walking across 18th Green


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