Llanerch's clubhouse from 1902-1918
Llanerch Country Club has been operating under its present name since 1919 and its current location since 1901.
In May 1902, the Delaware County Country Club (DCCC) was admitted to membership into the United States Golf Association. In May 1903, DCCC became a member of the Golf Association of Philadelphia.
An 18-hole golf course was opened by DCCC in June 1903.
The first change of name occurred on April 16, 1904 when the club was chartered as the Delaware County Field Club (DCFC) with the stated purpose of maintaining a "club for the encouragement of athletic sports."
The DCFC combined with the Athletic Club of Philadelphia in September 1911. The Athletic Club was located at 1626-28 Arch Street in Philadelphia and had been the center of athletic life in Philadelphia for a number of years. Under the new arrangement the members of either club could use the facilities of both sites, which provided summer and winter facilities for exercise, recreation, and social enjoyment. Both clubs operated under the name of Athletic Club of Philadelphia, although the DCFC charter was not changed.
This merger was terminated on September 14, 1914 when the charter of the Delaware County Field Club was amended to change its name to Bon Air Country Club. One major improvement that Bon Air Country Club made in 1916 was changing the greens from sand to grass.
On September 17, 1918, a spectacular fire completely destroyed the Bon Air Country Club clubhouse.
On May 18, 1919, a new charter was procured for Llanerch Country Club. The charter stated its purpose as "the maintenance of a club for social enjoyment and the encouragement and perpetuation of the games of golf, cricket, tennis and athletic sports."
Llanerch was enjoying so much popularity and success that Mr. Fitzgerald, who was the owner of the Club, hired Alexander H. Findlay, a noted golf architect, to redesign the entire course and expand it to 27 holes. This course was finally opened on May 13, 1928.
On May 13, 1929, Mr. Fitzgerald died. His estate, including Llanerch Country Club, was left in trust to his wife for her lifetime and upon her death the proceeds of the estate were to be used to establish the Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital. Fortunately, Mrs. Fitzgerald was very active at Llanerch and allowed it to continue as a country club.
On September 29, 1938, Mrs. Fitzgerald died and in accordance to her husband's will, the club had to be sold. His will had directed that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia would appoint a group of five trustees to carry out his wishes. The club was almost sold to a group of real estate developers when three or four Llanerch members started negotiations to buy it. All but one of the group backed out and Mr. James A. Devine purchased the entire 27-hole golf course on April 7, 1941, and leased it all to the club for five years.
Mr. Devine had been president of the club in 1935 and 1936 and was very much dedicated to seeing it continue. After much discussion and many meetings, it was decided to buy only enough property to keep an 18-hole course. On May 1, 1946 the club purchased approximately 119 acres and proceeded to reconstruct an 18-hole course.
Over the years, Llanerch has hosted several professional tournaments and championships. One that will stay in the record books for a long time is the Philadelphia Inquirer Invitation Tournament of 1945. It was the seventh of 11 consecutive tournaments won by Byron Nelson.
In September of 1949, Llanerch had a real celebration when Dorothy Germain Porter won the USGA Women's Amateur Championship. She had been one of Marty's first junior-junior students in 1935 and Marty declared that his "biggest thrill in golf was seeing Dottie win at Merion."
Winner Dow Finsterwald (center) and Doug Ford watch
Sam Snead walk across Llanerch's 18th green at the
1958 PGA Championship.
In 1958, head pro Marty Lyons received permission from the Board of Directors to invite the PGA to hold their championship at Llanerch in 1958. They accepted the invitation and that particular tournament became even more prominent because it was the first time they used the medal play format in the PGA Championship. This change to medal play was influenced greatly by a letter from Marty Lyons to Mr. Joseph Cronin, PGA of America President requesting such a change. Dow Finsterwald won the Championship with a score of 276 for 72 holes.
In the late 1990s the club initiated a Master Plan process. It looked at many different things both on and off the golf course. Prior to beginning any major golf course projects Llanerch hired Brendan Byrne as the golf course superintendent in 2000. The first major project was a decision to install a new irrigation system in 2001 in anticipation of a major golf course renovation project at some point in the future. That point came when the club closed its golf course in late 2004 for a complete renovation, regrassing and bunker project. The redesign done by architect Stephen Kay was successfully completed and the course was re-opened for play in May 2005.
The result of the project has been nothing short of spectacular. In the April 2008 edition of Golf Styles it was said about Llanerch:
"The proof of the successful transformation at Llanerch will come when it celebrates the 50 th Anniversary of that '58 PGA Championship this summer. Dignitaries and guests from across the country, including '58 champ Dow Finsterwald, will be in attendance. What they will see is a course that has vaulted Llanerch into the hierarchy of Philadelphia golf."
Jim Finegan , the legendary historian and gold writer, said of Llanerch in May 2008: "What makes this course extraordinary is the diversity of great golf holes on a small piece of ground - you never get bored - in that way, it's like Merion or St. Andrews."
At Llanerch, our heritage reaches beyond the golf course to the pro shop.
Over the years, we’ve had some distinguished head professionals who have made Llanerch a big part of their careers.
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.
After Denny left Llanerch to tour full time, the members replaced him replace 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.
Marty was president of the local PGA for six years and was a vice-president and secretary of the national PGA. Due mainly to his influence, the club hosted at least one professional tournament every year from 1935 through 1946. Some of these tournaments attracted the best professionals in the country. One that will stay in the record books for a long time is the Philadelphia Inquirer Invitation Tournament of 1945. It was the seventh of eleven consecutive tournaments won by Byron Nelson.
In 1958 Marty received permission from the Board of Directors to invite the PGA to hold their championship at Llanerch in 1958. They accepted the invitation and that particular tournament became even more prominent because it was the first time they used the medal play format in the PGA Championship. This change to medal play was influenced greatly by a letter from Marty to Joseph Cronin, PGA of America President requesting such a change.
After Marty died suddenly 1968 while attending a meeting of the Philadelphia PGA, Bob Pfister had the unenviable job of replacing a legend. After Bob left Llanerch in 1991 one of his assistants, Ben Lesniak, became the head golf professional.
Ben was the head golf professional at Llanerch for 19 years.
In 2010, Llanerch welcomed an entire new Golf Professional Staff. Chris Wilkinson survived 3 rounds of interviews and 112 applicants to be hired in November of 2009 as Head Golf Professional. He brings with him a wealth of experience at some of the finest private clubs in the country including The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, Wilmington Country Club in Delaware and Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.
One of the things that attracted Chris to Llanerch was the long tenures of the Golf Professionals before him. He is aware of the fact that Llanerch has had only five Head Professionals in its 109 years of history. He looks forward to continuing that tradition and having a long career here.