HAVERTOWN, Pa. — (April 28, 2008) – There are a few major championships that come to mind when talking about an event that changed the course of golf around the world. One might be the 1961 British Open at Royal Birkdale, when Arnold Palmer kick-started the trend of Americans competing overseas by winning the first of back-to-back Open titles. Another might be the 1997 Masters, the first major championship for Tiger Woods as he set the 72-hole record of 270 and won by 12 strokes. It ushered in an unprecedented era of dominance.
But no major championship ever held more historical significance for changing the face of golf around the world than the 1958 PGA Championship, played at Llanerch Country Club in the heart of suburban Philadelphia.
That 1958 PGA Championship, which was won by Dow Finsterwald, was the first major championship ever to be televised. It marked the beginning of the storied television golf career of CBS executive Frank Chirkinian.
Arnold Palmer played in his first PGA Championship at Llanerch CC in 1958.
It also marked the first time the PGA Championship was decided by stroke play competition, after 40 years of match play. The change was forged when Llanerch head professional Marty Lyons wrote a letter to the PGA of America, warning of the danger that the historic telecast might come on the air after the final match was completed. A rout in the final could have caused such a television gaff.
As a result, the PGA changed its championship format to accommodate television. Looking back, after years of extensive television coverage that has brought the game to millions around the world, the significance of the change can be appreciated.
For all of those reasons, the members of Llanerch CC have decided to stage a gala 50th anniversary of that 1958 PGA Championship on Friday, July 25 and Saturday, July 26.
“We feel that the 1958 PGA Championship was one of the most significant golf events in Philadelphia’s storied golf history,” said Joe McNichol, chairman for the 50th anniversary celebration. “In fact, it changed the course of golf history around the world. For those reasons, and to celebrate the major renovation that was recently completed at Llanerch, we decided to host the event.”
Ben Lesniak, head professional at Llanerch for 17 years, also commented, “I have been around this club for a long time and heard the many stories about the 1958 PGA Championship. To see it actually come to life for this 50th anniversary celebration is amazing. It is a tribute to the members who have put this together and a tribute to the amazing golf history that exists in the Philadelphia area. I am both honored and excited to have it take place here.
“Dow Finsterwald visited Llanerch in 1998, the 40th anniversary of his win, and we all got to know him,” added Lesniak. “The club made him an honorary member and every time I see him in Florida, he always says what a good time he had at Llanerch and how much he enjoys the members.”
The two-day event will begin with a gala invitational dinner on Friday evening, July 25. In addition to Finsterwald, the dignitaries who will be on hand for the celebration include Chirkinian, who retired after many years as golf producer for CBS television; Brian Whitcomb, president of the PGA of America, 1958 PGA Championship competitor Al Besselink and legendary CBS golf commentator and Philadelphia native Jack Whitaker.
On Saturday, July 26 Llanerch will host a pro-celebrity amateur event, with Llanerch members and invited guests teaming with professionals and celebrities from around the Philadelphia area. Finsterwald will play in the featured foursome and lead the event.
For more information about the 50th anniversary celebration of the 1958 PGA Championship, call TL Golf Services at 610-279-9220.
TL Golf Services
610-279-9220 or firstname.lastname@example.org