The Union League of Philadelphia Elevates PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship
By George Willis
The Union League Golf Club of TorresdaleThe Union League of Philadelphia
The Union League formed 160 years ago to support the Union Army and Abraham Lincoln’s abolitionist movement when it wasn’t a popular position in Philadelphia. That spirit of inclusion and equal opportunity remains part of the club’s DNA today as it prepares to host the 2022 PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship (PWCC).
Formerly known as the PGA National Minority Collegiate Championship, the 54-hole tournament set for May 2-4 will be played on courses donated by the Union League – Union League Liberty Hill and the Union League Golf Club of Torresdale. In its 35th year, the annual Championship is open to all minority-serving institutions with a focus on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“This is a big thing for us,” said Sean Palmer, the Director of Golf at Union League. “The PGA of America is trying to take this event from what it used to be and elevate it into something bigger and better. We love a challenge like that.”
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Considered the No. 1 City Club in the country, the Union League opened in 1862 and comprises 4,000 of the most philanthropic people in the Philadelphia area. Union League officials and the Philadelphia PGA Section discussed the infrastructure needed to hold what has been called the most diverse and culturally significant tournament in golf.
“They needed two golf courses and banquet facilities,” Palmer said. "That fits very well for what we can offer. In the last couple of years since George Floyd, a lot of organizations have put statements out there and really didn't take much action. We thought this is a great opportunity to take action and actually do something."
The tournament will be played on two Union League courses – Liberty Hill, a Gary Player design, and Torresdale. Each offers a distinctly different test.
"There's not a lot of courses like [Liberty Hill] in the Philadelphia area with this much real estate," Palmer said. "It’s a big modern golf course with large fairways, large bunkers and large greens. Torresdale is a classic Donald Ross golf course on a small piece of land with tremendous character and tricky greens. It’s not terribly long.”
A field of 202 participants will compete on both courses and is divided into five divisions: Division 1 men, Division 2 men, women's team, individual men, and individual women.
The Union League’s contribution to the PWCC isn’t limited to the courses. Seventy members are serving as volunteers in various capacities. The club is also assisting PGA WORKS in its mission to diversify the $84 billion golf industry by assisting with Beyond the Green, a career exploration event on May 1 at the Comcast Technology Center. Also sponsored by Philadelphia-based Comcast, Beyond the Green exposes area youth to career opportunities in golf. Union League members also helped identify participants who could benefit from the event.
“We want to help make sure the event is as impactful as possible,” Palmer said.
The Union League is also waiving food and beverage expenses and its membership has raised $1.4 million to support PGA WORKS and HBCU golf programs. The club and the Philadelphia PGA are also coordinating Youth Day, where kids from area First Tee programs and other youth golf organizations will interact with PGA Professionals and get exposed to the latest golf equipment and technology.
The Union League’s support is welcomed by PGA Member Scooter Clark, who played in the inaugural PGA National Minority Collegiate Championship and has been the tournament director since 2018.
“They’ve carried out this mission through the lens of inclusion and community engagement,” Clark said. “They’re a very inclusive club that wanted to celebrate their 160th anniversary by hosting this championship. If not for them we wouldn’t be having this event here.”
Initially founded by the National Negro Golf Association in Chicago as a postseason championship for HBCU golf programs, this Championship was played at the Highland Park Golf Course in Cleveland until 1998. It then partnered with the PGA of America and moved to PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida. It was held there through 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 Championship. With new sponsorship from Comcast in 2021, the event now changes markets each year, beginning with TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, last year and the Union League courses in 2022.
This year's event kicks off with a gala reception for the student-athletes, supporters and club members at the Union League on April 30.
“We’ve donated our facilities in a pretty big way and we’ve put a lot of sweat equity into this event to make sure the community gets behind it,” Palmer said. “We take pride in certain things that go back to the values this club was founded on, and we believe this is one of them.”