AGA History - The Golf Association of Philadelphia


*The following article was published in the Spring 2018 edition of the GAP Magazine.*       

By Tony Regina

Anthracite: a hard coal low in volatile hydrocarbons and burning with little smoke or flame.

Anthracite Golf Association: an organization high on camaraderie and burning with large smoke or flame thanks to a new affiliation.

The Golf Association of Philadelphia welcomes Anthracite to its ever-expanding family in 2018. As a result of this new merger, all Anthracite services will fall under the GAP umbrella. Patrick Lloyd, Anthracite’s Executive Director, will assume the position of GAP Director of Northeast Operations and will continue to administer Anthracite’s tournament schedule.

“The Golf Association of Philadelphia has maintained a presence in the Northeastern Pennsylvania region for years, with seven clubs already being members of GAP,” Mario Machi, GAP Director of Member Services, said. “Now the entire Anthracite region is a part of GAP for all GAP Member Services to include USGA services such as handicapping, course rating and USGA qualifying events. Anthracite’s tournament schedule remains in place but will be strengthened with the additional staff and resources now available because of an expanded relationship with GAP.”

The Anthracite Golf Association’s inception isn’t a far cry from that of the Golf Association of Philadelphia. A group of golf enthusiasts met frequently in 1951 and in essence formed an organization to oversee all competitive events in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

“We used to have a meeting once a year and schedule the events. Clubs would come to the meeting, raise their hand and say they’ll take this tournament or that tournament,” Carlyle Robinson, one of Anthracite’s founders, said. “We didn’t force the tournaments on people.”

Robinson is among a collection largely credited with Anthracite’s foundation and subsequent growth. Don Allan, Jr. and Vince Scarpetta, Jr. both recall their respective fathers playing primary roles at the organization’s outset, too. Allan’s father Don, an eight-time club champion at Fox Hill, served as Anthracite’s first president until his death in 1970. 

“Because of his involvement in amateur competition, he had that respect as both an administrator and a golfer,” Don Allan, Jr., 70, of Lake Harmony, Pa., said.

Scarpetta’s father, along with the aforementioned Don Allan, Robinson and others envisioned Anthracite’s purpose: to promote golf in the Northeastern Pennsylvania region. 

“[My father] was a big advocate for Junior golf and wanted to get some guys together who were, like him, golf aficionados and put together an association that could run tournaments – kind of bring the clubs and golf courses of Northeastern Pennsylvania together,” Vince Scarpetta, Jr., 65, of Moosic, Pa., said. “Anthracite is grassroots.”

Grassroots is surely a theme among Anthracite’s forerunners. As the organization became more than a scheduling body, Robinson adopted a competitions coordinator role of sorts in 1972.

“They needed somebody to put in the time. They kind of asked me if I would do it,” Robinson, 70, of Wyoming, Pa., said. “I started not knowing what I was getting into, but it worked out OK. At that time, I pretty much ran all of the tournaments. I sent out the entries, made the pairings, made the starting sheets and scoresheets. All the [host club] professionals needed to do was start the players and take down the scores.” 

The role Robinson held then is comparable – and then some – to the one Lloyd holds now. Under the advice of his college golf coach, Marc Cordelli, Lloyd pursued and attained a P.J. Boatwright internship with the Anthracite Golf Association in 1998. He remained connected with the organization afterward, handling behind-the-scenes tasks while a student at Lackawanna College and later Temple University.

“In the evenings, if I had free time, I figured I’d do something with Anthracite,” Lloyd, 40, of Honesdale, Pa., said. “If I wasn’t with friends or at the gym playing a sport, it was, ‘Let’s see what’s going on with Anthracite and how we can make it better.’ It was a job I was going to go back to in the summer. I thought, ‘How could I make it better when I go back?’”

“Dennis Corvo, Bill Lawler and others were very instrumental in growing the Anthracite Golf Association to what it is today. Without their leadership and volunteer efforts, we would have never been able to evolve to this point.”

Upon his graduation from Temple in 2002, Lloyd became Anthracite’s Executive Director, a position he created and presented to the organization’s executive committee.

“It was a purely volunteer organization until we had enough money to hire Patrick,” Bill Lawler, who served as Anthracite’s president for 10 years, said. “We carried on for years as best we could. We were able to do a lot of the groundwork. Once Patrick was hired, we became a much more orderly, professional organization. He deserves an awful lot of credit.”

“[Anthracite] pretty much knew I would be teaching and have the summers off, so it was an opportunity for me to grow the association and to grow the game of golf in our area,” Lloyd said. “I’m a people person. I have a genuine interest in people. I love to talk, and I love the game of golf myself. My biggest goal in life was not to punch a clock. There was a lot of freedom [in this job], but with freedom comes responsibility. We grew rapidly. There were some demographics that really weren’t being serviced, so we went and expanded the association.”

Youth is a primary example of expansion. The Lawler Junior Tour (for boys and girls), which began in earnest in 1983, includes 10-15 events annually, highlighted by a Tournament of Champions with two age divisions: 9-14 and 15-18. Only one event dotted the tour’s calendar at first.

“I’m kind of credited with starting it, so much so that they named the tour after me. I was very happy to be honored that way, but I said, ‘Could you wait until I die? I didn’t feel worthy of it. I’m very touched by it,’” Lawler, 70, of West Wyoming, Pa., said. “We got it going. We only had one Junior event then all of a sudden, we had six events. While we were getting it running, I would be there at the crack of dawn every Monday to run the event, score the event, do the write-ups. We turned it into a nice little program.”

Lawler insisted on two conditions prior to sending Anthracite’s Junior ship into orbit. Participants didn’t need to be a member of an Anthracite Member Club – or any club, for that matter. And they didn’t need to pay an entry fee to play.

“We didn’t charge a dollar for any of the events. We still don’t charge anything, but parents are invited to pay a fee to help support the Junior program, if they care to,” Lawler said. “I’m just looking to promote the game. We don’t have enough monitors out there to see if the kids are playing correctly, but at least they’re exposed to the game. That was the main thrust for my idea of a what a Junior program would be, at least in our area. To start them at an early age with such a great game … that’s something I thought I should do.”

“Dennis Corvo, Bill Lawler and others were very instrumental in growing the Anthracite Golf Association to what it is today. Without their leadership and volunteer efforts, we would have never been able to evolve to this point,” Larry McClure, who will serve as chairman of Anthracite’s Championship Committee, added.

In addition to the Lawler Junior Tour, Anthracite’s scholarship program is an organizational highlight. Now in its 29th year, it aids graduating high school seniors in pursuit of a college education. The scholarship program is merit-based – academics, character, and participation in the Lawler Junior Tour among the prerequisites – and available to residents within Anthracite’s 18 counties. It awarded 11 recipients in 2017.

In the tournament realm, Anthracite’s schedule includes 15 events, distinguished by the celebrated Coal Scuttle Championships (Amateur, Senior, Super Senior and Women’s). It is a founding event in which clubs compete against other clubs to determine regional supremacy. Approximately 20 of Anthracite’s 46 Member Clubs annually compete in the Coal Scuttle, which uses a college-style scoring system.

“It’s really for bragging rights,” Lloyd said. “You look back on it, and there are players who participated in the [Pennsylvania Golf Association] Amateur and Open, the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open. It’s a very distinguished list. I’m interested to see how it’s going to grow with this new affiliation with the Golf Association of Philadelphia.”

Atop that list of Anthracite talent is Art Wall, Jr., a Philadelphia PGA Section and World Golf Hall of Fame member. Wall learned to play golf at Honesdale Golf Club and later became a member of Country Club of Scranton; both venues are core Anthracite clubs. He won the Pennsylvania Golf Association’s Amateur Championship twice (1947, 1949) before turning professional. In 1959, Wall won The Masters, the Vardon Trophy (awarded to the player with the lowest scoring average), led the PGA Tour in money earnings and attained a spot on the Ryder Cup team. For the majority of his professional career, he represented Pocono Manor Resort & Spa, another Anthracite club.

Wall is responsible for designing Pocono Farms Country Club – one of many fine facilities in the region’s lineage. Fox Hill, Irem Country Club, Valley Country Club and Wyoming Valley Country Club all received the A.W. Tillinghast touch. The esteemed Donald Ross crafted gems such as Buck Hill Falls Golf Club, Elkview Country Club and Pocono Manor in the Anthracite region. Founded in 1896, Scranton is a foregone lock for any “Top 100 Classic Courses” list.

A visit to Berwick Golf Club, another well-regarded facility of the area, illuminates the area’s passion for the game. A handful of members actually handle the grounds keeping duties. Impressive. As a representative of Berwick, McClure became involved with Anthracite in 1990. He will remain an active lead on Anthracite’s course rating front, assembling teams and measuring courses within the coverage area. The Frosty Valley member cites the new relationship with GAP as an instrumental aid moving forward.

“I think we can propel the advancement of golf in the northern part of the state,” McClure, 62, of Danville, Pa., said. “We were a small organization before. Our affiliation with the Golf Association of Philadelphia now brings on a large administrative staff. With that, we can really focus our efforts on growing the game. That’s where I see it headed.”

Thanks to the new merger, Anthracite members can expect an expanded array of benefits, highlighted by access to participation in all GAP events – save for the BMW GAP Team Matches this year. Reflexively, all Anthracite events (with the exception of the Coal Scuttle(s)) are now open to all GAP members.

“It’s going to be a huge change, going from a small, mom-and-pop type organization to moving in with one of the largest, most well-known golf associations in the United States,” McClure said. “It’s going to be a positive step forward. Everybody involved is looking forward to it.”

“We are excited to partner with the Anthracite Golf Association.  It is another step in the expansion of the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s mission: promoting, preserving and protecting the game,” Mark Peterson, GAP Executive Director, added. “We expect that the resources of GAP will serve as a substantial asset to Anthracite and know we will learn from their expertise. We look forward to expanding and enhancing Anthracite’s outstanding and rich history. Growing the game is always at the forefront of our minds.”