World’s ‘top 70’ golfers to compete at Wilmington Country Club in 2022

The 2022 BMW Championship will be Delaware’s first PGA event. The local chairman hopes the coronavirus pandemic will have passed when golfers tee off in 21 months.

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Wilmington Country Club will host Delaware's first PGA men's tournament in 2022. (Courtesy of WCC)

Wilmington Country Club will host Delaware's first PGA men's tournament in 2022. (Courtesy of WCC)

Joe Biden’s election as president has put Wilmington in the national political spotlight in recent weeks, with his victory speech from the city’s riverfront televised to millions around the United States and the world, and his almost daily public pronouncements made from the downtown Queen Theater.

And now the world of men’s pro golf is shining on Delaware for the first time, awarding one of its premier events to the Wilmington Country Club just north of the city limits.

It’s the BMW Championship — in essence the semifinals of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs, with a purse of some $10 million. When the event takes place in August 2022, you can expect household names like Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy to be among the 70 golfers who grace the fairways of the South Course.

It will be Delaware’s first PGA Tour event. Nearby DuPont Country Club did host two top women’s tour events — first the LPGA McDonald’s Championship and then the LPGA Championship — for nearly two decades until 2004.

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The local tournament chairman, Tom Humphrey, said his club learned in late October that its bid had won.

“It’s kind of like the Super Bowl comes to Delaware. It’s a big deal,’’ Humphrey told WHYY News in a wee bit of hyperbole. The BMW is one of golf’s most important tournaments but isn’t held in the esteem of the four so-called “majors” — the Masters, British Open, U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

But Humphrey said if he had his choice of any golf tournament, “This is the one you want. It’s the top 70 players. You know they are going to show up. There is no cut. They are going to be playing all four rounds. It’s an important event for them.”

Humphrey said he and other club officials learned last year that Western Golf Association, which runs the tournament once called the Western Open, wanted the 2022 edition to be held in the area to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Golf Association of Philadelphia.

The BMW tourney was held at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

Humphrey said tournament and PGA officials visited Wilmington Country Club in February, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit. They returned in July, liked what they saw and decided the club would be able to lengthen some holes for the biggest hitters on the tour, he said.

“We have a lot of land and we can move tees back and do the things you need to do to provide a test for golfers that hit the ball 300-325 yards now,’’ he said.

Humphrey hopes the coronavirus pandemic has long passed by the time golfers tee off in 21 months, unlike last week when the hallowed Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia, was played without galleries.

Crowds on the four days of competition at the BMW event “can be up to 20,000 to 30,000 people a day,’’ Humphrey said. “We hope that by 2022 we are in a much different place as far as a vaccine and things that will allow us to get back to somewhat of a normal kind of lifestyle.”

Asked if he expected the presidential limousine to roll down the country club’s long driveway for the event, he demurred.

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“That is another level of challenge. Can you imagine the security and things like that?” he asked. “But if that were to be the case, we will be ready.”

Club officials hope the pandemic has passed by August 2022 so tens of thousands of golf lovers can enjoy event. (Courtesy of WCC)

Laura Heien, executive director of the Delaware State Golf Association, said local duffers are delighted.

“It’s always good for Delaware to make the news,’’ she said, noting the attention on Wilmington with Biden’s victory. “Politics aside, we all love golf. So it’s just great to showcase Wilmington. We know it as a hidden gem here.”

Gov. John Carney and Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki expect the allure of the world’s greatest golfers to energize the region’s sports fans and drive millions of dollars into the northern Delaware economy.

Spectators “will be able to enjoy our terrific restaurants and fine hotels,’’ Purzycki said, “in addition to watching the greatest golfers in the world compete for one of the PGA Tour’s most coveted titles.”

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