The Professional Golfers' Association of America History
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In 1916, The PGA founders established the following seven objectives for the Association: promote interest in the game of golf; elevate the standards of the golf professional's vocation; protect the mutual interests of its members; hold meetings and tournaments for the benefit of members; assist deserving unemployed members to obtain positions; establish a benevolent relief fund for deserving members; accomplish any other objective which may be determined by the Association from time to time. Key Dates:
- Professional Golfers' Association of America is formed; first tournament held.
- Debut of the Ryder Cup--a match between American and British teams.
- PGA headquarters are moved to Chicago.
- PGA Senior's Championship established for older golf pros.
- Golf course at Dunedin, Florida leased for use by the PGA.
- PGA's first trade show is held.
- PGA headquarters moved to Florida.
- The PGA's constitution is amended to allow non-white members.
- Top touring golfers break away from the PGA to form their own organization.
- Grand Slam of Golf debuts as a benefit for PGA Junior Golf Foundation.
- Oldsmobile Scramble pro/am tournament introduced.
- Shoal Creek Country Club's whites-only policy causes furor at PGA Championship.
- Golf Professional Training Program is launched.
- PGA Training Center in Port St. Lucie, Florida, is completed.
The Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) of America is an organization that trains, certifies, and advocates for professional golfers. It also organizes tournaments and promotes the sport of golf throughout the world. The PGA conducts approximately 40 tournaments, the best-known of which are the Ryder Cup, the PGA Championship, the Senior PGA Championship, the Oldsmobile Scramble, and the Grand Slam of Golf. The PGA also owns and runs several golf courses and training facilities, and operates a merchandising company. The PGA has more than 26,000 members.
The Early Years
The Professional Golfers' Association of America got its start in 1916, just before the United States entered World War I. The sport of golf was then relatively new to America, having first been played in an organized fashion only in the late 1880s. Golf had long been popular in the British Isles, however--particularly in Scotland, where it was thought to have originated prior to 1400.
In 1894 the first American golfing organization, the Amateur Golf Association of the United States (later the U.S. Golf Association) was formed. The first American championship tournament was held a year later. At that time, professional golfers--those who made their living from the game as teachers or exhibition players--were a low-status group. Conversely, the amateur, or so-called 'gentleman golfer,' was the one who was best known and who primarily competed in tournaments. Regional associations of professionals were formed in 1907 and 1914, but there was no national body to represent the interests of the growing number of golf pros.
In January of 1916, a Philadelphia department store owner named Rodman Wanamaker gathered a group of professional golfers for a meeting in New York, where he suggested they form a national organization and hold a championship match. Wanamaker pledged to donate $2,580 in prize money and a trophy and medals for the top finalists, in hopes of gaining publicity for his store in the bargain. The group, which also included some top amateur players, endorsed the idea, and the Professional Golfers' Association of America was born.
It was decided that the PGA would be run by an executive committee, and this was specified in its newly-written constitution. The new organization quickly signed up 82 members, and held its first tournament in October of 1916 in Bronxville, New York. When word of the new association spread, membership quickly grew to 200.
The PGA's Efforts in the Mid-1900s
In 1917 the United States entered World War I. During the war, the PGA contacted golf clubs to ask them to reserve positions for professionals who were serving their country. The PGA also purchased an ambulance for the Red Cross, and sent $1,000 to the British PGA for war relief. The organization also cancelled its tournaments while the country was at war.
In May of 1920, the PGA began publishing a magazine, The Professional Golfer of America. The following year, the legendary Walter Hagen became the first American-born player to win a PGA championship. The PGA also began sanctioning certain brands of golf clubs during this time. By the end of its first decade of existence, the PGA's membership had grown to 1,548.
1927 saw the creation of the Ryder Cup, which was a match between teams of British and American players. The inaugural tournament was won by the Americans, who soon came to dominate it over the years. As the PGA began to organize more activities, its membership dues were raised, jumping from $5 to $50 by the end of the 1920s. In 1930, PGA headquarters were moved from New York to Chicago, and the organization hired a business administrator and legal advisor. The PGA also established its name as a legal trademark.
During the Great Depression, work for professional golfers naturally declined significantly. The PGA created an Unemployment Relief Committee in 1933, and the organization's business administrator took a salary cut. In 1937 the PGA established a Senior's Championship for older players, and in 1941 formed the Golf Hall of Fame to recognize the legends of the game.
As the country entered World War II, the 25-year old PGA had 2,000 members. As it had done once before, the organization donated funds and two ambulances to the war effort, and supplied golf equipment to military bases. The Ryder Cup and PGA Championships were again both suspended during the hostilities.
In 1944 the PGA, desiring a golf course of its own, leased a site in Dunedin, Florida to serve as the PGA National Golf Club. The PGA also began a campaign to encourage young people to play golf by sponsoring PGA Junior Golf Week starting in 1948. In the first year, 20,000 PGA Junior Golfers' Association membership cards were given out. During the late 1940s, the organization also raised its membership standards, requiring 5 years as an apprentice prior to applying for professional certification.
Discriminatory Policies Draw Fire: 1940s--1960s
Having been formed in an era when civil rights were not well-recognized, the PGA had originally been chartered as a 'Caucasians-only' organization. In the late 1940s, inspired by Jackie Robinson's groundbreaking entrance into professional baseball, three black golfers sued the association for the right to play in PGA tournaments. Up to that point, the PGA did not admit African-Americans into its tournaments, whether they were PGA members or not. The three argued that the PGA was denying them employment opportunities because of their race. The organization subsequently agreed not to discriminate against blacks in tournament play, but the 'Caucasians-only' membership clause in its constitution was left intact. This partial victory did not open the field very far, however, as PGA tournaments quickly became 'invitationals,' rather than open tournaments, and invitations were seldom offered to nonwhites.
In 1956 PGA headquarters were officially moved from Chicago to Dunedin, Florida, where offices were established on the second floor of a bank building. The organization's 40th anniversary saw the PGA with a record 3,800 members, who were organized into 31 sections. The PGA had by this time also started an annual merchandise show for vendors to display their products to members. Many golf pros operated shops at courses where they sold golf clubs, shoes, and other merchandise, and the show performed a useful service for them. During the late 1950s, a new generation of tournament stars was emerging, including Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus.
In November of 1961 the PGA, bowing to continued pressure, finally changed its constitution to remove the 'Caucasians-only' clause. The organization's ranks, however, would remain largely white for some time to come. When it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1966, the PGA's membership stood at 5,837. The following year, the PGA added another new requirement for membership--a degree from business school.
Late 1960s: Tour Players Break From the PGA
In 1968 the top touring pros, unhappy with several PGA policies, split off to form their own organization. Playing on the tournament circuit had emerged as a livelihood only in the late 1940s, when a year-round match schedule was first achieved. By the 1960s, though, income from television contracts was a growing source of the PGA's revenue, and touring golfers wanted a piece of this pie in the form of larger purses. The PGA, however, voted to add the money to the organization's general fund, which incensed its top golfers.
The final straw came when the PGA vetoed plans for a new tournament sponsored by Frank Sinatra, which was scheduled to be held within two weeks of the long-running Bob Hope Desert Classic. Both were planned for courses in the same part of California, and the PGA felt the region would not support two tournaments back to back. Chafing at PGA rulings that affected their livelihoods, most of the top touring PGA players, including Nicklaus and Palmer, formed a breakaway organization--the Association of Professional Golfers. After a partial reconciliation was later reached, the group was reconstituted as the Tournament Players Division, which would come to be an autonomous body run by a 10-member policy board. It later became known simply as the PGA Tour, Inc.
Continuing in its efforts to improve members' skills, in 1970 the PGA formalized its apprenticeship program. The number of sanctioned apprentices soon grew into the thousands. The organization also added a new major tournament in 1973--the PGA Cup. Similar to the Ryder Cup, the PGA Cup pitted British and American golfers against each other, but was played at a club in North Carolina. The PGA also held its inaugural Junior Tournament at Walt Disney World Golf Resort in Orlando, Florida several years later. The organization subsequently formed the PGA Junior Golf Foundation to help fund programs for younger golfers. The PGA Grand Slam of Golf was established in 1979 as a fundraiser for this organization. The Grand Slam, which matched the winners of four top tournaments, would become one of the PGA's marquee events.
After several moves to different offices in Florida during the 1960s and 1970s, the PGA found a site in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida to build a permanent headquarters facility, and relocated its operations there in 1981. That same year the PGA and the PGA Tour established a joint merchandising venture.
Growth During the 1980s and 1990s
The PGA, and golf in general, underwent a period of dramatic growth in the 1980s. The organization's membership ranks increased by almost half, and several U.S. colleges also established golf management programs. During the same decade, a popular new pro/am tournament--the Oldsmobile Scramble--was launched. In 1988 the PGA reorganized its national office. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw growing revenues from television licenses for the PGA, which signed lucrative contracts with a number of major cable and broadcast networks. The PGA Seniors tour was also now becoming a big draw as legends such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino joined its ranks and boosted public interest.
The PGA's historically woeful record regarding blacks was tarnished again in 1990, however, by an incident at the Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, Alabama, where the PGA Championship was being held. The incident began when a black city councilman questioned the funding of an advertisement in the tournament program, noting that Shoal Creek did not admit black members. Shoal Creek founder Hal Thompson then commented, 'That's just not done in Birmingham,' and a furor arose. A number of corporations dropped their television advertising for the tournament broadcast, while the PGA quickly declared that it would no longer sponsor events at clubs that discriminated. Unfortunately, the PGA had in fact already sponsored several earlier tournaments at Shoal Creek before the club's whites-only policy was publicized. After initially refusing to do so, Shoal Creek admitted a single black member in time for the tournament to take place. Nevertheless, the controversy highlighted the fact that many of the leading golfing organizations, including the PGA, were still 'old boys' networks' with few leadership positions or tour members drawn from the ranks of minority groups or women. Even though the official face of the sport had long been white, the number of black golfers was growing, with one estimate citing an increase in African-American players from 384,000 in 1981 to 692,000 in 1989.
In 1994 the PGA revamped its education system, which would thereafter be known as the Golf Professional Training Program (GPTP). The GPTP, which required Class A PGA members to receive more than 600 hours of training to gain certification, was offered at a number of sites around the country. The move came after PGA members had expressed concerns that it was too easy to join the organization, with the mushrooming number of apprentices meaning that too many people had a leg up to professional status. They felt that opportunities for PGA members were decreasing and their salary figures were dropping. Members were also concerned that sales of golf equipment at pro shops was shrinking due to outside competition, which further cut into their earnings.
In addition to strengthening its training program, the PGA created a job placement service to assist members who were seeking work. Benefits extended to PGA members at this time included medical and property insurance plans, a credit union, and discounts from a range of PGA-affiliated corporations. Retirement benefits were added in 1997. Membership dues remained steady at $100 per year during the 1990s, which saw the organization's revenues from tournaments, television licensing agreements, corporate marketing deals, golf course consulting and licensing fees, and investments continuing to grow.
The mid-1990s saw the PGA enter cyberspace, with the launch of a public web site. The organization also created a second members-only Internet portal, through which professionals could look at job postings, register for tournaments, access their PGA Credit Union account, and communicate with other members. The PGA also had a home video division as well, and began producing television programs in association with the cable television Golf Channel. Around this time, the organization also sold its trade show business, which operated shows in Florida and Las Vegas, to Reed Exhibition Companies for $122 million.
A Goal For the New Millennium: Diversity
The biggest excitement in golf since the heyday of Nicklaus and Palmer was the arrival of Tiger Woods in the late 1990s. The first African-American athlete to become widely known in the sport, Woods attracted intense fan and media interest. Woods' highly visible success also boosted interest in golf among African-Americans to a greater level than ever before. Recognizing that the sport's next generation of players would come from a wider range of ethnic groups than it had originally anticipated, the PGA's outreach to minorities began to grow. CEO Jim Awtrey, who had run the association since 1988, became a vocal advocate of expanding its membership ranks to include more minorities, women, juniors, and physically challenged players. The PGA Diversity program and PGA Community Relations Program were created to bring a wider range of Americans into contact with the sport.
The year 2001 saw the PGA applying the finishing touches to construction of a new training center in Florida that would serve as the primary education center for future PGA members. It was located adjacent to the new PGA Learning Center, which was a 35 acre site at which golfers could receive instruction from PGA pros on all types of play. The organization now operated a number of other facilities as well, including the PGA Golf Club, PGA Country Club and PGA Village in Florida, and the Valhalla Golf Club of Louisville, Kentucky.
As it celebrated 85 years in operation, the Professional Golfers' Association of America continued to function as the leading organization for promoting the welfare of golf professionals in the United States. Through the championship tournaments it coordinated, its professional training programs, and its outreach campaigns, the PGA remained a prime mover in the world of golf.
Principal Subsidiaries: PGA Properties, Inc.
Principal Competitors: Augusta National, Inc.; The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrew's; The Ladies Professional Golf Association; PGA Tour, Inc.; United States Golf Association.
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- Grimsley, Will, Golf: Its History, People & Events, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966.
- Kramer, Scott, 'Follow-Up: How's the PGA Doing,' Golf Pro, October 1, 1995, p. 28.
- Newberry, Paul, 'PGA Still Called Racist 12 Months after Shoal Creek,' Los Angeles Daily News, August 4, 1991, p. SB7.
Official Guide of the PGA Championships, Chicago: Triumph Books, 1994.
- Purkey, Mike, 'The Revolt of '68,' Golf Magazine, February 1, 1996, p. 48.
- Shapiro, Leonard, 'The `Other' PGA,' Golf Magazine, August 1, 1998, p. 52.
- Williams, Jeff, 'Shoal Creek/The Aftermath--Has Anything Really Changed?,' Newsday, August 4, 1991, p. 16.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 41. St. James Press, 2001.