“Did You Know”
There was a time when the golf professionals went “all in” to promote the PGA Tour!
The PGA of America came into being in 1916. Along with trying to place golf professionals in the clubs that were the best fit for both the clubs and the golf professionals, there was also a desire to create competitive playing opportunities for the golf professionals. At first the competitions were quite haphazard. Golf resorts like Shawnee in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, and cities like Miami and Los Angeles, who wanted to promote their mild weather, would host tournaments.
By the late 1920s, what had been a collection of various tournaments was beginning to develop into what people were referring to as the PGA Tour. Then the Great Depression arrived, followed by World War II. Even though money was tight and travel was difficult, the Tour continued on. It only survived because the public wanted to see those great golfers. Each week hundreds of volunteers took time off from work to host a PGA Tour tournament.
Purses were small, even for that time in US history. The norm was a $10,000 to $15,000 total payout. Less than thirty players even cashed a check each week, usually about twenty-five. Most pros lost money playing the Tour, but they loved the competition. If nothing else, they wanted to prove something to themselves, and if their name was in the newspapers a few times they might parlay it into a better position as a home pro.
Each week the entry fees were $1 per thousand dollars in the purse. A $10,000 purse equaled a $10 entry fee. The entry fees went to paying the salaries and travel expenses of the tournament manager, rules officials and scoreboard operators. There was also an advance man who was one week ahead of the Tour. He managed the entries and made sure the rough was cut at a reasonable height along with the hazards and ground under repair being properly marked. His role was to assure that the facility was ready to host the PGA Tour. The entry fees did not cover all those expenses, so some money from the PGA dues of the home professionals was needed as well. Some PGA professionals felt that it was money well spent, like advertising. You could call it the PGA of America’s “Lost Leader”.
The playing professionals did what they could to help the cause. If invited, they would speak to civic clubs or any organization that was interested.
On Tuesday evenings some of the best players entered that week would put on a driving contest and a golf clinic. The players weren’t paid for participating in the clinic but were doing what they could to make the tournament a success.
Each week one of the professionals would be chosen to serve as the Coordinator/MC for the clinic. He would select twelve or so professionals to assist with the clinic. The MC would commentate, and the pros would speak about the fundamentals of the golf swing, along with demonstrating shots from the driver to the sand wedge.
The picture you see below is from the 1949 Reading (Pennsylvania) Open. In the middle with the clipboard is Lawson Little, MC for that week’s clinic. Little won both the US Amateur and the British Amateur back-to-back in 1934 and 1935 along with winning the 1940 US Open. Everyone in the photo won at least three times.
From L to R: Lloyd Mangrum (36 PGA Tour wins), Chick Harbert (7 Ws), Jackie Burke (16 Ws),
Toney Penna (4 Ws), Henry Ransom (5 Ws), Lawson Little (8 Ws), Sam Snead (82 Ws),
Fred Haas (5 Ws), Dave Douglas (8 Ws), Ed Furgol (6 Ws), Johnny Palmer (7 Ws),
Cary Middlecoff (39 Ws), Skip Alexander (3 Ws)
Middlecoff won that 1949 Reading Open, edging out Snead by one stroke. The total payout of $15,000 had a top prize of $2,600. Twenty six professionals made the money with last place $110. Middlecoff’s win moved him to the top of the money list for 1949 with $18,749.57, just ahead of Snead. Ben Hogan was at home recovering from his near fatal auto accident.