The PGA Championship - Through the Generations


Amateur golf overshadowed professional golf throughout much of the 20th century. Amateurs were educated, gentrified men who didnt need to earn a living by sweating. They made money the really old fashioned way - they inherited it.
On the other hand, golf professionals gave lessons during the warm weather, and did yard work during the harsh months. Very few made a living through competition. Most had to have a number of jobs to make ends meet. Bobby Jones epitomized the amateur golfer during the first part of the century. My grandfather epitomized the post-depression golf professional.
Times were hard. With a wife and four children, Dave Marr, Sr., worked countless jobs when the golf season slowed down in Beaumont and Houston. My grandmother made beds at a Howard Johnsons, and the kids caddied to help out.
Actually, that would be my father. His brothers and sister were too young. Hed contribute a portion of the loose change he could scare up carrying bags bigger than he was. He would also get a chance to work on his game around the caddy yard.
At age 14, he lost his father. Now the family was in real trouble. Dad could make decent money caddying, but his mother was now working two jobs, and the two younger kids had to move away and live with relatives. The burden was almost too much for Grace Marr to bear, but she had no choice.
Dad went to college at 16 and played golf at Rice Institute (now Rice University) and the University of Houston for one year each. The financial strain was too much. He left to follow his fathers footsteps and become a PGA professional. With his card he could find a job that would pay enough to help the family make ends meet.
By the time he got a head professional position, his game had matured significantly and he was an accomplished competitor. Back at the club he was still prohibited from joining members in the bar for a post-round drink. Some of that golf pro/yard man prejudice carried over well into the '50s and '60s, and dad carried bitterness about that treatment longer than he should have.
Around this time, competitive professional golf was becoming a bigger business. Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen were Jones professional counterparts in the 1920s. The '40s and '50s saw Hogan, Nelson and Snead focus the limelight on the men who made a living in the game, yet most still needed a club pro job to make sure bills got paid.
That all seemed to change as my father was trying to decide which career path to choose. A dashing Pennsylvanian was taking the game by storm, a man whose father was also a PGA professional. Arnold Palmer and my dad became fast friends.
In those days, the PGA Championship was equally as important to the players as the British Open Championship or the U.S. Open and probably more significant than the Masters, which was only about 20 years old. It was their championship. It was their fathers championship. It was a championship that belonged to all the men who taught and safeguarded the game, the men who sustained the club while being barred from the clubhouse.
As Palmer, and then Nicklaus, brought the game to new heights, club professionals and touring professionals had different needs within the same organization. The PGA of America created the Tournament Players Division, which ultimately split off and became the PGA Tour. Touring pros kept their PGA of America status for a variety of reasons, but ultimately the two bodies drifted apart. The PGA Tour created and promoted its own championship, The Players Championship. What the tournament lacked in tradition it made up for in opulence and spending.
Nowadays, a segment of the golf community rates the PGA Championship fourth among majors. Too many club pros, unspectacular venues and similar complaints are the refrain. While there might be some validity, I prefer to embrace the club pros. They pass the fundamentals of the game along to the next generation while keeping it enjoyable for us as well. Whose knowledge of the game, and its rules and etiquette hasnt been touched by a PGA professional?
I like looking at that huge loving cup trophy with all the great names etched on it. How proud must my father have been to have put his on his fathers trophy! Names are also noticeable by their absence. Its the only major in which Bobby Jones never competed. I watched through the '70s as an aging Arnold Palmer tried to complete the career slam at so many PGAs. How frustrated must he have been that he was unable to claim his fathers trophy. A PGA Championship will always be the singular hole in Arnolds and Byron Nelsons resumes.
The PGA also marks the winding down of the golf season. Its the last major of the year. Tour pros will soon trade in dreams of making history for lighthearted and lucrative competition during the 'silly season.' Kids will soon trade lighthearted competition for their history studies. Theyll swap their clubs for notebooks and backpacks. The PGA pros will again oversee this championship then, after their pupils head back to class, theyll get continue with the business of being modern day professionals. No yard work in the winter months, just seminars and conventions, preparing the shop for spring.
The PGA Championship has evolved, and so has the PGA professional.