Max Elbin, 15th President of The Professional Golfers' Association of America, died Friday, Dec. 12, of heart failure at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 88. Elbin is survived by his wife, Mary, daughters Carrene, Peggy and Nancy, sons Max Jr. and Kelly, who is PGA Director of Communications, eight grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
The congenial leader was the long-time head professional at Burning Tree Club, the private Maryland golf club whose membership includes presidents, congressmen and business leaders. His playing partners and students included six U.S. Presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
"Max Elbin was genuinely one of the nicest, most admired leaders in golf," said PGA President Jim Remy. "Max displayed a combination of diplomacy and grace under fire when dealing with the difficult issues that he faced during his time of service to our Association. Because of his leadership example, The PGA of America is stronger today and young professionals can best model their careers from that of Max Elbin. Our thoughts and our prayers are with his family."
As a caddie at Cumberland (Md.) Country Club during the Depression, Max Elbin honed his game with his older brother, Elmer, after the pair bought a driving iron, mashie and mashie niblick. As a teenager, Max won the club's Caddie Championship, and was looking at a possible career as a playing professional. He decided to test his mettle with the more experienced and professional golfers at the Bedford Springs (Pa.) Open in 1939.
During a chance encounter on the Bedford Springs practice green, Elbin met Lew Worsham, the Burning Tree Club head professional. Elbin subsequently was hired by Worsham to serve as the latter's assistant at Burning Tree in 1940 for $19 per week; in the winter months, Elbin would work for Bob Barnett at Indian Creek Club in Miami Beach for $25 weekly. It was a wonderful situation for a 20-year-old who loved golf.
After the United States was drawn into World War II, patriotic duty beckoned Elbin, who joined the Army Air Corps in 1942. The young man served as a B-29 crew chief during service that saw action in New Guinea, the Philippines and Tokyo.
When the war was over, Elbin returned to Burning Tree in 1946 to serve as teaching professional. Worsham, who also had just separated from the military, was anxious to embark on his playing career. With Elbin in place, Worsham pursued his touring aspirations-he won the U.S. Open in 1947--and never returned to Burning Tree. The club offered the prestigious head professional position to 26-year-old Elbin, who accepted the proposal with the handshake that would serve as the employment contract for his entire career at the club.
Twenty five years after taking the Burning Tree position, the club would extend to Elbin an honorary membership, a status that had been reserved exclusively for U.S. Presidents. His years at Burning Tree and career accomplishments were incorporated into the Congressional Record in 1990.
Helping other PGA Professionals improve their livelihood was a calling card of Elbin. After becoming PGA member in 1947, Elbin often spent his off time with other local professionals discussing how to improve the vocation of those dedicated to growing golf. The core of these discussions was always education, and how to equip golf professionals with the knowledge to provide quality service to their customers. "We must keep pace," he once said, "to make sure we are better equipped to do our job."
Elbin soon earned the respect of his peers, who would eventually elect him to the Middle Atlantic PGA Section Presidency in 1956 for three years. In 1962, he was the unanimous selection for the Middle Atlantic Golf Professional of the Year.
The man who started his golf career as a 10-year-old shag caddie was elected PGA Treasurer in 1963 and PGA Secretary in 1964 before being elected PGA President at the 1965 Annual Meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. Elbin was the last of The PGA's three-term presidents, serving as the Association's leader from 1965-68 when differences between the playing professionals and the club professionals finally boiled over after simmering for years. The outcome was preordained; no one could have prevented it.
"A philosophical difference of long standing between the men elected to guide your Association and the few privileged to enjoy the benefits of its tournament program has reached a flash point," Elbin reported to the membership in 1968.
For PGA President Elbin, it was a difficult situation for which there was no solution easily would be identified. The players held their ground and eventually formed the American Professional Golfers, later to be known as the Tournament Players Division, both forerunners to what is known today as the PGA Tour.
During these years, negotiation of an accord was paramount in the minds of PGA leadership. President Elbin and the PGA leadership spent untold time and resources on resolving the crisis that threatened to end the very existence of The PGA. A formal agreement between the two organizations, entitled "Statement of Principles," was signed in 1968, shortly after Elbin's third one-year term as PGA President expired. Modified through the years, the agreement remains the basis for the PGA of America and the PGA Tour's operating agreement even today.
One of Elbin's greatest legacies is the 39 former assistants who graduated to the ranks of head professionals. The unassuming Elbin always remembered the generations of PGA Professionals behind him. "Golf, in its many facets, has been good to me and my family," said Elbin. "The people who I have met, the opportunities which it has created for me and the lasting friendships it has afforded are dividends which I must not fail to share with others who may also choose this as their profession."
Golf was his life, and throughout his career Elbin was acknowledged for his devotion to the game. In 1967, when he was trying to resolve professional golf's greatest crisis, Elbin received the prestigious William D. Richardson Memorial Award from the Golf Writers Association of America for "outstanding contributions to the game."
In 1998, the Middle Atlantic PGA Section with which he was affiliated his entire career, named the MAPGA Head Professional Championship trophy in his honor. In 1995, Elbin also was honored as the Association's inaugural Legend of The PGA for dedicated service to the Association and the industry. Elbin also was a member of the 2005 inaugural class of the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame, enshrined at the PGA Historical Center in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Funeral arrangements for Max Elbin will be announced at a later date.