Over the course of decades since 1925, the Middle Atlantic PGA emerged as one of the largest and most successful PGA of America Sections. From its leadership ranks, three men rose to the PGA of America Presidency, two to the Presidency of the Senior Association, two more became national Vice Presidents, and another the central figure in educational and teaching programs at the national headquarters.
There are pivotal years in the MAPGA’s history. First and foremost, when they organized in 1925, how they survived the Great Depression and World War II, growth during the 1950s and 1960s, hiring their first professional staff member in 1966 and opening an office, the integration of the Virginia Association of Golf Professionals as the Virginia Chapter in 1968, and the subsequent alignment into a three-chapter Section between 1988 and 1989.
Three regional professional golf associations existed during the early to mid-1920s in what is now the Middle Atlantic PGA area, and their leaders figured prominently in the formation of the MAPGA in March 1925. These associations were the Maryland State Professional Golfers’ Association, the District of Columbia Professional Golfers’ Association, and a group in Norfolk, Virginia, believed to be named the Tidewater Association. Fred McLeod and Robert Barnett in Washington and Charles Betschler and Glenn Spencer in Baltimore held down the prominent leadership positions
The organizational meeting forming the Middle Atlantic PGA took place on March 2, 1925 at “Spalding’s” and Columbia. The founding members attending were:
Sometime during 1925, Fred McLeod became the President. Organizationally, they elected a First and Second Vice President, and a Secretary and\or Treasurer. Betschler, Burnett, and Spencer followed McLeod in the presidential succession. This arrangement remained in place until 1938. When 1929 concluded, the MAPGA counted 71 members on its roll.
Throughout the 1930s, the Middle Atlantic Section PGA remained in the hands of the Baltimore and Washington DC area Professionals. Even though the Section encompassed Virginia, golf Professionals throughout the state did not participate in MAPGA championships until the late 1930s, nor did they hold officer positions. However, in 1938, the organizational structure changed to a President, three regional Vice Presidents (Maryland, the District of Columbia metropolitan area, and Virginia), plus a Secretary-Treasurer.
During the 1938 Virginia State Open, the golf Professionals formed the Virginia Association of Golf Professionals (VAGP) to take over running the state championship. VAGP never affiliated with the PGA of America. It lasted until 1968 when they became the Virginia Chapter of the MAPGA.
Professional and amateur golf in the United States came to a near standstill during the World War II years, 1942 to 1945. Nationally, the PGA Tour ceased operations for a time and the USGA suspended the Open and amateur events as well. For the most part, the MAPGA did not conduct championships or much in the way of business during the war years.
Once the outcome of World War II was no longer in doubt, the PGA and MAPGA redirected their efforts to providing programs for wounded veterans. Robert Barnett, who by then served as a PGA of America Vice President, chaired the MAPGA Committee which outlined plans to conduct golf days and fundraisers to build nine-hole courses at three military hospitals: Bethesda Naval, Forest Glen, and Walter Reed.
The MAPGA counted 60 members in 1948. The PGA of America and professional golf as a business and as a tournament sport continued developing throughout the 1950s, and continued to do so in the Middle Atlantic PGA. Three men dominated the policies and oversaw the growth of the MAPGA between 1950 and up through the early 1960s while serving as President: Al Houghton, Max Elbin, and Bill Clarke. After their MAPGA Presidencies ended, all three men rose to prominence in the PGA of America circles as either Vice President or President. Furthermore, Carroll MacMaster and Ralph Beach, former MAPGA Presidents, and Irv Schloss, former Mt. Pleasant Head Professional, substantially influenced PGA of America policies. MacMaster and Beach became President of the PGA’s Senior Association, and Irv Schloss led the educational endeavors at national headquarters. By 1960 the Section reported 201 MAPGA members and apprentices
Carl Rasnic ascended to the MAPGA Presidency in 1966. He intended to persuade the Virginia Professionals to organize a chapter of their own and retain membership in the MAPGA. Furthermore, he intended on establishing a centrally located office. Carl Rasnic fulfilled his intentions by developing an office for the Section and securing a professional staff member. The office opened in October 1966 housed in the Bethesda. Simultaneously, they hired retired Army Colonel Roland Weeks as the Executive Secretary. After considerable deliberations between Rasnic, Bill Strausbaugh, and Leo Steinbrecher, the VAGP became the MAPGA Virginia Chapter in 1968. Subsequently in 1969 to 1970, the Section formed a Northern Chapter (Baltimore and Washington) to parallel the Virginia Chapter the preceding year.
During the 1970s the MAPGA incorporated many of the changes that began to emerge in the 1960s. The organization continued to grow rapidly with two chapters, each with a leadership cadre and tournament schedule. A membership list for 1979 includes 220 head Professionals. A formal decision by the Virginia Chapter to apply for Section status occurred on March 6, 1975. The National PGA finally resolved the issue in 1977 when they said “no” to the Virginia Chapter and the MAPGA leadership.
One of the most important actions taken by the Section in 1971 was the admission of the first African American member, Al Green, the Head Professional at Eisenhower Golf Course near Annapolis.
During the 1970s the Section continued to prosper and develop further. After Colonel Weeks retired, the Section hired Adele Bellizzi as their Executive Director. The Section’s operation moved to a facility in Columbia, Maryland, that they had purchased. In 1985, the Virginia Chapter opened an office in Richmond under Chapter President Frank Herrelko’s leadership.
The PGA and MAPGA membership expanded to incorporate women into their ranks. The first woman to play a MAPGA Tournament was Mary Allice Canney in 1980.
Adele Bellizzi continued as the Executive Director into 1986. That year, the Board of Directors hired a new Executive Director, J. Varden Dyer, who came from the business world, not golf. He was a retired manager for C and P Telephone.
Through the 1980s the Section had two offices some 150 miles apart, approximately 650 members, conducted some 140 events for half million dollars in added money, held a merchandise show and an awards dinner, published an annual magazine and a monthly newsletter, and employed a staff of eight full-time employees and a number of part-time employee, plus coordinating efforts by volunteers. By the late 1980s the discussions about efficient organization led to the formation of a three-chapter arrangement: Southern, Central, and Northern.
They initiated a Hall of Fame in 1986. The two first classes of inductees were Chandler Harper, Sam Snead, and Lew Worsham in 1986, and Charlie Bassler, Bill Clarke, and Max Elbin in 1987. Now, more than forty members have been enshrined.
The Section continued growing in numbers and stature throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1995, Colonel “The Skull” Richard Johns and Jon Guhl, arrived. Then in January 1996, Colonel Johns was formally named the Executive Director and Jon Guhl the Assistant Executive Director. Jon Guhl succeeded Colonel Johns in 2012. In their 20 years, they greatly enhanced the Section’s financial wherewithal and safety net. The Hall of Fame and Awards Banquet became a major production. The Section closed the Columbia and Richmond offices and now make their home in a new, wholly owned building replete with office space, conference room, library, and museum, and an upstairs living quarters for the interns, aptly named the Pro’s Nest. Furthermore, the Section produced another PGA of America President, Allen Wronowski.