BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Max Elbin, the longtime head pro at Burning Tree who was president of the PGA of America when tournament players broke away to form the PGA Tour, died Friday. He was 88.
He died of heart failure, the PGA said.
Elbin played and taught six U.S. presidents at Burning Tree, the private club outside Washington where presidents, congressmen and business executives play golf.
He became the 15th president of the PGA of America in 1965, serving three years during tumultuous times that reshaped the organization. With tour pros feeling their needs were not being met, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus led a move to create a separate division, which eventually became the PGA Tour.
“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,” PGA president Jim Remy said. “Because of his leadership example, the PGA of America is stronger today.”
Elbin began his involvement with golf as a caddie during the Depression, and later was hired by Lew Worsham as an assistant at Burning Tree. Worsham wanted to pursue tournament golf after World War II, and never returned to work at Burning Tree after he won the 1947 U.S. Open. Elbin was hired as head pro with a handshake when he was 26.
He was the last of the PGA’s three-term presidents, and he faced its toughest issue.
“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 PGA membership in 1968.
The Tournament Players Division and the PGA signed an agreement called “Statement of Principles” in 1968, shortly after Elbin’s third term as PGA president. It remains the basis for the operating agreement between the two groups.
In dividing properties, the PGA Tour took a popular exhibition called the World Series of Golf at Firestone, while the PGA of America received a biennial competition that at the time was sparsely attended – the Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup now is one of the most popular events in golf.
Elbin is survived by his wife, Mary, and five children, including Kelly Elbin, the PGA’s director of communications.