From the Golf Journal Archives - A President and A General Lead Golf’s Associates

Dec 17, 2010

(Note: This article originally appeared in the January/February 1976 issue of Golf Journal.)

On December 18, 1975 two golfers met in the Oval Office of the White House. Gerald Ford, President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of this country’s military establishment and Arnold Palmer, commander of golf’s greatest army, inaugurated a new era in the long and distinguished history of the United States Golf Association. As the leader of Arnie’s Army strode into the Oval room, accompanied by his wife, Winnie, daughter, Amy, and ranking USGA officials, President Ford, an avid golfer who daily confronts domestic and international crises, got up from his desk and greeted his old golfing companion with the happy news, “I’m down to 15.”

Burning Tree Club’s most important member had found some minutes in a hectic schedule to become the first Associate in the USGA, lending his personal enthusiasm and the prestige of the presidency to a program which will open the heretofore exclusively club-oriented association to individual golfers. And if any U.S. President epitomizes the style of the “amateur golfer” it is Gerald Ford, 38th Chief Executive of our country, lawyer, congressman, vice president and sports lover.

Better known for his sports achievements as a college football player, Ford finds relaxation from his grinding duties by playing tennis and golf, in addition to skiing and swimming. His drop from an 18 to 15 handicap suggests that Ford has benefitted from his playing association with professionals like Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and PGA Commissioner Deane Beman, all of whom have joined him in a round on various occasions.

Early in 1975 he became the first president to play in a tournament pro-am, partnering with Nicklaus at the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic. Unlike many average players, Ford is not ashamed to display his game before an audience, alternating crunching 250-yard drives with erratic pitches, occasional birdies with double-bogies. Watching Ford play, the middle-range golfer sees himself.

So it was fitting that Ford, the eighth president in this century to play golf, should become the Number One Associate of the United States Golf Association.

Speaking for the group assembled in the Oval Office, Palmer, national chairman of the Associate Program, told Ford, “Mr. President, I think you already know something about the Associate Program, which aims to help golfers and the USGA. It is my privilege as chairman to designate you the first USGA Associate.”

Ford accepted graciously, saying, “I know of the USGA Associate Program. I think it is a fine one and I’m glad to support it.”

After receiving the first Associate decal and bagtag as symbols of his enrollment, the President signed a special plaque identifying the first Associates: Gerald Ford, Arnold Palmer and Elbert Jemison, general chairman of the USGA Associate Program, who reciprocated by giving the President a special gold USGA tie clasp as a tribute to his support of golf and the Associate Program.

The Associate concept grew out of a lengthy USGA study commissioned two years ago which recommended greater efforts by the USGA to inform the golfing public about who it is and what it does. The Associate Program seeks to establish the USGA’s work for golf clearly and to bridge the gap between USGA leadership and the golfing public by inviting individual golfers to become part of the new Associate category.

For a nominal fee, which goes to support the work of the USGA, the individual receives copies of the Rules of Golf, the USGA’s Golf Journal, a bagtag and decal marking the golfer as an Associate who supports the work of the USGA. Men, women and children can join the program.

At the luncheon following the induction of Mr. Ford as First Associate, USGA Chairman Jemison introduced national chairman Palmer, “a man who personifies the appeal of golf, the people’s choice.”

Like the commanding and positive personality he is, Palmer began by saying that “there are no ‘ifs’ about this program. Amateurs and professionals, men and women will make the Associate Program a success. All 12 million golfers in this country are going to support it.”

Palmer then went on to give his views of the USGA.

“Something that has not been said enough, and should be said, is that the members of the USGA Executive Committee, its officers and the many committee people around the country are not paid for their work. They volunteer, giving freely of their time and money so that golfers have a national body which protects their interests.

“We professionals make a living from golf. These people work for free.

“The USGA has a unique position in sport. Golf may be the only game where an amateur body governs. Those of us in professional golf are happy about this. In fact, one of our PGA professionals is on the USGA Rules Committee.

“The USGA is not just a national body for America but works world¬wide with organizations like the Royal and Ancient of Scotland. They legislate Rules every golfer in the world can follow.

“I appreciate the gift the USGA has given me during over 40 years in the game and I’m happy once again to work so closely with it.”

Harry Easterly, Jr., incoming USGA president said that “a great new day dawns. The USGA is trying to come out of the shadows. Too few people know the good work the USGA and its 600 committee people do every day. Occasionally, the USGA leaps into the press by taking a hard and unpopular stand on a tough problem. But this is the exception. If our works are good, then why don’t clubs and individual golfers know us? The Associate Program is a major effort on our part to let people know what we do and why we are good for golf.”

Easterly accentuated the breadth of the Associate Program when he welcomed the professional golf administrators in attendance. They included Deane Beman, Commissioner of the Tournament Players Division of the PGA of America, Henry Poe, President of the PGA, Mark Cox, PGA Executive Director, and Joseph C Dey, Jr., former Executive Director of the USGA and first TPD Commissioner.

Easterly said that “the type of relationship which exists between the PGA and the USGA leaves nothing to be desired. We look forward to even closer ties in the future.”

USGA vice president Frank “Sandy” Tatum followed Easterly and combined frank statement with humor. “We do not ask you to love us, because some of us are not lovable. We ask that you do respect what we do for golf. We are dedicated to preserving the grail which is the game.”

Turning to Associate Program chairman Jemison, Tatum indulged in some ribbing. “Elbert Jemison is probably the farthest gone of all the lost souls who populate this game. He is the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to fight World War II with a rifle in one hand and an eight-iron in the other.”

In keeping with the introduction Jemison stressed that his “months of involvement planning the Associate Program have been fun. Today is one of the most important in my life. Directing the Associate Program is the biggest job I’ve had with the USGA and I know its success will insure we can continue to operate at maximum efficiency.

“We know that everyone tees off together. It’s an even game for us all. We want people to rub shoulders with the men in blue blazers.

“During 1976 we are going to reach out to millions of golfers, through the mails, their clubs, their club professional, to every place where people play in America. We are contacting every golf association in America, asking them to join as Associates. I also envision foreign Associates joining from among the 55 member associations of the World Amateur Golf Association.

“We already have requests in from California and Nevada, Alabama and New York. I’m sure that if Arnold Palmer says, ‘I am a USGA Associate’ then every golfer in America is going to want to join him.”

Speaking for the group assembled in the Oval Office, Arnold Palmer, national chairman of the Associate Program, told Ford, “Mr. President, I think you already know something about the Associate Program, which aims to help golfers and the USGA. It is my privilege as chairman to designate you the first USGA Associate.” (USGA Museum)

Arnold Palmer, National Chairman, USGA Associates Program (USGA Museum)

Elbert Jemison, USGA General Chairman of the Associates Program, introduces Arnold Palmer at the USGA Associates luncheon. (USGA Museum)