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Descendants of PGA of America Founders Pay Tributes


As the reception at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway neared a conclusion on August 31, two descendants of the founders the PGA of America toasted their ancestors on opposite sides of the room.

John Wanamaker-Leas, great-grandson of Rodman Wanamaker, a department store magnate, spoke about "legacy," while Barbara Hobens, the granddaughter of John "Jack" Hobens, one of 35 PGA charter members, reflected on a family mission to ensure that a segment of U.S. golf history was preserved.

The two joined some 100 guests at the hotel, a member of the Historic Hotels of America that embraces its perch as the birthplace of the PGA of America on April 10, 1916. The reception also marked the opening of the PGA Gallery, featuring rare photos and memorabilia on the second floor. All of this took place as a proclamation from Mayor Michael Bloomberg was unveiled, declaring "PGA of America Day" in New York City.

"What happened down the hall in a boardroom 95 years ago this past spring became the roots for the growth of a remarkable tree," said PGA of America president Allen Wronowski. "That tree continues to touch the lives of all of us."

"The legacy certainly gets stronger and stronger as the years go on, and we get closer to the hundredth anniversary of the PGA of America," said Wanamaker-Leas, 53, a music producer and investor who lives in Palm Beach, Fla. "My great grandfather was a visionary man. I am honored that The PGA invites me every year (to the PGA Championship). I think it's a wonderful organization. I see the growth and opportunities to grow the game of golf get better and better each year."

Barbara Hobens, 57, promised her father, the late David J. Hobens of Demarest, N.J., that she would research his father's involvement with the PGA of America. Jack Hobens was secretary of the seven-member PGA Organizing Committee in 1916. He was in attendance at a January 17 luncheon that year at the former Taplow Club at the Wanamaker Store, nearly 20 blocks south of the former Hotel Martinique. That luncheon became the catalyst for the formal organization of the association and the subsequent signing of a charter and election of 78 members three months later at the Hotel Martinque.

In early 2004, Barbara Hobens walked into the management office at the Radisson Martinique and reignited the linkage between the facility and the PGA of America. As a result, hotel management connected with her to promote a PGA Gallery that includes her grandfather's custom-made golf clubs.

"I know my father knows that this (the reception) is happening," said Barbara, who lives in Cold Spring, N.Y. "It is amazing to stand here and think that what has transpired since early 2004 when I first walked into this hotel. I am thrilled that my father's wish has indeed come true."

Jack Hobens was more than a Scottish-born golf professional who caddied at St. Andrews. He recorded the first hole-in-one at the U.S. Open in 1907. The father of eight became a popular instructor in the U.S. while serving as head professional at the Knickerbocker Country Club in Tenafly, N.J. Among his students were the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and his family.

"It is wonderful that this history is not forgotten, and we can all share in what the PGA of America has done to help golf in this country," said Barbara. The 95th Anniversary reception also featured Pulitzer Prize winner and Golf Digest contributing editor Dave Anderson of the New York Times, who lives in Tenafly and knew Jack Hobens.

"The tour pros are the show of golf," said Anderson, "but the club pros are the soul of golf. Where would we be without club pros? They are the soul of golf forever."

Today's PGA membership represents 27,000 men and women professionals, upholding the pledge of its founders to be leaders on all levels of the sport of golf and to grow interest and participation in the game. Though he never spent his career in the golf industry, Wanamaker-Leas said that he is proud to share a linkage to his great-grandfather's support of the American golf professional beyond the fact that Rodman Wanamaker has his name on a PGA Championship trophy.

"When Rodman formed the meeting (January 17, 1916), he wanted a future for the American professional golfer," said Wanamaker-Leas. "There was no future at the time for them. Their status was low on the totem pole. When I think back to that time, they were akin to carnival people. Rodman really saw their plight, just as he saw the plight of the American Indian. He sent expeditions to bring them to American citizenship. He saw that change could happen, and he wanted to be an agent of change. He wanted to make a difference, whether it be in sports, whether it be in merchandising or in athletics."

In addition to his merchandising skill, Rodman Wanamaker's father, John, served as a U.S. Postmaster General and introduced the commemorative stamp. His multi-talented and diverse interests carried over to his son.

"Rodman's father, John, was a pioneer in many ways. Those two held a very special relationship together and were almost symbiotic in thought and feeling about things," said Wanamaker-Leas. "Part of Rodman's personality was that he wanted the best of everything, and he felt that people should have the best of everything and live the best that they could live."

The PGA Gallery opening will keep pace with the PGA of America's march to its Centennial in 2016.

"We only are in the first phase, and the reaction we have had so far is very positive," said Susan Anselona, vice president and general manager of the Radisson Martinique. "It's exciting to share our history with the PGA of America. By creating the PGA Gallery at the Martinique, we are continuing to encourage historic preservation of the founding fathers of the PGA, while at the same time showcasing this hotel's rich history. Our goal is to bring these two special organizations to the attention of the traveling public."

This report is courtesy of the PGA of America. For more information, visit www.pga.com.