On February 13, 2017, the members of the Dixie Section voted overwhelmingly to change the name of the Section to the Alabama – Northwest Florida Section, Professional Golf Association (PGA) of America. The new name gives the Section clearly identifiable boundaries and a practical name for doing business in the 21st century. The Section has a rich history, mostly rooted in the years operating as the Dixie Section from 1965-2016.
The Section boundaries have been Alabama and the Florida panhandle since 1969. Historically, PGA professionals in Alabama, as long ago as 1916, were members of what was previously called the Middle States Section. This Section’s region encompassed the states of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and both North and South Carolina. Of course, this was in the early days of the PGA when fewer members existed and autonomy of a Section was hardly more than a geographical identity. As the PGA grew, the demand for more reasonable and operational boundaries was heard and in 1926, the Southeast Section of the PGA was organized. The Carolinas was established as a separate Section, leaving six states as the Southeast Section. Not much better, but at least the trend was started to reduce the size of the Sections so they could have a more individual identity.
In 1959, several things took place. Tennessee and Florida were both established as new Sections, respectively. Additionally, the states of Louisiana and Mississippi joined together to establish the Gulf States Section. This left Alabama and Georgia to form their own Section, then called the Georgia-Alabama Section. During this period, as it is today, the Panhandle of Florida was considered a part of Alabama, for geographical identification.
In 1965, the Georgia-Alabama Section was renamed the Dixie Section. While the Georgia professionals established themselves as the Georgia Chapter of the Dixie Section, while the Alabama professionals had some work to do in this respect. At this time, there were several organizations and associations in the area that had banded together to also promote golf, pro-ams, tournaments, etc. This was understandable because of the large geographical area to be covered by one organization. In addition to the Professional Golfers of Alabama, there were groups from the Panhandle of Florida, Mobile, AL, and other areas of south Alabama. While these groups included some, if not most of the PGA members, they also included some golf professionals who were not PGA members. This left Alabama professionals some work to do when organizing the Alabama Chapter of the Dixie Section, as a counter-part of the Georgia Chapter. In 1967, Jackie Maness of Alabama was elected Secretary/Treasurer of the Dixie Section (GA-ALA). Shortly after this, the organization called to the Professional Golfers of Alabama to reestablish themselves as the Alabama Chapter of the Dixie Section, including the professionals in the Panhandle of Florida.
Starting in 1968, the Georgia professionals were making a strong attempt to have the national organization approve the Georgia Chapter as an established Section. Of course, this was met with support from the Alabama professionals. This would finally separate Alabama and the Panhandle of Florida to establish its own Section. Jackie Maness was very instrumental in working with Georgia professionals in this goal. In December 1969 at the PGA Annual Meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Georgia Section PGA was approved as its very own Section.
The Alabama professionals elected to retain the name of the Dixie Section PGA. Jackie Maness was named as President of the new Section and Gene Williams as the Secretary/Treasurer. At this point, there was still much to be done in regards to Chapter organization within the new Dixie Section. In January 1970, a meeting was held in the Panhandle area on this subject. A second meeting followed this several months later at the Pine Harbor CC in Alabama, where it was resolved that the Dixie Section would be divided into two Chapters. One would be called the Alabama Chapter to take in the area North of Montgomery and the other Chapter would be called the Gulf Coast Chapter and take in the area South of Montgomery through the Panhandle. The Chapters were to elect their own officers and conduct their own programs under the guidance and approval of the Dixie Section. By this time, the other non-PGA groups were disbanded as the PGA members pulled out to participate in their respective Chapters.
By 1977, the Dixie Section was one of very few sections that did not have an established business office and administrative person to handle all of the ever-increasing administrative details of the organization. Section PGA member Chick Ritter, who had recently retired as a Head Professional, was hired in April 1978 as the Executive Secretary and first full-time employee of the Section. Steady progress was made in the affairs and programs of the Section. In 1985, Chick requested retirement again with a lead time of June 1986 for a turn over to someone to take his place. In January 1986, after screening a number of applicants, the Section Board of Directors selected Eddie Webster of Webster and Associates, Inc., an association management firm, as the Executive Director for the Dixie Section. The contract became effective on February 1, 1986. After eight months, Eddie Webster left and Ralph “Peg” Thomas served as interim Executive Director from October 1, 1986 until February 16, 1987, when Dave Berry, PGA member, assumed the position of Executive Director until his retirement in October 2004. In March of 2005, the Section Board of Directors named Bart Rottier the new Executive Director.
It is interesting to note the membership numbers since the Dixie Section, as we know it today, was established. In 1969, before the split with Georgia, there were 175 members in the overall Georgia-Alabama area. The split left the Dixie Section, as we know it today, with 82 members. There has been a steady increase to the point that in 2017, we had 359 Members and 55 Apprentices.
Many new ideas have grown in the Section with assistance of the PGA National Headquarters. A PGA Financial Assistance Fund began in 1986 to provide college scholarships for children and grandchildren of PGA Members. In April of 2004 the Dixie Section Golf Foundation began. This Foundation was set up in a 501(c)(3) tax exempt status.