March 20, 2001
By Melanie Hauser
The resume of the PGA TOUR's Volunteer of the Year is amazing, a
disparate blend of jobs and careers that make you wonder how one
life could take so many turns and be filled with so many rich
experiences. Movie producer. Author. Attorney. Commercial real
estate developer. Oil business entrepreneur.
But that's only the half of Earl D. Elliott's life.
The half that really makes him smile, that really makes him
tick, the part that really gets his juices flowing and recharges
all those batteries is golf. Not so much playing it, but nurturing
the game and giving back to it.
For four decades, Elliott was general chairman of all but one
major tournament held in the area. The nation's fourth-largest city
wouldn't be on the golf map without him.
The general chairman for everything this side of the 1967 Ryder
Cup -- he was volunteer chairman that year -- Elliott doesn't just
chair events, he nurtures every last facet of them.
A wiry man, Elliott is in constant motion. A meeting here. A
player there. A parking issue to solve. A former President of the
United States to greet. A first tee to preside over as the starter
every Shell Houston Open week.
As anyone who knows him will tell you, Elliott is one special
man. He receives by giving, and for that -- and so many other
reasons -- he was honored Tuesday morning as the PGA TOUR's
Volunteer of the Year. The toughest part of it was that he couldn't
be in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to accept it.
Elliott, 73, is home in Houston battling esophageal cancer. He
was diagnosed last summer, has undergone surgery and is now
battling the disease with chemotherapy. He is resting up for a trip
to The Masters in two weeks -- a jaunt that he says gets him
recharged and ready for the Shell Houston Open and THE TOUR
Championship, which will be held in late October at his home
course, Champions Golf Club.
He wouldn't miss any of those three for the world. His only
concession to slowing down these past few months has been to name
an acting general chairman in Philamena Baird. He still holds
meetings with Baird, Marlene Livaudais, THE TOUR Championship
director, and others on a regular basis. But while he's undergoing
treatment, Baird attends meetings in his place.
In his absence, Steve Timms, the Houston Golf Association
executive director, and Steve Elkington, a fellow Champions member,
stepped to the podium to accept his award.
"I always thought Earl was the most generous volunteer I've ever
seen," Elkington told the crowd of tournament directors. "But this
room is full of them."
Like those men and women, Elliott has two families -- his own
family and his golf family. Both get all the attention they
"After 43 years of service, you can truly say that Earl has
given his all to promoting a game of a lifetime," Timms said. "He's
been volunteering for the PGA TOUR almost as long as I've been
In 1969, Elliott was named general chairman of the 1969 U.S.
Open at Champions and went on to become the youngest president in
Houston Golf Association history. He was 39.
Since then, he's served as general chairman for four TOUR
Championships, the 1993 U.S. Amateur and the 1998 U.S. Women's
Mid-Amateur. He also founded the South Texas Amateur Golf
Association, was a three-term president and a recipient of the
USGA's Ike Grainger Award.
"I put Earl up there as one of the legends of Houston along with
Jackie Burke, Jimmy Demaret, Dave Marr and Jay Hebert," Elkington
said. "He's been a big part of the game there; a big part of
As for the latter, Elliott also serves in another rare position
-- confidant of Jackie Burke Jr. The two have been relying on each
other since Burke and the late Jimmy Demaret founded Champions Golf
Club in the late 1960s. Burke trusts him when it comes to decisions
about tournaments at the club -- and Burke rarely trusts anyone
Elliott is as special as that full head of gray hair he sported
until the chemo treatments robbed him of it. He's always there --
whether it's for a player, a sponsor, a reporter or his pastor, who
just recently took up the game and can't get in enough rounds. He's
honest. He's open. He's loyal to the game -- and his city.
What many of those people don't know is that when he wasn't
running tournaments or USGA qualifiers, Elliott produced the '60s
cult classic "Billy Jack" and wrote a children's book, which he
gave to Elkington's children when they were born. And when THE TOUR
Championship became full time? Earl's real estate office and
tournament office became one in the same.
Chances are, you know someone like Earl Elliott. Someone who
is unselfish and generous and totally devoid of ego. He or she,
like Elliott, becomes a bit embarrassed when you tick off their
list of accomplishments. They likely blush in the face of praise.
They do what they do not for the glory, but for what they get back
tenfold. Someone who loves the game and has to give back to it.
A few years ago, Elkington decided he couldn't have a better
partner for Champions' annual intraclub Rhubarb. Elk is the captain
of the north side of the locker room; Burke captain of the south.
And Burke's partner? Teacher Dick Harmon.
"Earl was worried about that match all year," Elk said. "But we
won and had a great time playing against them. It was a really good
Elliott deserved to brag about it, but didn't. Just like he
didn't brag about being chairman of the first TOUR Championship to
sell out back in 1997. Or the record amount ($1.6 million) the
tournament generated for charity that year.
He let everyone else talk about it. While he went about planning
that mid-am. And the next TOUR Championship.