Hickman Now PGA Life Member
James A. Hickman grew up on South 2nd Avenue, in the town of Paden City, W.Va. – back when it was a growing little community with glass factories and businesses dotting the landscape.
People were locating in the safe and peaceful little town where everyone knew each other, and the high school was the center of everyone’s life.
Playing sports or being a member of the Wildcat band was a must-do for any kid in town. The pride of Paden City was evident by the support the residents gave to the local churches, restaurants, the schools, and the upkeep of their properties. New homes were being built, and many of the unpaved streets were receiving concrete or pavement.
Main Street was a beautiful little part of town with a brick street – dotted with shops, food stores, a few watering holes and the old city complex.
That was 50 plus years ago. Hickman, who graduated from Paden City high school in 1967, was an athlete in his own right. He was a member of the Wildcat basketball team and a very good player at that. He was also a member of the award-winning Wildcat band under the direction of Ed Hood.
What many didn’t know about Jim Hickman was his skill as a local high school golfer, and his dedication to the sport would become a part that would forever change his life.
While living in Paden City, at a time when most people had football on their minds and the Wildcats were producing state championship caliber teams, under the leadership of one of the valley’s finest coaches Henry Healy, Hickman had golf on his mind.
Hickman, who was somewhat the quiet type and never one to brag about his accomplishments, led the Paden City golf team to the 1966 and 1967 OVAC golf championships. Both years he was selected to the first team in the conference.
Upon graduating from high school, Hickman went to West Liberty College and captained the 1969 and 1970 West Liberty team to the WVIAC West Virginia Championships. In 1970 he played in the NAIA College Championship, representing West Liberty College, at Kansas City, Missouri.
His game was impressive and many nationwide had taken notice.
He turned professional in the spring of 1971, and in the summer of that year he became the Assistant PGA Professional at Moundsville Country Club. It was a position he held during the summers of 71 and 72.
At the age of 21, he was also named the assistant. PGA professional at Woodlands Country Club, in Tamarac, Fla. for the winter of 1971. In the winter of 1972-73 he became the Asst. PGA Professional at Inverrary Country Club, Tamarac, Fla.
It was in 1973 when Hickman made the commitment to make golf a lifetime profession. He became the assistant PGA Professional at River North, Ga, Country Club, in November 1975 and became head PGA Professional at River North from February 1976 through November 1989.
“During my 15 years at River North, I enjoyed working for the members and staff. As a PGA Professional my duties were many, but my favorite was serving the members, teaching golf and running golf tournaments,” said Hickman.
In 1978, he met Betty Whittle on the back porch of River North. That’s when she asked him if he could get the club to do a benefit tournament to help with research for the cause of Multiple Sclerosis.
“Her husband Bill had MS at the time, and I said sure we would be glad to help. In 1979 we had our first pro-am at River North and with the title sponsorship from Lamar Hughes. We invited 40 golf professionals from the PGA Tour to Macon to play with 160 amateurs, and the tournament was born; we gave the winning professional a brand new Pontiac, and the tournament was off and running, ” Hickman said.
Shortly after the first event they lost their sponsor, but Paul and Joyce Walsh – who owned Paul Walsh Honda and Nissan in Macon, Ga. -stepped up and became the major sponsor.
Hickman said, “Without them, their family, volunteers, and support of the members, the event would never have made the $500,000 it did for Multiple Sclerosis research.”
“The tournament became so well known that the PGA Tour contacted us, and in 1990 it became part of the Ben Hogan Tour, which is now the Nationwide Tour. Many of the players who came for the tournament are still playing the PGA and Champions Tour. Some of them are Larry Nelson, John Daly, Roger Maltby – who is now an NBC announcer, Scott Hoch, Gary Koch, Julius Boros, Tommy Aaron, Gardner Dickinson, T.C. Chen, Jim Dent plus many more.”
T.C. Chen had just lost the U.S. Open on Sunday before the event and still came to play in the golf tournament. Because of the way he lost the U.S. Open by double hitting the ball on a par 5 at Oakland Hills more than 1,000 people came out to watch the young golfer.
In November of 1989, Hickman became General Manager and PGA Professional at Bowden Golf Course in Macon, Ga., a position he held until 2004. Many people questioned why he would leave River North after being so successful, and he often asked himself the same question.
“I always came up with the same answer,” said Hickman. “At Bowden I had an opportunity to touch the lives of so many children in the Bibb County and Jones County area.”
Bowden Golf Course had golf schools in both the public and private school systems. The change Hickman made gave him the chance to help over 2,000 children. The golf school program was funded by Kathy Couzart and the Georgia Junior Golf Foundation. It gave Hickman the opportunity to introduce golf to many children, who are still in golf today. Hickman said he still receives calls from many of them thanking him for taking the time to share a game of lifetime with them.
Over the years Hickman has helped start many golf tournaments, of which most are still raising money for charity today. Among those tournaments are the Harley Bowers Cancer Tournament, which has raised over $400,000; the Boys and Girls Club Golf Tournament raising over $500,000; and the American Cancer Society Marathon Golf Tournament at Riverside Country Club which played 253 straight holes of golf and raised over $100,000 for cancer.
Hickman also helped start the Evening Sertoma Club Championship which is now the Honors Tournament. He has been instrumental with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Top of the Crop Championships, which provides local public and private high school golfers an opportunity to attend FCA Golf Camp.
Throughout his career Jim Hickman has received many awards for his golf humanitarian service, including the 1989 Service to Mankind Award from the Macon Evening Sertoma Club. In1990 he was named one of the top 10 most influential sports figures in Macon, Ga., by the Macon Telegraph and News.
He received the Humanitarian Service Award from the Bowden Men’s Golf Association, Macon Chapter of the NAACP in 1995 and in 1996 was named the Hamilton Award Winner-Macon Exchange Club.
In 2001 he received the Quarter Century Club, PGA of America’s 25 years of Service Award. The year 2004 saw Hickman named as Central Georgia’s PGA of America Junior Golf Leader, and the Fellowship of Christian Athlete Award Winner with 30 years of service to youth in Macon. In 2008 to was appointed as a Cross Roads Counseling Board Member.
Hickman has also worked with and taught several Junior golfers who went on to play college golf. Among those include Trelle Kite McCombs, current Golf Coach at Texas A & M; Christine Wentworth, Senior at UAB, Birmingham; Liz Balkcom, Junior at Troy State, and Drew Hickman, who played on the NCAA Division 11 Championship Team at Darton College, Albany, Ga.
The Paden City High School graduate has a resume of professional accomplishments that most can only dream of, starting as golf coach for Mercer University from 1977 through 1983. He has served on the Georgia PGA Board and GSGA Board of Directors. In 2009 Hickman was Inducted into the Macon Sports Hall of Fame.
Hickman, who has made Georgia his home state since the 70s, still considers West Virginia his home. He was recently back in the area, and although many say everything has changed, he commented, “It still looks like the best place in the world to me.”
Hickman’s high school basketball coach Bob Burton had this to say about him: “Jim Hickman was the perfect teammate and player. He was very easy to coach, was positive, upbeat, and a hard worker. He was also a very friendly kid who came from a great family. Jim is just an all-around good person who enjoys working with the youth. He is still loyal to Paden City High School. As his coach and teacher, I am very proud of his accomplishments.”
Ed Grisamore, a writer for the Macon Telgraph, had this to say about Hickman: “Some people can tavel around the world and never see a thing. Oh, they may do some sightseeing. But they refuse to open their eyes, hearts and minds to the possibilities. When you have tunnel vision, the scenery never changes. That’s why it’s refreshing to know Jim Hickman. Now here’s a guy who can travel around the block and see the whole world. He is a man driven by enthusiasm and boundless energy.”
It’s one of the greatest things about Hickman, the way he identifies with the needs of the people who live and work in Macon. He also has a good heart and works closely with youth groups, senior citizens and Special Olympics while teaching dozens of inner city children to play golf, often arranging to have clubs donated for them to use.
Those close to Hickman know he is a man with remarkable creativity. He does more than just talk; he listens and he acts. Very few people are left in our society with those characteristics. Paden City has good reason to be proud of this hometown hero.