FAR HILLS, N.J. – Frank Hannigan, the former USGA executive director who held a variety of other positions throughout a 27-year career with the Association, died Saturday in his hometown of Saugerties, N.Y., at the age of 82. He was one week from celebrating his 83rd birthday.
“Frank Hannigan made contributions to the USGA and the game of golf that were truly immense,” said USGA Executive Director Mike Davis. “Frank was such a neat and straightforward person. His passion for the Association and the game leaves a lasting legacy at the USGA.”
A native of Staten Island, N.Y., Hannigan was born on March 29, 1931, and was introduced to golf as a caddie. He later wrote a column for the Staten Island Advance before being hired in 1961 as the manager of public information for the USGA, which at the time was headquartered in Manhattan.
His USGA career, and depth of knowledge of the Rules of Golf, accelerated in 1969 when he became the tournament relations manager. He continued to direct championships until 1978, when he became the USGA’s director of special projects.
In 1983, shortly after that year’s U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, Hannigan succeeded Harry Easterly to become the USGA’s fifth executive director. Among his major accomplishments was his decision to bring the U.S. Open to Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in 1986. One of the USGA’s five founding clubs, Shinnecock had not hosted the national championship in 90 years, and the success of that U.S. Open, won by Raymond Floyd, led to three more U.S. Opens being awarded to the historic club (including the 2018 championship).
Hannigan retired from the USGA in November 1988 and was succeeded as executive director by David Fay, who recalled the man he considers one of his two most important mentors.
“His knowledge of USGA core services was superb, as was his writing,” said Fay. “He was amazingly bright, with a sense of humor to match.”
That humor, along with sharp and sometimes strongly worded opinions, became an integral part of Hannigan’s post-USGA career. He was hired by ABC Sports to serve as an on-air Rules of Golf expert, and his lively explanations of rulings were some of the most entertaining parts of ABC telecasts, which until 1995 included the U.S. Open.
In more recent years, Hannigan served as a contributing writer to Golf Digest. Whether he wrote about the Rules of Golf, equipment technology or pace of play, Frank Hannigan never stopped caring about, or commenting on, the game he loved.