SERVING THE GAME
Sandy Tatum: A Passion for the Game June 22, 2017 By Sandy Tatum

Frank "Sandy" Tatum was good enough to try professional golf, but instead chose a different careeer path that still allowed him to enjoy the game. (USGA Archives)

This story originally appeared in the 2012 U.S. Open program.

I grew up in Los Angeles and first started playing golf in San Francisco in the late 1930s, when I was an undergraduate at Stanford. The local golf scene — The Olympic Club, San Francisco Golf Club, the municipal course at Harding Park — has been the spine of my life for more than 70 years.

Golf in San Francisco has had a rich history.  Ken Venturi, Johnny Miller and George Archer evolved into premier golfers here and Harvie Ward was a fixture for many years. The Olympic Club has hosted four previous U.S. Opens. 

Obviously, the Lake Course at Olympic plays a unique part in the past, present and future of San Francisco golf. I was a member at Olympic through much of the 1950s. My involvement in setting up the course for the 1958 U.S. Amateur included a redesign of the seventh green to provide a two-tiered surface.

Recently, Mike Davis, the USGA executive director, and I toured the course. He has one of the best golf minds I have ever encountered. I’m so pleased he is going to play the first at Olympic as a long par 4 and the 17th as a short par 5 — that green is meant to receive pitch shots. The varying lengths of rough Mike has instituted is one of the best U.S. Open innovations I’ve seen in my years in the game.

Among the many features that make the Lake Course such an effective test is the gentle slope of the land. To win at Olympic, you have to drive your ball in play, and for the right-handed golfer that means hitting fade shots off the tee into the canted fairways that often slope toward Lake Merced.

I never played in the U.S. Open, but three times I made it to sectional qualifying. One year, when the Open was at Olympic, I played in the sectionals at the San Francisco Golf Club, paired with a prominent touring pro. On the first green, my ball was 20 feet from his. I marked it with a dime. He marched over and placed a penny on top of my dime. His message was clear: How did I get stuck playing with this low-grade amateur who marks his ball with a shiny dime? I was bemused. We had a long day.

Even when the Open isn’t in town, we have the San Francisco City Championship, the oldest continuously played match-play tournament in the country. It also has the largest field. It is played as golf, especially amateur golf, is meant to be played: It has a match-play format; its basic premise is to press on regardless of the weather; there is no aberration such as lift clean and place; and if water is running on the greens, you deal with it by chipping.

The event is played at Harding Park, a public golf course that provides affordable access to a priceless golf experience. A World Golf Championship and the Presidents Cup have been played on the course in recent years.

My involvement in the restoration of Harding Park (it had deteriorated into a weed patch) was stimulated by my understanding of how much public golf matters to the game. Eighty percent of the golfers in this country play on public golf courses, and 90-plus percent of our golf is played at such facilities. To have played a part in bringing a premium golf experience to the public at a reasonable price was — and is — intensely satisfying.

A prime factor in my motivation was that the facilities Harding could provide for the establishment of a First Tee chapter. Conceptually, I thought it was brilliant to use the appeal of learning golf to develop in young people, especially the disadvantaged, personal core values they will need to become effective, constructive adults.

And I now know that the concept works. After two years working with the program, the principal of a middle school located in a San Francisco neighborhood afflicted with gangs and violence sent us the following evaluation:

“As the year runs down I had to stop and say, one more time, thank you so much for what you have done for our kids, our school, our neighborhood and our city. First Tee rocks!”

Apropos, Alexandra Wong, winner of the women’s division of the 2012 San Francisco City Championship, enrolled as a beginning golfer in the San Francisco First Tee program six years ago. As her golf game developed so did her development of the nine personal core values. In the fall she will enter Princeton on a scholarship.  As she considered her future, she said, “I love this game, but I want to make an impact on the world.”