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A Life Devoted to Golf: Remembering Sandy Tatum

By David Shefter, USGA

| Jun 22, 2017

San Francisco attorney Frank Tatum joined the USGA Executive Committee in 1972 and served two one-year terms as president from 1978-79. (USGA Archives)

Frank “Sandy” Tatum, a former USGA president who won the 1942 NCAA individual championship while at Stanford University and later shepherded the restoration of the beloved Harding Park public golf course in his hometown of San Francisco, died on June 22 at the age of 96.

“All of us at the USGA are deeply saddened by the passing of one of the great individuals ever involved with golf,” said Mike Davis, executive director and CEO of the USGA. “Sandy Tatum certainly impacted the USGA in immeasurable ways, but more important were his countless and significant contributions to the game. He will long be remembered as one of the greats in golf.” 

Tatum served as USGA president in 1978 and 1979 and was a member of the USGA Executive Committee from 1972-80. He said in a 2014 interview while attending the U.S. Amateur Championship in Atlanta that he continued to keep tabs on all aspects of golf. “I like to stick an oar in the water from time to time,” Tatum said. “I never tire of it.”

Tatum was completely immersed in controversy in 1974, two years after he was invited to join the USGA Executive Committee. As chairman of the Championship Committee, he was involved in the course setup for the U.S. Open Championship that year at Winged Foot Golf Club. The difficulty of the course led Dick Schaap to author a book entitled “The Massacre at Winged Foot.”

Photos: Remembering Former USGA President Frank "Sandy" Tatum

“The pros – almost to a man – thought what we were trying to do was completely humiliate them,” Tatum said of that 1974 Open in a 2011 interview. “And it got very, very controversial, to put it mildly.

“The atmosphere was so pyrotechnic. … It was when I was so seriously challenged by the media and the players that I spontaneously said, ‘Look, we’re not trying to humiliate the best players in the world, we’re simply trying to identify who they are.’”

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Hale Irwin won the first of his three U.S. Open titles that week with a 7-over-par score of 287 amid a chorus of cries about the perceived punishing course setup.

“But when the Open went back in 2006, guess what – 285 won it,” Tatum said in 2011 of Geoff Ogilvy’s 5-over-par victory 32 years later. “And it was a totally different environment. The players finally understood and accepted what we were trying to do and that it was legitimate. I just found it fascinating that the environment in 2006 was so positive, and the environment in 1974 had been brutally negative.”

Tatum, born on July 7, 1920, and raised in the Los Angeles area, led Stanford to back-to-back NCAA team golf titles in 1941-42 before accepting a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University. He later returned to Stanford to earn his law degree in 1950, and was admitted to the bar in California that same year.

While he was a strong enough player to give professional golf a try, Tatum chose another career path with the law firm of Cooley Godward Kronish. He also served as general counsel to the University of San Francisco and as special counsel to the chief administration officer of the City and County of San Francisco.

“There is infinitely more to be had in and from a life than making barrels full of money and having extravagant public exposure,” Tatum wrote in his 2002 book, “A Love Affair With the Game,” which had a foreword by longtime friend Tom Watson. “There is no price that can be put on the opportunity to develop fully as a mature and educated person.”

In 1997, he spearheaded the effort to renovate Harding Park, the crown jewel of San Francisco’s municipal golf courses. The annual site of the San Francisco City Championship, the course had gone into disrepair, and Tatum came up with a plan to revitalize the layout. With help from other city leaders, Tatum saw his vision come to fruition. The $16 million renovation included a chapter of The First Tee and a nine-hole short course.

Shortly after it reopened for play, Harding Park landed the 2006 WGC-American Express Championship as well as the 2009 Presidents Cup. The Charles Schwab Cup Championship, the season-ending event on the PGA Tour Champions, was played at Harding three times (2010, 2011 and 2013). The course is set to host the 2020 PGA Championship.

“Sure I am going to play Harding,” Tatum told Golf Digest. “What I really look forward to is the first City Championship after all the work. It will again be a premier amateur event. God, I loved playing in ‘The City.’”

Tatum, who had memberships at San Francisco Golf Club and Cypress Point, competed in the AT&T National Pro-Am – the PGA Tour event founded by Bing Crosby – with Watson for 20 years. Both were former Stanford standouts and Tatum admired Watson’s grace and etiquette.

He once said of Watson: “I have a lot of perks in my life, and one of them is that the devil never turned up and offered me your golf swing.”


Sandy Tatum (right) forged a lifelong friendship with fellow Stanford alum Tom Watson, often pairing with him in the AT&T National Pro-Am. (USGA Archives)

In an email on Thursday, Watson shared the news of Tatum’s passing: “Frank D. Tatum Jr. passed this morning, leaving a rich and passionate legacy to golf. We owe a great deal to him for what he did to enhance our great game. We will sorely miss him.”

In his foreword to Mr. Tatum’s 2002 autobiography, eight-time major champion Watson wrote, “Knowing Sandy as I do, I can honestly admit I have never met a golfer who has been so thoroughly possessed with the game.”

Tatum had a hand in designing Spanish Bay Golf Links along 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, Calif., with Watson and course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. Tatum also co-designed Lockeford Springs Golf Course in Lodi, Calif., and Mount Shasta (Calif.) Resort.

Even into his 90s, Tatum continued to play the game, although not as regularly, and still made visits to his law office.

Bo Links, a local golf historian and longtime friend who was assisted by Tatum in his efforts to save another local public course, Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica, paid tribute to his influence on the game.

“Golf lives and thrives in San Francisco because of Sandy,” Links told the San Francisco Chronicle. “And when golfers pass by Sandy’s Rock behind the first tee at Harding Park, they would do right to stop and say thanks. His work and his memory will live on forever.”

By 2014, Tatum hadn’t played an 18-hole round in four years, but he continued to work on his swing at San Francisco Golf Club or at Cypress Point. “I’m looking for that one remnant of the golfer I used to be,” said Tatum. “The way I go about it now is that I have hope and illusions. I hope I can hit a golf ball the way I want, and I have illusions about how I’m going to do it. But you know what? I’ll never give up."

Tatum is survived by six children — Jeffery Anne, Timothy, Peter, Christopher, Victoria and Shelley — and 11 grandchildren. His wife of 67 years, Barbara (Snyder), died in February. Funeral arrangements are pending.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at Ron Driscoll, the manager of editorial services for the USGA, also contributed.


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