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Remembering C. Grant Spaeth: USGA President in 1990-91

By David Shefter, USGA

| Jul 29, 2020

During his time with the USGA, C. Grant Spaeth (right) mingled with many luminaries, including Arnold Palmer and Bob Hope. (NCGA)

Grant Spaeth was born to serve the game. That is one of the first lines of his bio when he was part of the inaugural class inducted in the Northern California Golf Association Hall of Fame in 2011.

The past USGA president, who died on July 28 at the age of 88 from pneumonia, was introduced to golf in Montevideo, Uruguay, where his father had been stationed. Later, when his family moved to Palo Alto, Calif., he caddied for members of the Stanford University men’s golf team before enrolling there and helping Stanford to the 1953 NCAA title.

"'Biggie' was a terrific person and will be sorely missed," said USGA CEO Mike Davis. "Even after his stroke a handful of years ago, he would call me to chat.  [He] loved golf and was bigger than life." 

Spaeth graduated from Stanford and Harvard Law School before a brief stint in the U.S. Army, later establishing a law practice in Palo Alto. He also devoted a good deal of time to public service. He served as the deputy secretary for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1978-80, and was a Palo Alto city councilman.

As a member of the USGA Executive Committee and then the Association’s president in 1990 and 1991, Spaeth was instrumental in creating the U.S. Mid-Amateur and U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur championships and the USGA’s Regional Affairs department, while also guiding the Association through some turbulent times.

RELATED VIDEO CONTENT: Grant Spaeth Recalls 1994 World Amateur Team Championship Experience With Tiger Woods

During his USGA presidency, Spaeth confronted the issue of segregation at golf clubs stemming from Shoal Creek hosting the 1990 PGA Championship. This led to a significant policy change barring USGA championships from clubs with exclusionary practices. Just prior to Spaeth’s election as president, the USGA settled a lawsuit with Ping over the size and shape of golf-club grooves.

C. Grant Spaeth was born June 27, 1932, in Oxford, England, and spent part of his childhood in South America when his father was stationed in Uruguay. His dad, a Dartmouth College graduate, was a golfer and the fact that there was a course across the street from his house helped Spaeth gravitate to the game.

“There were none of the American sports,” said Spaeth, “and so no football, baseball or basketball. For a couple of years [that] we were down there … I played every day. There was a wonderful pro at the course.”


C. Grant Spaeth received an autographed photo from two-time U.S. Open champ Curtis Strange. (NCGA)

When Spaeth’s father became dean of the Stanford Law School in 1946, the family moved to California and Grant attended Palo Alto High and eventually Stanford.

After he became an established attorney, Spaeth got to know a number of USGA Executive Committee members by attending events such as the Walker Cup at St. Andrews in 1975. When the Executive Committee elevated future USGA president Bill Williams from general counsel, they sought another attorney to fulfill that role, and Spaeth came on board. It didn’t hurt that fellow Stanford alum and lawyer Frank “Sandy” Tatum was a good friend and an Executive Committee member, soon to be USGA president in 1978 and 1979.

During Spaeth’s tenure on the Executive Committee, the USGA created the U.S. Mid-Amateur (1981) and U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur (1987) for players 25 and older. He also was an advocate for public golf. Even though he held memberships at San Francisco Golf Club, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Muirfield) and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, some of his fondest memories were rounds played at the Palo Alto Municipal Course.

A story in the March/April 1990 issue of Golf Journal noted: “Spaeth is something of an anomaly; on one hand, he has remarkable professional and golf credentials, but on the other, nothing seems to please him more than socializing with the working crowd, the mainstays in the expansion of the game.”

Even into his late 50s, Spaeth played off a 2 handicap, not much higher than when he claimed the 1949 San Francisco Junior Championship. He reached match play in the 1949 U.S. Junior Amateur and 1953 U.S. Amateur, and qualified for the 1982 U.S. Senior Open.

In the Bay Area, Spaeth often contributed to the popular “Hooked on Golf” television show with essays on the game and its Rules.

“I want more people exposed to the game,” he told Golf Club Atlas in 2008. “Those who take to it will be lucky and should be thankful.”

Spaeth is survived by his longtime wife, Lori, along with two adult children, Charlie and Shelley.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at

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