By: Geoff Shackelford | June 23, 2017 8:50 am
Sandy Tatum was the the kind of person who would leave a voice mail you could not delete. The voice, the gravitas, the command of English and his love for golf was uncanny.
The Stanfordian, lawyer, USGA president and, later in life, advocate for public golf, could always be counted on to return a call in short time. No matter how busy with work duties–even well into his 90s–Tatum was actively involved in the game in meaningful ways.
I treasured talking golf distance issues, television contract dynamics and of course, golf architecture with a man who grew up playing Los Angeles courses when Howard Hughes was flirting at Wilshire with Katharine Hepburn.
Here is just a snippet from Ron Kroichick with must-read obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, which addresses many elements of Sandy’s life, though 1974 at Winged Foot inevitably is near the top:
Asked about ringing criticism of daunting course conditions, Mr. Tatum succinctly offered one of the most memorable quotes in golf history.
“We are not trying to humiliate the best golfers in the world,” he said, in a line repeated often since then. “We are simply trying to identify who they are.”
Beyond his interest in wide-ranging issues affecting the game — from ball and club technology to architecture (he helped design Spanish Bay on the Monterey Peninsula, among other layouts) — Mr. Tatum took special interest in Harding Park. Harding, a tree-lined municipal course weaving around Lake Merced in the southwest corner of San Francisco, had been a regular PGA Tour stop in the 1960s.
Mr. Tatum annually played there in the San Francisco City Championship, an amateur event he came to cherish for its egalitarian flavor. He embraced the diversity of competitors, with police officers and house painters tangling with lawyers and doctors, right there on a picturesque course open to the public.
From David Shefter’s excellent USGA.org remembrance:
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.”
This from Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director
“All of us at the USGA are deeply saddened by the passing of truly one of the great individuals ever involved with golf. 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.”
At GolfDigest.com, John Strege taps into several great pieces in the archives for Tatum anecdotes and highlights an underrated element of his legacy: Tom Watson’s love of links, and America’s fascination with several links, particularly Royal Dornoch.
When Tom Watson was at Stanford, Tatum, a Cardinal alum who won the NCAA title in 1942, developed a friendship with him. Watson credits Tatum with selling him on the joy of links golf. Tatum recounted a trip the two of them made to Ireland and Scotland in advance of the 1982 British Open.
“We played Ballybunion, Troon, Prestwick, Dornoch,” Tatum said. “When we got to Dornoch, it was blowing and raining. We teed off about three. We’re coming up 18 about 6:30 and Tom says, ‘let’s go out again.’ So we did, and we’re out there, the two of us, in the rain, walking along the third fairway, Watson walking ahead of me, when he called to me. ‘What do you want to say, Watson?’ I asked. He said, ‘This is the most fun I’ve had playing golf in my whole life.’ ”
Here is a photo from that Dornoch round.
Rick Reilly wrote about Dornoch in 1987 and included this on the Tatum/Watson visit.
That evening the weather turned unruly. At one point, the rain was pelting Watson’s face and the wind was bending back the flag-sticks. Watson turned to Sandy Tatum, his American partner, and said, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had playing golf.” Which is what one says in good weather, too.
He loved it so much that he played another 18 on Sunday. The crowd following him seemed unusually big for such a remote little town. Midway through the round, Watson turned to Sandy, who was caddying for him, and said, “Doesn’t anybody go to church around here?”
And Sandy said, “Well, that would be hard t’day, sir. That’s the minister third from the left, sir.”
Here he is talking about Watson in one of many pieces posted by historian Bob Stevens capturing Sandy’s memories of Dornoch.
Here is part one of the many clips posted by Stevens. In this one, Sandy is talking about how he golf started in golf.
Tatum also was interviewed by GolfClubAtlas in 2008, discussing all elements of the game up to his involvement in Harding Park’s rejuvenation. Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Few will ever be able to say they lived a richer, more devoted life to his community and the game. Let’s hope somewhere you and Frank are bickering over something fun as some of us long for just one more of those phone calls.