Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sandy Tatum's contributions to Harding Park and golf

John Upton,
October 2, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — The technology that will beam The Presidents Cup from Harding Park Golf Course into bars and homes in 231 countries starting Tuesday hadn’t even been imagined when Sandy Tatum was born in the Roaring ’20s.
In the early 1920s, the Spring Valley Water Co. built world-class links at Lake Merced as golf’s popularity grew wildly. During that era, President Warren Harding would die while staying downtown at the Palace Hotel and Tatum — the man who would later be credited with successfully restoring the course — would be born in Los Angeles.

By the late 1920s, Harding Park had been named after the golf-enthused late president, San Francisco had purchased Spring Valley Water Co. and its assets — including the golf course — and Tatum had kick-started a lifelong love affair with golf at the newly opened Bel Air Country Club in Los Angeles using sawed-off clubs provided by his father.
“Golf is a game you can play all your life,” said Tatum, appearing dapper in a button-down dress shirt and slacks on a recent afternoon at Harding Park. “I’m 89 years old and I play three or four times every two weeks, and the statistics will tell you that it’s a life extender. It’s obviously a life enhancer, but its also a life extender.”

Tatum grew up playing golf and brought his passion north as a late teen to Palo Alto, where he attended Stanford University and helped its golf team win the NCAA men’s golf championships in 1941 and 1942.

After graduating, Tatum spent time in Los Angeles and served in the Navy before returning to Stanford to study law in 1946. He moved with his wife in 1950 to practice law in San Francisco, a city that he would call home for more than 50 years.
Tatum, a member of the Stanford Sports Hall of Fame, has never played golf professionally, but he has worked in the game’s highest professional echelons.

After serving for six years as an executive committee member with the United States Golf Association, which oversees national championships, Tatum was appointed president in 1978. He held the post for two years, forging relationships that he would lean on more than two decades later to support his bid to revive Harding Park.

By the 1990s, the course had become neglected and overgrown with weeds as interest in golf waned locally and nationally. To secure political support for a loan from The City’s open-space fund that was needed to help resuscitate the greens, Tatum convinced the PGA Tour to play professional championships at Harding Park — if it could be renovated.
The revived course hosted its first professional event in 2005, the same year that the octogenarian moved into a Palo Alto retirement home. Tatum, however, remained a regular fixture at Harding Park, a familiar face to golfers and employees and at the clubhouse that bears his name.

Since 2005, the course has regained its former popularity with amateur golfers, while interest in other city courses has remained low.

The City’s loan to Harding Park is being repaid largely through increased green fees paid by non-San Francisco residents, for whom a weekend round of golf costs up to $155 — almost three times what locals pay.
In keeping with Tatum’s goal of providing public access to municipal golf, San Francisco players younger than 18 can shoot a round on a weekday for as little as $15.

“I’m educated personally with regards to how much it means to be able to play a premium golf course,” he said. “Access to [Harding Park] that had been enjoyed by people from San Mateo and across the Bay suddenly got more expensive, but I couldn’t find a way around that. My focus was on San Francisco.”

To view the complete article click here. | For more background info and a video interview of Tatum click here.