A bronze statue of Frank “Sandy” Tatum will stand in front of the TPC Harding Park clubhouse for as long as the golf course exists. The wild story—it includes a rollover truck accident and a pseudo hostage situation—of how it finally arrived at its place of honor in advance of next week’s PGA Championship in San Francisco is one that might be forgotten through the decades, but it’s worth sharing with the grandkids.
There’s even a thin thread to Mark Twain, and the humorist would get a kick out of this tall tale.
As part of a $5 million donation from businessman and close Tatum friend, Charles Schwab, The First Tee of San Francisco, based at Harding Park, is getting a major renovation, beginning soon after the champion lifts the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday of the PGA. A portion of that money went to the commission more than two years ago of a statue of Tatum, the former USGA president who led the charge and improbable success of Harding’s renovation and its subsequent securing of this year’s PGA—the first major championship it will host.
The sculpture’s artist is Zenos Frudakis, a San Francisco native who lives in Philadelphia. Fruadakis has captured dignitaries and athletes in his work, including Arnold Palmer at Tralee in Ireland, Jack Nicklaus at the USGA Museum and Payne Stewart at Pinehurst.
Fitting for a tribute to Tatum at Harding, where he championed The First Tee’s location there, Frudakis sculpted the man, who died in 2017, with two children beside him. One totes golf clubs over his shoulder, the other sits pensively at the bottom of a building-block staircase etched with The First Tee’s nine core values.
“Perseverance” is one of those, and it took all of that trait for Dan Burke, the executive director of The First Tee San Francisco Chapter, to get the statue to Harding in time for the PGA.
“A Hail Mary,” Burke described to Golf Digest with a laugh this week. “This was 11 guys trying to pull me down and I got to the goal line.”
The Tatum sculptures left Philadelphia on Thursday, July 23, in a small transportation truck. Early in the morning of July 25, as it motored west, outside of Hannibal, Mo.—Twain’s hometown—the truck crashed, rolled over and Tatum’s statue was ejected through the roof. According to Burke, the driver suffered moderate injuries while a passenger went unscathed. The sculpture, however, was damaged, and though Burke didn’t provide an inventory of the harm, he said most of it was “cosmetic.”
One thing we know that snapped was the golf club that Tatum is holding.
“One and only club Sandy broke,” Burke quipped.
A decision had to be made: Return the statues to Philadelphia for repair or keep them coming in the hopes of getting them fixed enough in time for the PGA. Complicating matters was that Tatum’s likeness was essentially held hostage by the towing company that pulled the truck out of the ditch and back to a holding yard. It wasn’t going to release the statue until it got paid its five-figure recovery fee.
“To say I played Winston Wolf in ‘Pulp Fiction’ would be a big understatement,” Burke mused of Harvey Keitel’s “fixer” character in the Quentin Tarantino flick.
Ultimately, it was “Westward Ho” for the art, and to Burke’s incredible relief, it arrived at a Berkeley, Calif., shop early on Friday morning, where the repairs were made. Then Tatum and the kids took the sometimes-hairy ride—across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, through the Friday afternoon traffic downtown and to Harding Park.
Anticipating the moment, Burke said, “And when it’s finally up, I’m probably going to be having a couple of Alpine IPAs in celebration of pulling off this miracle.”
By the evening, the statues were in an elevated circular planter, where they will stand in perpetuity outside the clubhouse also named for Tatum. On Saturday morning, Burke shared pictures of the art pieces, now surrounded by newly laid, lush green grass.
Sandy Tatum was home and exactly where he belonged.