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« Forgotten Genius: Frank Hannigan On A.W. Tillinghast | Main | R.I.P. Frank Hannigan »

Remembering Frank Hannigan

I owe Frank Hannigan just about every ounce of credibility I have. If it weren’t for his “Letters,” which started back in 2006, I’m not sure what would have become of this website. That someone of his stature—a former USGA Executive Director known to millions of golfers thanks to his years as part of the ABC announce team at their peak—would sit down to write a letter for publication on a blog? More than anything, it was Frank who convinced many of you that this was a site worth visiting.

While his health prevented him from writing much (he hadn't written a letter since the USGA’s television deal with Fox Sports was announced), Frank posted a comment just last week before he went in for a surgery that had been scheduled in January, but postponed.

Frank in 2013. Photo courtesy of Darren CarrollOn the list of Frank’s accomplishments and contributions to the game, his letters here will fall very low on the list.  Though I know he enjoyed having this blog as an outlet for writings that would not be of much interest to golf publications that had lost interest in the issues of interest to a man of Hannigan’s depth. In his six or so years as USGA Executive Director, it’ll be noted in obituaries that he got the USGA back to Shinnecock Hills for the U.S. Open.  What won’t be noted, because it’s not as sexy? The fine place he left the USGA after handing over the reigns to David Fay who he admired dearly, fell out with over differences related to the 1994 U.S. Open along with Frank's criticism of the USGA, and who he (thankfully) reconciled with before his passing.

Frank was enormously proud of the decisions made during his tenure and was enormously disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that the USGA had gradually changed over time into a corporate outfit. One that, as Frank wrote many times, lost the battle against distance and lost its way. Yet in the many private emails he wrote, the stories of managing often-difficult committee members helped me understand that the job of Executive Director was as much a job of massive ego management as it was about overseeing the USGA's mission in golf. At the task of keeping the USGA on point, Hannigan succeeded wildly.

He could be so difficult. His letters had to run as he submitted, of course, after the typos were cleaned up and the 1’s fixed because he still typed lower case l’s as 1’s (some sort of old typewriter habit he said).

The man was a brilliant writer. A master storyteller with a great recollection of details and a cadence that had you hearing his distinctive voice as you read his words. In the coming days I’ll share snippets of his many emails to me sharing memories of his USGA and ABC days.

As blunt as he could be, Frank was also a total mensch when it came to his wife, kids and grandkids. He was incredibly proud of daughter-in-law Sondra’s and son Keith's accomplishments in the legal world, and even had consulted her over a situation of mine that I tried to convince Frank was not worthy of his energy. He would have none of it, as the repugnant behavior of an individual had him convinced he could help me and that it required immediate attention.

As recently as March 14th he had sent me an email letting me know how clueless I was (he was mystified by my admiration for Jim Murray and Arnold Palmer). I never took these personally, as I knew he was just trying to keep me honest. Based on conversations with many others, it was just Frank’s way to be the administrator of tough love.

Already, I miss him terribly. Golf will miss him. Life will miss him. The world is a much less interesting place today without Frank Hannigan to set it straight.

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Reader Comments (40)


I don't know if Frank Hannigan was one of the most important people in golf during his adulthood, or if it just seemed that way, because of the way Frank could tell the stories of his involvement in the game. It doesn't matter, because I think they are one and the same.

The golden era for the USGA was when Frank Hannigan was associated with them. The golden era for golf broadcasting was when ABC hired him. The golden era for golf blogging began with the Letters from Saugerties at

Thanks to Geoff's blog and some areas of mutual interest, I struck up an occasional correspondence with Frank Hannigan and of course my experience was just like Geoff's. I felt blessed simply to be in his thoughts for a moment.

My thoughts tonight are with Frank's daughter; all that I know about her is that when I discussed legal issues with Frank, he was quick to remind me (repeatedly) that his daughter was an accomplished lawyer. If she reads this blog, she should know how proud he was of her.
03.22.2014 | Unregistered CommenterChuck
While I posted on the earlier thread, I would like to offer you, Geoff, my thoughts and prayers at the loss of such a wonderful friend.

Frank was a piece of work, and for the handful of times I chatted with him here, I felt special that he took the time to converse with me here. You had a real friend.
03.22.2014 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth
I'm sorry to hear about the passing of Frank Hannigan. His "Letters" were indeed a highlight here on your blog Geoff, and when one appeared, it was immediately (and repeatedly) read to glean tremendous insights into our game. Condolences to his family, and to his wide circle of friends, of whom you were blessed to be a member of Geoff.

RIP Frank Hannigan.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterTrysil
Heartfelt words. Thank you for allowing me to use those two words together on a golf blog.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
Others may have already mentioned this, but Frank Hannigan's old Golf Journal piece about A.W. Tillinghast, from 1974, is the gold standard for what golf writing and scholarship should be. He got inside the man's life and after reading it your appreciation of golf was enriched forever. He did that in his spare time. Frank was an inspiration and I will always be grateful to him.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Bamberger
So sad to hear of this. Thoughts and prayers are extended to his loved ones, as well as the many close friends and relatives who were blessed to have known his love.

RIP, Frank.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterPA PLAYA
Nice sentiments from Geoff.

Look forward to re-reading some of the "Letters from the Saugerties".
I've enjoyed those for years.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBlue Canyon
It is wonderful to read the comments of so many who recognize what Frank brought to the game. Most of all, he brought perspective, something needed today. Yes, golf is an enterprise, but most of all, Golf is a Game. He never lost sight of that. He once mused…that if the "great earthquake" along the San Andreas Fault struck during the old "Crosby" , and the entire Monterey Peninsula fell into the Pacific, there would still be 30 M amateur golfers back on the mainland enjoying the Game. As usual, Frank nailed it.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered Commentergolfdinosaurrr
Something you never understand until hard experience pays a visit is the residue of grief is loss. When the last tear has been shed an emptiness remains, created by the loss of future conversations large and small. How many times we wish for just one more opportunity to pick up the phone for a chat or to ask a small piece of advice.

Hannigan was a writer, though, and through Geoff shared his words with us. How I enjoyed those "Letters from Saugerties." They're a pale substitute for those who knew and loved him but now those words he left behind will have to do the heavy lifting.

Godspeed Mr Hannigan and condolences to his family and to Geoff.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark B
I got a chance to meet Frank a few times and even played golf with him once thanks to an invitation from Sal Johnson (, who worked with Frank at ABC. Frank was an impressive guy and great storyteller, both with the spoken word and written word. He was "old school" in all the best ways.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ierubino

I owe Frank Hannigan a great deal. He was the first to give me an opportunity to contribute my passion for researching golf architecture to a noble effort - Hannigan's famed biography of "forgotten architect" A.W. Tillinghast that consumed nearly all of an issue of the USGA's Golf Journal back in 1974. That he contacted me in the first place seeking anything I might add to his research of Tilly was flattering. That he would mention my name among his acknowledgements in an afterword was intoxicating. At age 24, I was getting mentioned in a national golf publication! My addiction to bylines was firmly established right there. I wanted to be like Frank Hannigan.
I, too, have a file of correspondence from Frank, received over the years, in which he gently scolded or faintly praised me. No man could grumble on the printed page quite like Frank Hannigan. It was such a pleasure knowing that he considered me a colleague. I'll miss him.

Ron Whitten
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterRon Whitten
Important points in the comments by Michael Bamberger (about how very well Frank wrote about golf for a long time when it wasn't his day job) and golfdinosaurr (the perspective he had about golf). I think Geoff's quote of the day from Frank speaks to the latter. I would say his attitude toward a game around which he had made a living and cared deeply about was how any of us who have done the same ought to approach it: Take it seriously but understand that it is not a serious matter in the real world, in life. I was so glad I got to sit down with Frank a year ago for Golf World's Words From The Wise. It had been a while since I'd seen him, and as he said, he was in a lot of pain stemming from a hip fracture and subsequent fall. But his mind and his memory were sharp.He'd seen and done a lot, and it was a rewarding couple of hours. LIke others, I'll miss him.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBill Fields
Very well put Geoff...
We have a saying in Ireland-Ní beidh a leithéid ann arís -"his likes will not be around again". That I think sums it up nicely
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterIrish Golf Nut
Love Frank Hanniagn… wish I knew him personally, he was one of golf’s great guys for sure, an exemplary protector of the game. Loved his blunt perspective, knowledge and mostly his courage. Would like to hear about what he’d have to say about Palmer & Murray. How many have the courage to do that?

At least he won't have to suffer through watching the US Open on Fox.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterZokol
As with many others, I first corresponded with Mr. Hannigan many years ago [while I was still writing letters from Cornell], and he was one of the first people who encouraged me to write on golf as a sideline.

A number of years ago, he sat down with a group of us who were disturbed about the USGA's lack of progress on the equipment issues, and explained in detail how the bylaws of the organization would allow for a coup -- it was then possible for anyone at the Annual Meeting to submit their own nominations for a slate of officers, and demand a vote on their candidacy. [They must have gotten wind of it, as the bylaws were re-written a year later.] But that was Frank Hannigan in a nutshell -- a totally independent voice who understood the establishment thoroughly and pointedly disagreed.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterTom Doak
Tom, that's simply an amazing slate/vote story, thanks for sharing it. As a society was are FUBAR because these days guys like Hannigan get isolated, marginalized, and exited...all while guys like Driver thrive.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
Frank was working the 2004 Senior British Open at Royal Portrush for ABC. We were chatting about the attention paid to pro golf at the expense of the rest of the game when he said something I've never forgotten. Frank, there working in television at a major pro tour event, said that the pro tours could disappear the next day and that golf would survive. He was saying something in which he deeply believed: that there was much more to golf than what we are fed on television week after week. There he was, working in a tour environment, but he said what was on his mind, and it was a subject he had considered carefully. I never got the feeling he said something just for the sake of saying it. Frank was experienced, he had perspective, and he spoke clearly. It was a pleasure to write for Frank when he edited the USGA's Golf Journal--a terrific publication that meant a lot to him and that the USGA executed as it evolved into a "corporate outfit," as Geoff refers to it.

How we will miss Frank Hannigan's clarity.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterLorne Rubenstein
We all need a Frank Hannigan in our lives. The wised-up uncle who won't stand for any BS. An Irish glint in his eyes when you actually say something witty and not your usual line of stuff. A truth-teller.

Frank had an interesting way of talking. It was kind of a relaxed, distracted groan but then he'd jump up sharply with a big cackle or a sharp rebuke. He kept you on your toes. And as everyone here has noted, he had a lot of yarns up his sleeve. Naturally you'd drop a name here and there in hopes he'd pick up on it and spin a good one about Porky Oliver or someone. On the golf course, he had a casual, almost languid way of moving around. There was no sense of Forced March to Good Scores with him. It was like golf the way I learned it with my brothers and my Old Man, full of sunny whimsicalities, bittersweet memories and rude appraisals. It's a real loss when men like Frank Hannigan walk away.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris Hodenfield
Wow, the neighborhood has gotten positively luminous this morning!

As you can see, Frank, you should, you must, feel very good about your career. All of it.
The death of Frank Hannigan-while a sad event- has provided yet another opportunity to remind ourselves that Fred Ridley was a pretentious asshat long before he was exposed as a buffoon and rules know-nothing at last year's Master's.. Ironically by Hannigan's handpicked successor David Fay..
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Butler
Some wonderful recollections. Thanks folks.
RIP Frank H.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered Commenterdbh
Anthony Butler: I think that's David Eger you're referencing re Ridley. Eger had a piece in one of the golf publications, and it was Eger who contacted the Masters regarding Tiger Woods drop at the 15th hole....
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDubious

I'm bit like you in that Frank helped my career along when he really didn't need to do anything. I met him when I was the Assistant Supt at Merion in 1981 and we had The Open. He helped me get the Cherry Hills job in 1984 with the funniest letter of reference ever...big surprise from Frank. And as you can imagine he and I had quite a few laughs about my stirring the pot in Championships and taking on some of golf industry's greats when I thought that they were wrong.

And what many people don't credit Frank with is that he was one of two men responsible for starting the tree removal movement, looking critically at the over-planting of trees on golf courses. This movement led to the rediscovery of more varied strategy, better turf conditions, improved vistas, and quite often, a return to the golf course architect's original intent. This unknown important facet of the "whole" Frank shouldn't be forgotten.

my post on the Frank that I knew:

Who will emerge as the voice of reason for golf now that Frank is gone?
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterArmen Suny
It's great to see so many respected names here this morning on what has been a devastating week for Golf Course Architecture as a whole. Even better that many of you have shaped and formed my love of architecture. Its good to see all of you!

While being fortunate to once in a while being one of the few gifted the opportunity to help out this website and blog, its one negative is that I've never been able to yell down a hallway of offices or even email or instant message a Frank Hannigan to tell them how much I appreciated their voice on matters because it so important to the sport itself, all the while hoping for a laugh or two of something we've created to make all of you laugh or highlight if you will!

However, the most important thing here is to know whether all of you agree with the viewpoints or not, that at the end of the day we are a common group who do love this sport as well as the passion to always associate ones ownself with it. A Frank Hannigan did. So have the rest of the people here who are willing to speak their opinion in its most original way. It seems this fact is what should drive the sport's magnificent motor.....
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterTommy Naccarato
I've always attributed this quote to Frank:

The Brits play golf as a character builder and the Americans play golf as an ego builder.

Explains a lot!

Geoff, maybe you could do a retrospective of some of his more famous or possibly infamous quotes and headlines.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterArmen Suny
Thanks for posting you comments and the news of Frank Hannigan's passing.
Quite some time ago, I on several occassions spoke very directly with Frank and pointed out my feelings that the failure on the part of The USGA, to prevent or much better control changes in equipment technology which were so significantly altering the character of golf; lay at his feet. It was my contention that the methods of testing the initial velocity of a golf ball with an apparatus which swung at a club head speed of approximately 109 miles per hour had no correlation to the conditions of the day - and I stressed to him that if the USGA failed to live up to it's responsibility, to "protect the game", hundreds of the finest old irreplaceable golf courses would become relics of their original brilliance.
The explanation offered was that, the USGA had been caught asleep at the switch, and he felt over time matters could be resolved to gain better control over the surge in equipment technology and excessive distance. We've seen how well that worked.
Frank also explained to me what you suggest in your comments regarding management of ego.. The USGA is now run by a sequence of very prominent, successful, business leaders, who operate at a snails pace, and have little real understanding of the roots and tradition of golfgolf. Each year these " leaders" are further removed from the classical origins, purpose, and spirit of the Royal and Ancient Game, and I fear with sadness, the barn door which they allowed to swing open will never be swung shut. That would take just too much courage.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterRon Prichard
Meant to highlight this passage earlier but got goes directly to Mr. Rubenstein's quote above: "Frank, there working in television at a major pro tour event, said that the pro tours could disappear the next day and that golf would survive."


If the USGA is cutting back on its contributions to other golf entities, the reason is likely a belated understanding that they have simply blown a lot of money. During the period of the USGA messages to "really, really love golf" and "for the good of the game," precisely nothing has happened. And nothing began happening a long time before the economy went in the tank last year.

As a recreational activity, distinct from playing for unGodly sums of prize money, golf teeters on the edge of obscurity. The game has been no better than flat for at least a decade in terms of rounds played or golf balls sold.

What might the USGA have done? For openers it should have been shrieking that golf was being wrecked by the wicked and unnecessary growth of maintaining courses, which have shot up faster than the cost of health care or college tuition. The promotional ads on USGA telecasts, of tremendous value, should have been devoted to ONLY the matter of golf course maintenance. Those two morons we see every year saying they will renew playing when it stops raining should have been dumped into a septic tank.


People, that's riveting stuff -- the truth if you will. I hope that dude from HSBC packs his bags and takes a hike...
Dubious: You are correct. My David Fay reference was a case of wishful thinking... plus the fact he was on Golf Channel reminiscing about his mentor this morning. ;-)
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Butler
Fay did well paying tribute to his mentor, only mentioned "we had our differences'' not the huge falling out for many years.....Praised his intelligence and wisdom, called him a man of letters and golf's Mencken.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterMedia driven
I am relatively new to the blog, and had not read the various Letters from Saugerties from 2006-2009. This sad event provided me with the motivation to visit Frank's impassioned letters. Certainly, he was a man of strong opinions and beliefs.

While I had stopped donating to the USGA in the past two years (the Fox fiasco the latest confirmation), reading Frank's letters made me feel like a sucker for my 2006-2012 donations. A sad story of an organization losing site of its true mission. Thanks to Frank for his honest insights & critiques.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterScrambler
The people that have posted on this article show the power of the Internet. The USGA has the benefit and burden of having too much money. It is run by lawyers.


Write a white paper, stick it up for comments, adjust, and start the "Saugerties Golf Association of America".

Just a suggestion.
I have come on this blog at times and many times was frustrated by what sometimes seems (to me) to be
a National Enquirer of golf mentality at times.
I really think what frustrates me the most, is when I read things like your thoughts on Mr. Hannigan.
Your knowledge, and ability to write about the core of the game is fantastic. Sometimes
it takes a hit when you go down the low road all too often traveled by less talented.

I for one, wish you would stay on the original road traveled, rather than the new slam for views.
Of course, everyone has to make ends meet.
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBanished
<< I have come on this blog at times and many times was frustrated by what sometimes seems (to me) to be a National Enquirer of golf mentality at times. I really think what frustrates me the most, is when I read things like your thoughts on Mr. Hannigan. Your knowledge, and ability to write about the core of the game is fantastic. Sometimes it takes a hit when you go down the low road all too often traveled by less talented. I for one, wish you would stay on the original road traveled, rather than the new slam for views. Of course, everyone has to make ends meet. >>

Somebody please explain something to me: Just what the HELL is this guy talking about?
03.23.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBenSeattle
Sometimes 'blunt' is exactly what a situation needs, and Mr. Hannigan was quite often all too willing to give a situation just that.
While I understand that his form of 'blunt' could often be 'rough', golf needs more input like his.
Although I never met the man, I always perked up when I read where he was quoted.
03.24.2014 | Unregistered CommenterJim Lipe
Sometimes 'blunt' is exactly what a situation needs, and Mr. Hannigan was quite often all too willing to give a situation just that.
While I understand that his form of 'blunt' could often be 'rough', golf needs more input like his.
Although I never met the man, I always perked up when I read where he was quoted.
03.24.2014 | Unregistered CommenterJim Lipe
1. You should have read the Golf Magazine column he wrote soon after leaving the USGA, about the folly of putting golf in the Olympics (did the idea originate at Augusta National?). I'm paraphrasing and trying to dig deep, because I edited it. so forgive me, but I seem to recall his pointing out that it was such a gang-that-couldn't-shoot-straight effort that they took an existing application to the IOC for an equestrian event and "just scored out 'horses' and wrote in 'golf'."

2. In his columns he often referred to his appreciation for Bix Beiderbecke's cornet-playing from the 1920s. I always though that none of our readers would, you know, relate to that, but no way was it coming out.
03.24.2014 | Unregistered CommenterRobin McMillan
Bix Beiderbecke cooked ... too bad he played for Paul Whiteman....guess he needed to make ends meet...will miss you Frank !
03.25.2014 | Unregistered CommenterFortunato51
Despite its relative brevity, this is one of the best threads ever on this site.
03.25.2014 | Unregistered Commentertlavin

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