9 Questions With Former USGA President Jim Hand
January 12, 2017
By Michael Trostel, USGA
Former USGA President James R. Hand turns 100 years old on Jan. 12. He was born on Long Island, served in the U.S. Army during World War II and worked as a bank president for several decades in White Plains, N.Y. Hand was both a competitive and recreational golfer who joined the USGA Executive Committee in 1975, serving as the Association’s 48th president from 1984-85. He currently lives in Manchester, Vt., and recently answered nine questions about his life in golf.
What was your introduction to golf?
I caddied at North Fork Country Club on Long Island, a few minutes from where I grew up. At that time, everyone pitched in and contributed to the family’s finances. I was given a choice between picking potatoes and carrying golf bags. It didn’t take me long to choose caddieing [laughs].
Do you still play golf?
I haven’t played in a few years, but I still enjoy watching it. I’ll head up to Ekwanok C.C. for lunch and look longingly out at the first tee as my friends are still playing [laughs]. I miss the companionship of being with friends and being outside. I always walked when I played golf and I think that’s probably what contributed to my longevity.
Did you ever play competitively?
When I was younger, which I guess spans a few years now, I played in the Long Island Amateur. When I was on the Executive Committee, I tried to qualify for the inaugural U.S. Senior Open [in 1980]. I was tied for the last qualifying spot through 18 holes, but choked and three-putted the 19th. Even still, it was a great experience. I enjoyed the competition, but more than anything, I remember the companionship of playing with good friends and getting some good laughs from needling each other.
How has the game changed, and in what ways is it still very much the same as it was 100 years ago?
What makes golf great is the integrity and sportsmanship that is ingrained into the game. It’s a game of respect … for the Rules, traditions and each other. What I’ve seen change over the years is the loss of the lifelong amateur. There is a lot of money to be made in the professional game, but to me it was always just a game I played because I loved it.
Do you have other hobbies?
I’ve always been an outdoors person. My wife, Gossie, and I bought a ski house in Vermont a number of years ago to get our boys into the sport. I made a deal with her. I would pick up skiing if she took up golf. The only thing is that she won 18 club championships while I was struggling to get down the mountain [laughs].
How did you get involved with the USGA?
I was playing in the Lesley Cup [an annual match between amateur golfers from Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Quebec] when former USGA President Phil Strubing asked if I would be interested in joining the Executive Committee from my background in business and golf administration with the Westchester Golf Association. I loved being a part of the USGA – being involved with all the championships and working with some of the best minds in the game.
Who were some of your mentors in the game?
Well, certainly Joe Dey [USGA executive director from 1934 to 1968] was a big influence on my life. He was known as “Mr. Straight and Narrow” and I gained an appreciation of the Rules and how to conduct a championship from him. The other was Bill Campbell [three-time USGA champion and USGA president from 1982-83] who was not only one of the game’s great amateur players, but truly the finest gentleman I have ever met.
Do you have any plans to celebrate your birthday?
Well, I think my dancing days are over [laughs], but I’m sure a few of us will get together to have dinner.
I have to ask … do you ever get sick of the winters in Vermont?
[Laughs] It wasn’t too bad this morning, it was only minus 14. I used to split my time between Florida and up here [in Vermont], but for the past couple of years, I’ve stayed up north. This feels like home. And when you’re as old as I am, you don’t have to shovel snow anymore [laughs].
Michael Trostel is the senior content producer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.