James R. Hand, who often was called the USGA’s “greatest president” by former executive director David B. Fay, died on Nov. 13 at the age of 101.
Hand joined the USGA Executive Committee in 1975 and served as the Association’s 48th president in 1984 and 1985. During Hand’s tenure, he directed a capital campaign for turfgrass research, oversaw the construction of the USGA Research & Test Center and administered a major reorganization of the Rules of Golf.
“Jim’s great love of the game and his commitment to its most important values – integrity, sportsmanship and respect – continue to guide all of us at the USGA today,” said Mike Davis, USGA CEO. “He was a great man who gave so much to golf, and we have been honored to call him a dear friend for so many years.”
Always possessing a sharp wit and self-deprecating humor, Hand was continually sought out for sage advice. Golf Digest, in a short story commemorating his 100th birthday last January, wrote that he brought common sense and a common touch to golf administration.
Hand was born on Jan. 12, 1917 in Cutchogue, N.Y., one of three children of James A. and Agnes Hand. As a teenager he studied to become a Roman Catholic priest and later served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was stationed in England, where he met his future wife, Betty. They settled in Westchester, N.Y., where Hand worked in banking for several decades. He and Betty were married for 59 years until her death in 2005.
“He was warm and approachable,” said John Hand, one of Hand’s two sons. “He found a way to connect with nearly everyone he came into contact with. I am forever grateful for the example he set for me, my brother and our families.”
Hand’s connection to golf started at age 8, when he began caddieing at North Fork C.C. on Long Island as a way to contribute to his family’s finances.
“I was given a choice between picking potatoes and carrying golf bags,” said Hand, in a 2017 interview with the USGA. “It didn’t take me long to choose caddieing.”