Legends: Richard Tufts

This scion of the family that owned Pinehurst dedicated his life to the game he loved

Credit 18th-century Boston businessman James W. Tufts—who made a fortune inventing the automatic soda fountain—with two significant contributions to American golf. First, the creation of Pinehurst, widely acknowledged as the first golf resort, which he founded
in 1895. Second, and largely as a result of the first, the development of his grandson, Richard S. Tufts, into one of the game’s most dedicated advocates and effective administrators.

Tufts was born the year after the resort was founded and grew up between Boston—where he attended Harvard and MIT—and the North Carolina Sandhills. His golf education was entrusted to the resort’s resident architect, Donald Ross, who, like most of the Scots that crossed the ocean to grow the game in America, had been a good player and professional in his home country. (Tufts got quite good, too, reaching a plus-two handicap in his prime.) After serving in the Navy during World War I, he came to Pinehurst for good, working with his father, Leonard, who was then running the resort.

richard tufts
Richard Tufts (photo by Getty Images)

For 50 years, Dick Tufts gave his life to two things: Pinehurst and golf, the latter described by former USGA Executive Director Frank Hannigan as his “secular religion.” He became president of the resort upon his father’s death in 1948, just as the post-war generation began spending big on leisure activities like travel and golf. At the same time, interest was growing in the professional game, led by the likes of Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, and Jimmy Demaret. 

To help the PGA of America (which back then included the tour pros), Pinehurst held the 1951 Ryder Cup. The timing made sense, as the North & South Open, a premier event, was at the resort the next week. But when some of the American Cuppers skipped the North & South to protest its small purse, Tufts made sure that year was the tournament’s last. Both the men’s and women’s amateur editions continue to this day.

For Tufts, amateur golf was the temple, and, as Hannigan put it, the USGA “became his pulpit.” His association with the association began in the 1930s and continued for most of the rest of his life, including serving on every possible committee. Elected to the Executive Committee in 1946, he became USGA President in 1956– 57, and was, said Hannigan, its “most effective… His fingerprints are all over just about everything the USGA became after World War II.”

A major interest was the Rules: He was part of the USGA contingent that, along with counterparts from the Royal and Ancient, created a uniform code in 1951. He also helped set the standards for championship course setup, enlarged the role of the Green Section, added USGA championships for juniors and seniors, and updated the handicap system. Hard work, mixed with an unpresuming manner, won him respect and accolades worldwide.

He was an author, as well, best known for the book The Principles Behind the Rules of Golf. In it, he summed up following the Rules as: “1) Play the course as you find it; 2) Play your own ball and do not touch it until you lift it from the hole.”

His love for golf was pure. According to Hannigan, as the USGA—and golf in general—became more and more about money, he divorced himself from the association. And when Pinehurst was sold in 1970, the transaction, said his son, “broke my father’s heart.” Yet he remained in Pinehurst until his death in 1980.

Thank you for supporting our journalism. If you prefer to read in print, you can also find this article in the Summer 2024 issue of LINKS Magazine. Click here for more information.



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