The drama on the final holes of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco last month kept millions of golf fans glued to their televisions. But the drama that preceded the PGA around the same venue, though more obscure, was just about as compelling.
The production was a race against time featuring a statue of former U.S. Golf Association president and Harding Park benefactor Sandy Tatum that had to be installed the day before the start of PGA Championship week on Aug. 1, when officials were to establish a protective bubble restricting access.
The plot included a coast-to-coast trip from Chester to the Bay Area that was interrupted when the truck carrying the statue, plus two other smaller statues that are part of the display, overturned in Hannibal, Mo. The pieces suffered some minor damage. Then the company that towed the truck out of the field and took the sculptures back to its yard on a flatbed truck wanted $15,000 to release the artwork.
But with perseverance, good replacement drivers, and a little luck, the statues — created by noted Philadelphia-area sculptor Zenos Frudakis and funded by financial executive Charles Schwab as part of a $5 million grant to San Francisco’s First Tee chapter — finally arrived on the appointed day, July 31.
“It was worth every ounce of angst, hassle, headache, sleep deprivation, you name it, because the statues should be there,” said Dan Burke, executive director of First Tee-San Francisco, who called the shots with Frudakis’ assistance after the truck accident.
The 7-foot sculpture of Tatum, who died in 2017 at age 96, honors his work to improve Harding Park to be a major-championship host.
It is the centerpiece of a display that includes statues of two youths representing First Tee, a program that provides educational programs and teaches values to young people through golf. The younger child is approaching a stairway with the nine core values of First Tee, and the other figure is an older version of himself.
The cross-country odyssey was a nervous time for Frudakis, who was commissioned in 2018 to put together the concept. The project was scheduled to be completed prior to the original May 14 start of the PGA, but the pandemic not only pushed the major back to August but also forced the closure of the Laran Bronze Foundry in Chester, delaying the casting of the sculpture.
“Once I got the sculpture done, we got it over there and it was sitting,” said Frudakis, whose studio is in Glenside. “Finally they had to rush to get it done and we didn’t have a lot of time to send it. We needed to get it there in four days, so we hired a special truck that took delicate instruments and computer stuff.”
The arrival date in San Francisco was scheduled to be July 27. However, Burke received a call on the 26th from the foundry in Chester, which had received word of the truck accident. One of the two drivers in the truck suffered minor injuries, and the real concern was the extent of damage to the art pieces.
“We’re trying to figure it out,” Burke said. “Is [the artwork] in good enough shape to head west? Or is it completely destroyed or is there extensive damage that it needs to go back to Philly and the concept of having it installed at the PGA is out the window?”
After what Burke called “48 hours and a lot of headaches,” he, Frudakis, and foundry supervisors examined a few photos of the artwork at the crash site taken by the towing company and decided to continue the journey west, but not before Burke wired the firm $15,000 to free the statues. The new truck drivers — a husband-and-wife team who “never stopped except for gas,” according to Burke — resumed the trip July 29.
They took the statues to a foundry in Berkeley, Calif., for repairs, arriving before dawn on the 31st. A golf club Tatum was holding that cracked in the accident was re-welded. Some scuffed-up areas were fixed by the process of patination, a chemical heat that restored color.
Burke said the repairs took four hours and the statues arrived at Harding Park shortly after noon. With the help of the Berkeley foundry workers who offered their expertise, the project was installed by 5 p.m. The City of San Francisco landscaped the grounds early the next morning, and the mission had been accomplished.
While the course was closed to spectators for the PGA, CBS and ESPN showed the Tatum statue and the display often, making all the hassles to get it in place on time worthwhile.
“It was stressful a little bit and it was very unreal, but with COVID-19 and all the stuff that’s going on, it doesn’t seem like such a big thing,” said Frudakis, who created the statues of former Phillies Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Richie Ashburn, and Robin Roberts that stand outside Citizens Bank Park.
“I wanted it there because they told me 50 million people would see it on television, and I thought it would be a shame to miss it. But even at this point in my life, I’ve had my share of publicity. So you try to keep things in the proper perspective. I had some really good people that helped.”
Burke called the successful undertaking “almost like an affirmation of everything that Sandy went through to renovate that course, the craziness at every turn, and his persistence to get it done.