Commentators used several words to describe George Shultz in the wake of his recent passing, at the age of 100. Statesman. Scholar. Business Leader. Apt appellations, one and all. But I would also add “golfer” to the list, for the man who served as President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State and held three Cabinet positions under President Richard Nixon loved to tee it up.
I did not know Secretary Shultz personally. But I nonetheless became acquainted with the man through mutual friends who frequently shared stories about him.
I heard the first of those the first time I played Cypress Point. Stepping to the 16th tee, I nervously considered the 220-yard carry over roiling waters to the green beyond. “If you don’t make it the first time, you can always have a Shultz mulligan,” my member host said.
That entailed taking a shorter route to a fairway left of the green, without penalty, then chipping on. It seemed like reasonable relief, even if the do-over did not adhere to the Rules of Golf. I appreciated Shultz for having created it.
In addition to his service in government, and with the Marines in the Pacific theater during World War II, Shultz enjoyed a distinguished career in academics. A Princeton graduate who felt such fealty to his alma mater that he had an image of its tiger mascot tattooed on his posterior, he taught at MIT after earning a doctorate in industrial economics there and later was dean of the business school at the University of Chicago.
After running the massive Bechtel Corp. for a spell, he moved to Stanford University, as a distinguished fellow at its Hoover Institution and professor emeritus at its graduate school of business. It was there that Shultz lent his name to an annual fundraiser for the men’s and women’s golf programs. Called the Shultz Cup, it also featured a private dinner after golf at which he would deliver an “Update on World Affairs” talk and then field questions, many of which came from the young golfers he was only too happy to help.
“George really did love golf and played well into his 90s,” said his longtime friend Sam Nunn, who represented Georgia in the U.S. Senate from 1972 to 1997.
In fact, Nunn recalled, his colleague had a hole-in-one as a nonagenarian.
The two men played together often, and it was during those games that Shultz initiated a bet that also came to bear his name.
“In addition to a Nassau, George had all these other side bets going,” Nunn said. “Greenies, birdies, sandies. The usual junk, for $1 apiece. And what he called woodies, which you earned by making a par after hitting a tree. We eventually dubbed those Shultzies, and whenever a tee shot headed toward the woods, we all cupped our hands by our ears and listened for the sound. They were great fun.”
So, apparently, was George Shultz, the golfer. And he managed to leave a legacy in that realm as well.
Top photo: George Shultz, center, and President Ronald Reagan receive a briefing in the Eisenhower Cabin at Augusta National in 1983.