Remembering Dave Anderson: New York Times columnist who was as good as they come, as a writer and person
A gentleman, generous, kind, courteous, easy-going, good company, unpretentious, witty, story-teller, bold, memorable—the Dave Anderson I knew was all of those traits. I believe great strategy in life to improve your own social skill is to associate with people you feel have qualities you find admirable, and who act how you’d want to act.
Dave Anderson was a man worth imitating. The longtime sportswriter and columnist, mainly and notably with The New York Times, passed away on Thursday at age 89. Ever since 1981, when he won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, whenever Dave was introduced, it was as “Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Dave Anderson.” After such a pronouncement, you might expect Dave to come sauntering in with his nose held high. But he entered straightforward, and he came in with more of a shuffle than a regal bearing.
I’m sure I would have met Dave for the first time within a short period of joining Golf Digest in 1984. The New York Times owned the magazine then, and collaboration between the editorial staffs was common. As the Assistant Managing Editor, I would have had reason to work with Dave on his writings for GD. Starting in 1973, he wrote more than 50 articles, including subjects such as Chi Chi Rodriguez, Jim Dent, Winged Foot, Shinnecock Hills, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson, Nancy Lopez, Gene Sarazen, the Masters, U.S. Open, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, Tony Lema, Curtis Strange, Harry Cooper, Ted Rhodes; he even did a travel story on Arizona. He could write with whimsy, as he did for “An 18-handicapper shares golf's romance with Arnie, Jack and Tom.” What amazed me about Dave on first introduction was that he didn’t hang his stature in the game over anyone, and he amazingly remembered your name. The latter was a major influence on me as a young golf writer in an old writer’s arena. The younger you were, the more you had to fight and struggle to be accepted. Dave greeted you with a smile and handshake no matter how green you were, remembering we are all newcomers learning the trade at some point.
Over the years, it was always a pleasure to meet up with Dave somewhere, whether it was the Metropolitan Golf Writers Gold Tee dinner or at a golf major or at a Golf Digest function. Being with Dave made you feel important because, while he had great status in the brethren of writers, just by him treating you equally you felt you’d gone up in the writing world. When you viewed Dave, he certainly didn’t project any kind of malice or ill will toward anyone. He had a soft voice that could hardly be thought of as tough or menacing. But his friendly exterior was not to be confused with a pushover journalist. Dave was not afraid to report and/or write about something even if it might upset someone or get someone riled up. The infamous Tom Watson-Gary Player rules squabble in the inaugural Skins Game in 1983 is Exhibit A; Dave was in the right moment to catch that controversy, and instead of sitting on it, went public.
I’ll always feel grateful that my friendship with him nearly lasted to the very end of his life, and I got to keep the relationship going up until a few years ago. As he slowed down and wasn’t writing that often for Golf Digest or Golf World anymore, I hadn’t seen him for several years until around spring 2015, when he decided it was time to downsize his home in Tenafly, New Jersey, of all his sports books and clippings. He wanted to donate his golf files to the magazine.
As Golf Digest’s resident archivist, I was assigned to check it out and see if they were worth taking. I arranged to come to his home. We first went downtown to a favorite eatery, and had breakfast. Conversation with Dave never had any gaps. He freely kept things running, but it was a give-and-take dialogue, never a case where he held court and all you did was listen. You absorbed what each other was providing. With me, I always like speaking with someone whose experience is way beyond my own because I like to learn about the old days as well as understand more about famous personalities who I’d never met. (As an aside, he thought Jack Nicklaus was the greatest golfer, because he was great as a whole package: winning, losing, family man, even how to bow out of and retire from a major.) After breakfast, we returned to his two-story home and went upstairs to his office. He’d converted what would normally be a bedroom into his writing and business office, and it was exactly what you’d expect of a sportswriter. He had books all around the room on wall-shelves, a desk with just enough open space to work on, and in his closet was filing cabinets full of clippings. His collection ran the gamut of all the major sports. Because he was in a downsizing mode, he’d already found a home for his baseball books (the Yogi Berra museum), and the MGA was likely taking his golf books. He was hunting who would take his football, hockey, boxing and other sport books. His biographical golf clippings and golf tournament programs filled nearly three medium-sized boxes. He wanted to keep his files on Jack and Arnie, but I packed up the rest. He didn’t want money for any of it, but that wasn’t the Golf Digest way, so he was given a gift card.
I got to see the rest of the house, particularly the basement, where he also wanted me to grab a golf poster off his wall and take that as well. Even the basement looked like a sportswriter’s den. He had a pool table with the low-lying light over the center, couch and comfy seats, and on the wall framed photos of his life in sport, many of him on the scene in locker rooms and interviewing sports figures. It was a dream visit, but my time with Dave in person wasn’t done.
Dave felt strongly that he wanted to host a few of us he knew from Golf Digest and Golf World at Knickerbocker Golf Club, the venerable club in Tenafly, and he asked me to see who could come. It was arranged to have myself, Bob Carney, Tim Murphy and Steve Hennessey come on June 3, thinking Dave would be swinging away with us. But two things happened on that day that changed the plans. The most god-awful traffic snarl occurred across the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson in the morning rush, right at an exit we’d be taking to get off 287, with a dump-truck accident or some such crash. Bob, Tim and I were tied up in it for hours coming from Connecticut, and our arrival at the club dragged on. That was a boon for Steve, who is from New Jersey and had always wanted to meet Dave. Steve got to the club right on time, since he still lived in the area, and had a great time visiting with Mr. A while waiting for us. The kicker is that Steve eventually became a member at Knickerbocker.
Once the rest of us got there, Dave said he was just going to ride around in a cart with our group while the four of us played. Generous, genial at all times, he was an incredible host. After nine, we took a break on a halfway house patio to have a mini session of kibitzing, with Dave always showing his expertise on a subject, as far flung as Montreal Canadien hockey. After golf we went to the grill to relax with a drink before heading for home, traffic now moving along better.
I am disappointed that during Dave’s last couple years, with his health failing and my life in its own changeover, that I didn’t speak with him by phone once he did fully leave his home and move into a retirement home. But that’s what memories are for, to keep thoughts of our encounters with people we enjoy alive and vibrant. When I was with Dave, it reminded me of the phrase of “sitting at the feet of a master” to learn and be entertained, except, with Dave, you were sitting at his side.
Dave Anderson’s service and donation details are: Visitation at the Barrett Funeral Home, 148 Dean Dr., Tenafly, N.J., on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 from 3-8 pm. Funeral Mass at Mt. Carmel Church, 10 County Rd., Tenafly, N.J., on Wednesday, October 10, 2018 at 10 am. Interment Mt. Carmel Cemetery, Tenafly, N.J. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Children's Cancer and Blood Foundation 466 Lexington Ave., NY, NY 10017 (www.childrenscbf.org). For more information visit www. barrettfuneralhome.net.