By Ken MacLeod
Al Bush, one of the most instrumental figures in Southern Hills Country Club landing and successfully hosting its last two major golf championships, passed away last Saturday evening. Funeral services are Thursday.
Bush, who served as general chairman of both the 2001 U.S. Open and the 2007 PGA Championship, was 84. He had been in declining health for the past several months.
Bush, a Southern Hills member for 44 years, also served as marketing chairman for the 1977 U.S. Open, the 1982 PGA Championship and the 1994 PGA Championship, as well as the 1995 and 1996 Tour Championship, all at Southern Hills.
"This was his second home and he loved to be involved in everything," said Nick Sidorakis, Southern Hills general manager and a close friend. "Not only has he been involved in every major championship since 1977, he’s been a past president and served on many different committees and boards, not just here but in civic and charitable organizations and his church.
Bush was a natural salesman who enjoyed meeting and networking with businessmen and women throughout the country, which helped him lead the corporate sales efforts at Tulsa’s major championships even while he was in charge of so many other aspects of the tournaments.
"Each one is about a two and a half year commitment full time," Sidorakis said. "You’re really building a small city with all the infrastructure that goes in and all the volunteers. Al could develop relationships with everyone and anyone he encountered, he was tremendously organized and detailed and he was the consummate sales person."
Cathey Barkley worked closely with Bush as vice chairman of volunteers and administration at the past three majors at Southern Hills.
"Al’s personality just rendered itself to equalizing all of us," Barkley said. "He was great at encouraging us and pulling us together. He looked at his role as doing something good for the city of Tulsa as opposed to just Southern Hills. He was all about doing something positive for Tulsa and for the good of the game."
Southern Hills member Bill Lissau worked with Bush on the championships, but also was a friend who played golf with Bush in Scotland, Ireland, Mexico and other far-flung destinations. He said as a golfer, Bush shared one thing in common with Ben Hogan.
"Not many people know this, but way back when Al worked at Williams, he was in a car wreck in California and broke nearly every bone in his body. He was in a body cast in Saint Francis for six months and was still fixing our computer systems and doing all sorts of other things from his bed.
"Al was relentless. He was not a good golfer, but he had so many pins and metal screws in his body it was hard for him to make a full turn. But he loved golf and loved the competition. He was one of those guys you just loved to be around."
Bush worked closely with the leaders of the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America before and during the major championships and they took time Wednesday to praise his efforts.
"In the 26 years I’ve been meeting general chairmen of the U.S. Opens, I don’t remember anyone who was able to market an event, also do the corporate sales, work with the state, county, city and get all their support and do everything else that Al did," said Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA.
"He had a larger than life personality and was a born leader. He loved the game of golf and Southern Hills. He was just such a delight. There is unanimity of every single person here at the USGA that the U.S. Open wouldn’t have been the same without Al Bush."
Kerry Haigh, the PGA chief championships officer, also fondly remembered working with Bush.
"We are all saddened by the passing of Al Bush, and our deepest sympathies go out to his family and loved ones," Haigh said. "Al was a wonderful person and was always a pleasure to be around. It is remarkable that Al was associated for 44 years – over half his life – with Southern Hills Country Club. His love for the game and for people was endless.
"We worked closely with Al on the both the 1994 and 2007 PGA Championships, and enjoyed all of our times together. Al was a great ambassador for Southern Hills, the city of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma. He had a passion for helping others and we are fortunate that he spread his passion and love to the game of golf."
Sidorakis said some of his finest memories of Bush are of their times together on the road, courting either the PGA or USGA, and of the many deep discussions held there or in his office. Bush was instrumental in Sidorakis coming to Southern Hills 20 years ago and was a close confidant and supporter of all his efforts, including helping Sidorakis and John Johnson found the First Tee of Tulsa.
"He was the consummate volunteer but also a spokesman and ambassador for the club," Sidorakis said. "We spent a lot of time on the road. He loved good food and great wine. And he knew everybody and they all loved to work with him."
Bush was a native of Waterloo, Iowa. He attended Drake for a time but completed a BA degree at the University of Tulsa in 1957.
During his business career, Bush directed the Oral Roberts Association for 15 years and was instrumental in the building of the Mabee Center. He co-founded and headed the Mentor Corporation, a data services business that was purchased by The Williams Company in 1974. Bush joined Williams and became president of Williams’ Agrico Retail Company in 1980. He later purchased Agrico from Williams and operated it until selling the company in 1994.
Bush was active in United Way, Habitat for Humanity, the YMCA, Junior League, the Chamber of Commerce, the Tulsa Arts and Humanities Council and the Philbrook Art Museum. He was an elder at First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa. He and his wife Marilyn have two daughters and two granddaughters.