Georgia Golf Hall of Famer Butch Hansen leaves behind lasting legacy

Butch Hansen with wife Mary Ann Hansen surround Kathy Whitworth, who won the 1982 Lady Michelob Classic hosted by Hansen at Brookfield West.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Hansen Family

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Hansen Family

Butch Hansen with wife Mary Ann Hansen surround Kathy Whitworth, who won the 1982 Lady Michelob Classic hosted by Hansen at Brookfield West.

Tim Simpson still can remember the first time he met Butch Hansen.

Simpson was a 14-year-old phenom from Woodward Academy who was hitting balls on the range at Druid Hills Golf Club in the early 1970s when a man wearing a loud sports jacket showed up and started to watch. A few minutes later Hansen came over to shake Simpson’s hand and tell everyone within earshot, “This young man is going to be a star.”

Simpson went on to prominence at the University of Georgia and to win four times on the PGA Tour. Whether it was a prospective star, an up-and-coming professional or a potential business associate, Hansen just knew how to spot them.

“The ones who didn’t know him missed out,” said longtime Georgia PGA professional Craig Martin, who was one of Hansen’s proteges. “He was the perfect pro, the perfect friend. I’m going to miss him a lot.”

Louis William “Butch” Hansen Jr., a 2023 inductee into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, died at 83 on July 4. While the Georgia PGA has produced many better players, Hansen stands unmatched as a promoter of the game, a supporter of junior golf, a mentor to countless professionals and a friend to untold members and guests.

“He was a gentleman’s gentleman,” Simpson said. “He was pure class. He did more for our state golf association than anyone else. He was just an incredible man and a legend in Georgia golf.”

Hansen played golf at William & Mary and was team captain from 1961-63. Afterward he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and won 20 tournaments and was named to the all-service team while service on the USS Coral Sea aircraft carrier.

After his discharge, Hansen began his career at Sewell’s Point Golf Club in Norfolk, Virginia, before moving to Atlanta to become the first assistant at Cherokee Town and Country Club.

He went on to serve as PGA head professional at Berkeley Hills Country Club in Norcross and Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta before moving to Brookfield West Country Club in Roswell, where he was the head professional from 1972-95.

Butch Hansen chats with Gary Player in 1973 when he hosted a charity match between Player and Arnold Palmer.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Hansen Family

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Credit: Photo courtesy of the Hansen Family

Some questioned his decision to leave a prominent club like Druid Hills for a new club in the undeveloped northern suburbs, but Hansen saw great potential and was eager to build a legacy there. It didn’t take him long to make his mark.

“The one thing you didn’t want to tell Butch was ‘You can’t do it,’” said Ray Cutright, an assistant under Hansen and member of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.

He drew well-known visitors to the new club. In 1973 he put together a charity match between Gary Player and Arnold Palmer.

In 1973 Hansen helped broker a deal between the Georgia PGA and the Georgia State Golf Association to create the Georgia Junior Golf Foundation. Hansen even agreed to serve as its first president.

In 1974-75, Hansen decided the Georgia Open should be the best in the country and went about building what was then the largest purse for a PGA section event in the country. Thousands of people attended, with proceeds going to the Georgia Junior Golf Foundation.

“What he did was incredible,” Simpson said. “He got courtesy cars for the top players, just like we got on the PGA Tours, and there were so many people who came to watch that he chartered busses to bring people from the parking lot to the golf course.”

Hansen also helped women’s professional golf retain its place in the Atlanta market. In 1977 he enticed the LPGA to move its annual Lady Michelob Championship to Brookfield, where it remained until 1984.

In 1987 he also became head professional at both Brookfield and Polo Golf Country Club, a position he retained until leaving in 1995.

Hansen built long-term relationships that endured until his death. Hansen became a surrogate father for Cutright when his father died prematurely. Cutright went to work for Hansen when he was 15, began teaching lessons for him by the time he was 19 and considered him a lifetime friend and mentor.

“He told me, ‘My job is to get your ready to be a stand-alone person,” Cutright said. “I learned so much from him.”

Hansen reached out and encouraged Simpson, who was trying to return from a case of Lyme disease that nearly killed him. One afternoon Simpson was about to attempt to play nine holes at the Polo Club when Hansen spotted him and approached.

“I was really, really sick,” Simpson said. “Butch came out and said, ‘You’ve got the most heart of anyone I’ve ever seen. I look forward to you making a successful comeback because you just won’t quit.’ I’ll never forget that.”

Hansen’s funeral will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Greek Orthodox Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Atlanta. A celebration of life is planned for Oct. 6 in Atlanta on what would have been Hansen’s 84th birthday.