Philip F. Nelson
Player, professor, and Golf Committee chairman
The 1970s were not good times for Yale golf. The head professional and varsity coach, Al Wilson, left in 1970. An assistant football coach, Paul Amodio, was also the golf coach from 1970 to 1974, and Paul Lufkin had the job for 1974. The team won no league championships during that period. Superintendent Harry Meusel maintained the course under the direction of Widdy Neale, the Athletics Department business manager. The Eli Club, a club within a club, held tournaments for nonstudent members of the course, but very few students were using the course for golf (although some reportedly did come out for late-night, back-to-nature pursuits!). University officials considered out-sourcing the course management, and there was even talk of selling the golf course. Yale Corporation members Erwin Miller and Bill Beinecke vetoed that radical move, but there was widespread concern about the course’s future.
Yale University president Kingman Brewster decided not to turn management over to an outside company but rather to upgrade the golf program from within. It surprised some that he turned to a music professor to begin the effort. However, Philip Nelson had come to Yale in 1970 as the dean of the Graduate School of Music, but he also brought a 5-handicap. Nelson was born in Minnesota and began playing golf at age seven. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he played well enough in the early 1950s to compete as an amateur in several PGA events before turning to the scholarly world of music history, receiving his Ph.D. in 1958 from the same school.
President Brewster appointed Dean Nelson to chair a committee charged with finding someone to fill the new position of Director of Golf. The other committee members were Dick Tettlebach, Burt Resnik, Herb Emanuelson, Richard Broadbent, and Herb Wind. Professor Nelson remembers that they did in fact find the golf program “in disarray, with Widdy running the course as his own.” For the Director of Golf they considered many prominent people; several were suggested by Byron Nelson, who was a friend of (though no relation to) Philip Nelson. But, the name David Paterson kept coming up. His lifelong background in golf, his apprenticeship in course and club management at Turnberry and subsequent professional directorships in Bermuda and the Northeast, his playing experience in British and US PGA tournaments, and his education in both science and art, perfectly matched the committee’s desire for a “golf person, but one with an intellectual and cultural background.” Phil Nelson remains very proud of his role in selecting and bringing to Yale, David Paterson, who ushered in a new era of Yale golf by upgrading the golf program, developing winning traditions in both men’s and women’s golf, and working towards the restoration of the course and its facilities.