Bob Thatcher, longtime golf professional and teacher, dies at 79

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Bob Thatcher.

Bob Thatcher, 79, a longtime Philadelphia area golf professional known for his teaching and for making the sport available and accessible to the general public, died Tuesday of throat cancer at his home in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Mr. Thatcher, who lived in the western Philadelphia suburbs for four decades before splitting time in La Quinta, Calif., and Pinehurst, N.C., and eventually retiring to Port St. Lucie., was a member of the Philadelphia Section PGA for 50 years and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2016. Known as one of the area’s finest golf instructors, he specialized in teaching bunker play and earned the nickname “Mr. Bunker.”

Mr. Thatcher turned pro before he graduated in 1962 from the University of Maryland, taking an assistant professional job two years earlier at Burning Tree Golf Club in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. He moved to Pennsylvania in 1966, becoming head professional at Williamsport Country Club and then head professional two years later at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, before deciding to devote much of his time to operating golf facilities.

Mr. Thatcher designed and built Olde Masters, which consisted of a driving range and a nine-hole course, in Newtown Square in 1976. He also designed a practice and teaching facility, the Olde Masters Golf Center, in 2001 in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.

Mr. Thatcher and a partner owned two-thirds of the Reading Country Club for 12 years. He also for a time leased Paxon Hollow Golf Club in Marple Township, Downingtown Country Club and the Camden Country Park Commission driving range in Pennsauken, according to Trenhamgolfhistory.org.

In the 1990s, shortly after turning 50, Mr. Thatcher competed on the Senior PGA Tour.  He played in 41 tour events, including eight appearances in the Bell Atlantic Classic, which was played in Chester County, and in five PGA Seniors Championships. He also competed often in Europe, including five British Senior Opens and five British Senior PGA Championships, making the cut in nine of his 10 appearances.

One year while playing on the European senior tour, Mr. Thatcher was advised by the U.S. State Department not to travel to Belfast, Northern Ireland, for a tournament.

“I was told to have the last name Thatcher and go to Belfast isn’t a smart thing,” he said, a reference to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Mr. Thatcher won a number of awards, including the Philadelphia Section’s Horton Smith Award in 1981 for his contributions to creating educational opportunities for golf professionals. He was the section’s teacher of the year in 1987 and senior player of the year in 1991, and was named one of the nation’s top 50 instructors by Golf Range Magazine.

“His passion was his family and golf,” said Tina Thatcher, one of Mr. Thatcher’s six children. “Throughout his years as head professional at various courses or instructor at Olde Masters, he touched the lives of so many, whether a student on the driving range or a young professional seeking career advice. He was his own man, one of a kind, with a desire to make golf a better place for all involved.”

He is survived by his wife of 30 years, Cherie; his children, Chris, Bruce, Tina, Tracy, Michael, and Brian; six grandchildren, and one great grandchild.

A celebration of Mr. Thatcher’s life will be held at 2 p.m. on Jan. 20 at Aycock at Tradition, Life Celebration Center, 12571 S.W. Tradition Parkway, Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.