Robert Hudson was a student of life's "old school," feeling that success was acquired through hard work. With little formal education, Hudson went to work in 1901 for a Portland wholesale grocery company at the age of 14. He became the firm's city sales manager by 19 and, a year later, risked all his savings to found the Hudson-Duncan Company, which now deals in everything from groceries to filbert orchards, bakeries to canneries. He once jokingly described himself as "just a prune merchant. Nobody, yet, has asked to see my pits."
Hudson put all his energies into building the business, and exhibited a knack for correctly judging people and situations. Business cohorts called him the luckiest man alive. He retorted that he was "not lucky, [but had] good cow sense." Hudson did not have lavish personal surroundings like other affluent businessmen. He never owned a showplace estate, nor a house staffed by servants. "Some fellows had luxurious yachts or took extravagant European holidays," he once said. "I don't like yachts and I have done all the traveling I want to do. I like golf tournaments. They're my only luxury – and less expensive than a yacht."
The Inveterate Optimist
Hudson, spry and handsome in his late 50's, had never seen a golf tournament prior to 1944. When he heard that the local professionals were being forced to cancel their Portland Open because of financial problems, Hudson came to the rescue. At the tournament, torrential downpours dampened everyone's spirits but Hudson's, who soon began conjuring up ways to improve the event the following year. This was typical of Hudson, who throughout his life looked at the cup as half-full, not half-empty.
While the professional golfers were smacking nine irons onto swampy greens, and ticket-takers played solitaire amid the sparse crowds, Hudson smiled throughout that first Portland Open, which he endowed with $10,000. One pro summed up Hudson's spirit the best: "I'd play in one of his tournaments if I had to go around in a rowboat. He's the only one not kicking about the weather and he's the guy taking a financial bath."
In all the events Hudson sponsored – three Portland Opens, a PGA Championship, a Western Open and Ryder Cup Matches – he followed one rule diligently. "The players – all of the big names or unknowns – must be treated as if they were guests in my home."
Hudson did this unfailingly. George S. May, a Chicago industrialist, was the first to consider golf professionals as stars. But Hudson did everything one step better than May, giving the players and their wives free meals, bar service, automobiles, transportation to and from hotels, caddies, and a lavish banquet and dance at the tournament's end.
Hudson extended himself another luxury besides sponsoring golf tournaments. The "Boss," as his loyal employees called him, had a real soft spot for children. He couldn't pass a kid without slipping him or her a quarter, a 50-cent piece or a dollar. Though the first Portland Open didn't make a profit, from the second one on Hudson pledged $5,000 to Barnes General Hospital regardless if the tournament made money.
Bigger and Better Things
The first two Portland Opens whetted Hudson's appetite for bigger things, and he considered it a real honor when asked to host the 1946 PGA Championship at Portland Golf Club. Along with a corps of volunteers, Hudson oversaw a production that he considered "one of the greatest attractions in the history of sport." The event brought members of the golf press to the Northwest from around the country. At the conclusion of the tournament, won by Ben Hogan, a few reporters – Chicago Tribune golf editor, Charles Bartlett, Associated Press editor, Russ Newland, of San Francisco, and George Bertz, sports editor of the Oregon Journal – gathered in an empty ice cream stand and founded the Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA). A plaque alongside Portland's 18th green commemorates the occasion.
The Ryder Cup's Savior
During the PGA Championship, there were rumblings that the Ryder Cup Matches might not be held again due to a lack of funding. The news could not have fallen on more sympathetic ears than Bob Hudson's, who saw in this an opportunity to outdo anything he'd done for golf before. Just as he would organize an international fruit purchase, Hudson gave his all to staging the Ryder Cup Matches. No stone was unturned in the preparations. The first post-war revival of the Ryder Cup in November 1947 was never to be forgotten by the spectators, officials, players or golf historians. It was, after all, a Bob Hudson extravaganza.
The Ryder Cup Matches tested Hudson's organizational ability as well as his pocketbook. Throughout the 10-day event, he walked a diplomatic tightrope, managing to divide his time equally between the two opposing teams and having a good time in the process. In appreciation of this generous and congenial benefactor, both teams presented Hudson with inscribed gifts.
Taking a Major Role in the Future of the PGA
After the PGA and Ryder Cup experiences, the PGA of America named Hudson to its powerful Advisory Committee. The group included such noteworthy businessmen as Chevrolet executive Hugh Rader, Masters chairman Clifford Roberts, USGA president Hord Hardin, George S. May, John J. Hopkins of General Dynamics, precious-metals executive Harry Radix, and Robert Stranahan of Champion Spark Plug.
By 1951 Hudson was the head of the influential committee. In his annual report, Hudson told the PGA members to start minimizing the friction between the club professionals and traveling golf pros. He also wanted the organization to pay more attention to customer services and marketing. In making these recommendations, Hudson said, "There's always trouble in business and the star is the one who can handle it. Otherwise, if everything ran smoothly any bum could be boss."
Hudson counseled touring professionals to be less cocky and selfish. After all, they were in a short-lived profession; hungry and younger competition would inevitably drive the older players from the tour. He once said, "People forget a golf champion's record, but remember his personality when he comes to apply for the head professional's position. Good manners are one of the best investments for a touring professional. Tournament professionals are making more money than they ever dreamed of, and you can't blame them for not knowing how to act. They need sound judgment to help them as there will come a day . . ."
In 1953 Hudson was informed that the Western Golf Association had accepted his invitation to play the 1955 Western Open at Portland Golf Club. The energetic wholesale grocer, voted Man of the Year in 1947 by the recently formed Golf Writers Association of America, was all smiles.
"It should be a great show," he commented. "The Western Open is one of the oldest championships in this country and is definitely a prestige event among the golfers, right along with the U.S. Open, the Masters and the PGA. You can be sure all of the pros and amateurs too will be there."
At that time, he was very active in many golf activities, serving as a WGA Director, President of the PNGA, and the only U.S. citizen on the boards of both the PGA of America and British PGA.
A Tribute to Bob Hudson Continues Today
Hudson – a Thursday golfer who played with his company's managers rain or shine – had more fun with golf than anyone imaginable. Today, Bob Hudson is remembered for sustaining the namesake Hudson Cup Matches in their early years. The idea for the event, which pits the Northwest's top 10 professionals and 10 amateurs in a Ryder Cup-type competition, was spawned by golf professional, Al Zimmerman. Zimmerman asked a group of Northwest pros (including Bud Ward, Stan Leonard, Johnny Langford, Larry Lamberger Sr., Gordon Richards, Harold West and Zimmerman's brother, Em) if they would like to honor Hudson by participating in a match against the region's best amateurs.
Lamberger recalls the meeting and the pros' whole-hearted support of the event. When they approached Hudson and told him what they wanted to do, Lamberger recalled, "He took to that idea the same way he did to the first Portland Open. He said, 'Fine. How much money do you want?'" The pros didn't think they needed any money. "Needless to say," said Lamberger, "Hudson paid for everything. He paid for the caddies and later he bought jackets for both teams, 20 in all. This went on as long as Mr. Hudson was alive. It cost him six to seven thousand dollars to put on the Hudson Cup Matches, which were in his honor."
Hudson also donated the Hogan Cup, which is presented annually by the GWAA to a golfer who has overcome physical problems. Goodrich recalls the time when the great Ben Hogan first viewed the mock-up of the trophy bearing his likeness. Hudson was very proud of the design. "Hogan took three trips around the trophy in Hudson's hotel suite in New York City. Finally, he said, 'Mr. Hudson, that isn't quite my swing. My club is a little higher.'"
Bob Hudson was truly the right person at the right time for Northwest golf. He added zest, business principles and a seemingly endless supply of positive thinking and financial backing to the game. Hudson truly was the "Golf Professional's Angel," not only through his monetary support but through his business acumen. In 1978 Robert Hudson was elected in the "Builder's Category" to the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame.