The Two Lives of George Boutell

The accomplished golfer’s love of the game hid a secret for years.

February 23, 2023 | 8 min.
By Cal H Simmons

About the Author: Cal Simmons is a Western Golf Association Director, former MGA President, and recipient of the MGA Warren J. Rebholz Distinguished Service Award. His blog, “A Life In Golf,” ( features an unabridged version of this story. 

It was the summer of 1964. I was playing the Resorters in Alexandria. There he was, George Boutell, the No. 1 amateur player in the country. He was funny and friendly to this 16-year-old, who was enamored with such a high profile golfer. It was the start of a lifelong friendship ending at the celebration of George’s life October 1, 2018. 

At 12, George and his family moved from Minneapolis to Phoenix in 1956 at the suggestion of doctors, as a result of his older brother’s illness. At the time it was believed the clearer air of the desert would help him recover. 
Living near the Phoenix Country Club, his game flourished. At age 14, George became the youngest person to ever qualify for the National Amateur. He was focused and meticulous. He was smart, graduating at the top of his class of 650 at Phoenix Central High School. 

George made friends easily with everybody laughing with him. Much of his humor was stupid but funny, though, strangely, women didn’t find it appealing. Throughout life he would fart around others, laughing, much as a young teenager would do. He loved bathroom humor. With no serious side to his public personality, women were not attracted. 

George immersed himself in golf and schoolwork. Accomplishments in these areas are not achieved without immense focus and commitment. He told his mother there was no time for girls.  

In 1964, he was named the No. 1 amateur player in the country. He won the prestigious Trans Mississippi Amateur Tournament in 1965. He was a two-time All-American as he made his way through Arizona State University. 

George was a contradiction. On the one hand, he was a meticulous student and a focused golfer. However, his public life was filled with silly, self-deprecating comments about his body and a sloppiness in how he lived. 

Laughing at himself, a common greeting from George was, “How am I looking?” It was a reference to his pear-shaped figure. His cackling laugh would elicit laughs from all. But it was a defensive laugh. He was very self-conscious about his body. It was all an act to protect his secret. 

Everybody was his friend. In conversation he was a steady stream of questions to those in his presence, never revealing anything about himself. He was funny and interested in you.
George graduated from ASU in four years, with a degree in accounting. Many summers he would come to Minneapolis to see friends at Interlachen and take lessons from Les Bolstad, golf coach at the University of Minnesota. 

In 1968, he went out on the PGA Tour. It was in the days before tour caddies. Interested in being around great golfers, I called George and asked him if I could come out on tour and caddie for him. It was January of 1969. I had a month-long break from Colorado College at the new year. He agreed.

Nothing could have been more fun or thrilling: driving up and down the west coast, caddying at the LA Open, The Bing Crosby (now the AT&T), at Pebble Beach and the Phoenix Open. It never struck me as unusual that we didn’t talk about girls. 

In 1973, I wanted to get out of Minnesota’s winters. 

I called George and arranged to rent a room from him. I    lived with him for a year. 

George played the tour with marginal success. In May 1973, he called me after the New Orleans Open saying he was done with the PGA Tour. He was done with golf. After devoting his life to the game he was ready to move away from playing. 

Hidden Secrets
From the time he quit the tour he played only a few rounds the rest of his life. He used playing and practicing as a cover for his secret. Earlier in life if he played or practiced, he could stay away from social situations. Maybe he lacked the desire to get to the next level in the game because he didn’t love to play. He didn’t practice for long periods as most great players did. Deep down he played to cover his sexuality.

Golf was a perfect cover for being gay, he explained to a female friend later in his life. 

He became a very good bridge player. Many days when he was playing the tour, he would practice for a couple of hours at the Phoenix Country Club and then go inside the club and play bridge for money for hours. 

Bridge is a game requiring intuition, skill and focus. Successful bridge players are not sloppy, silly, acting out in a haphazard way. It fit his private personality, cerebral, focused, not the act he showed the public.  

During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s he had several self-destructive habits. George was a two-pack-a-day smoker. Walking past his bedroom when I rented a room from him, I could see the lit end of a cigarette glowing in the dark. George was having his last smoke before going to sleep. 

Another of his habits was setting an alarm to wake up at 4 a.m. He would then smoke two cigarettes, eat a package of Oreo cookies, drink a Coke, and go back to bed. He called it ‘snack time.’

He drank to excess. “I was on tour and living with George in the early ‘70s,” Bill Brask said. “We would go to the Pink Pony restaurant in Scottsdale every night we were in town. George would have two or three martinis, a steak and a baked potato, then two Black Russians. There were some harrowing car rides home. At home he would stick his fingers down his throat 
and vomit.”

I have since learned this is common among gays triggered by the stress of being in the closet. There is a 60 percent higher incidence of an eating disorder among people who are gay than the general population.

After playing the tour, he was an assistant pro at Papago Golf Course, a public course in Scottsdale. Working for his head professional friend, Arch Watkins, George could not have been a better employee, meticulous on the job, always on time.   

In the three years George was at Papago his self-destructive habits continued. Abusive eating, concentrating on doughnuts, alcohol and smoking, kept his sexuality hidden from his friends. He would laugh, the guys would laugh. However, he was tortured. 

Inspiring the Next Generation
Working behind the counter at Papago was always an interim job as he kept his eye open for a different opportunity. Finally, a job he wanted opened up in 1976: head coach of Arizona State University’s men’s golf team.   

This was the first time his love of young people became evident. By all accounts he was a great coach. Dedicated to his players, I once asked him why he worked so hard. He responded, “Because every decision I make has an effect on a young person.” 

Words of praise poured in following news of his death.

“He had a great eye for talent,” said Barry Conser, who was on the team from 1979-1984. “He would take a player on a trip after a poor qualifying, believing he had more talent than others. Many times he was right.” 

“George always gave me hope! He didn’t give me a spot on the team, but I felt he believed in me. What more could a student athlete ask? In 1983, I became George’s and ASU’s first NCAA golf champion. What an honor considering the great names that came before me. Coach remained a mentor well into my professional career on the PGA Tour because as he became a fantastic tour rules official,” said 1983 NCAA champion Jim Carter.

“George had such a positive impact on my life and so many others. He believed in me and gave me the opportunity to achieve things in my life that seemed unreachable,” said Jeff Knudson, another of George’s players.

“He would do anything to help his team,” Conser said. “Once he stood with me for four hours, helping me when my game was suffering.”

He remained a paradox. On one hand he was caring, concerned for every player on the team. However, out with friends he would make humorous complaints about “The little munchkins. Do you think they can find me here? Can I hide from them?” he said to a friend. It was a ruse, another act. He cared for the kids deeply. 

Back on Tour
After a decade, he left ASU in 1986 to take his dream job as a PGA Tour official. It was a job that perfectly fit his personality. A call from a player needing a ruling requires complete confidence in the correct answer. If an official makes a mistake the whole golf world will know about it. The ruling can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars to a player. With his ability to understand players, his knowledge of the rules and ability to focus, George would get it right. 

I once asked him what he did with a week away from the tour. “I read the Decisions Book cover to cover every week I am off tour.” The USGA Decisions Book (since modified) remains a 500-page, highly complex read. Nick Price, a three-time major winner and former World No. 1 golfer, told me in 1994, “George was respected by the players.”

The days are long on tour for officials, and George worked weeks on end. Up early to make certain everything is set at the course, then not leaving until after dark in preparation for the next day’s play. I rode around TPC Scottsdale as he set hole locations for the day’s play. Even though the hole locations had been set earlier in the week, he spent 10 minutes or more on each green making perfectly certain of the exact location. George loved being a tour official.  

George was a creature of habit. He worked the same tournaments every year, staying in the same hotel, eating in the same restaurants in each town. He did not handle change well. 

For the 65 years he was in golf, he was trapped by his sexuality. What could he do? Come out? In the ‘60s a person who was openly gay would have been ostracized. Had George been known to be gay, he would have been an embarrassment to his family, his school, his sport. He stayed in the closet to save the pain to those that cared for and loved him. 

George played the tour from 1968-1973. It was not until 2018 that a PGA Tour player came out, 45 years after he quit the tour. His secret had to stay locked up.

Homophobia was not unique to ASU or the PGA Tour in that era. Would I have called George and asked if I could travel and caddie for him, had I known he was gay? Would I have lived with him in the early ‘70s? 

Making a Change
After 25 years as a tour official, he retired in 2010. George’s golf life was over. He had moved to the theatre. In the early 2000s, he started spending time in New York as an avid, almost compulsive theatre goer. After leaving the tour, he lived in New York City for six months a year, renting an apartment. 

He quit smoking and drinking when he moved from golf to the theatre. His self-destructive habits ended when he was free of his tortured life, even his diet improved.

I called him before my wife and I went to New York to see a few Broadway shows. “We have tickets to see ‘South Pacific,’” I said.

“Oh, that’s great!” he said. “I’ve seen it 52 times.” 

He saw “Billy Elliot” and “The Laramie Project” well over 100 times. The stories are of young, gay men who were not accepted by society. His theatre friends said he related to Billy Elliot and the murdered University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in “The Laramie Project.” 

Within the theatre community he no longer hid being a person who was gay, but he never told any of his golf friends. 

After a few years he returned to Scottsdale. There is speculation New York City was physically too demanding with all the walking.

Before he left New York City, he called a friend from Phoenix who was a Broadway performer. He presented her with a box of “Playbill” theatre programs. There were over 600 programs from every show he saw, probably in chronological order. 

George was a hoarder. Later he invited his women friends into his home to attempt to clean out the house. “It was a walk back through his life,” one observed. 

He made one more trip to New York City. “‘Annie’ is closing,” he told me. “I’ve seen every actress that ever played Annie, except this one. I think I better go see her.” George was able to be himself in the theatre community. Nobody cared what he looked like or who he was attracted to. While he would see all the touring shows that came to Phoenix, he loved the various youth theaters. He particularly enjoyed musicals. If a show had a seven- or 10-day run, he would go to every performance, always arriving an hour early. He would go to a play every day, sometimes two in a day. He was intense.

In the theatre community he developed at least three close relationships with women. I asked his close friend, PGA Tour official Mark Russell, if he ever interacted much with women when he was in golf. 

“No,” Mark said.

It was a 180-degree shift in relationships. 

In the theatre community he was able to be his authentic self, said one of his woman friends he came out to. 

At intermission of a performance of “Music Man,” George stood with a theater couple. It became obvious from the conversations that their son, who had the lead in the play, was a person who was gay.

“Your son is gay?” George asked.


“And you still love him?”

“Of course.”

“I’m gay,” George said. 

“He went through a catharsis in looking at himself and not seeing a failure,” a female friend said. “He had a self-loathing for many years.” 

After meeting a new female friend, George questioned whether he should give her his phone number. Calling a mutual acquaintance, he asked “Can she be trusted?” He was afraid she would embarrass him, knowing he was gay.

He spent his life helping people find their authentic self. He had a way of seeing the hurt in people. - A Friend

The friendship grew and George eventually let out his secret. “I have something to tell you. I’m gay.” He looked at her waiting for a reaction. “Does that change anything?” 

“It took a long time to gain his trust,” she told me. “His friendship was the greatest friendship in my life.” She started to tear up. “He could see I had a broken heart and he wanted to mend it. He opened my heart.” She paused. “He spent his life helping people find their authentic self. He had a way of seeing the hurt in people.” 

George was afraid to come out because, “They wouldn’t understand,” he told his friend. 

“The people who love you the most will love you more for who you are,” she responded.

He craved touch. Frequently when he would talk to the women he would lay his hand on their arm or hand. “We would go to plays and sit cheek-to-cheek,” she said. 

“I went to lunch with his brother Bill, after George passed. We went to the same Olive Garden I always went to with George. The hostess recognized me and asked about George. When we told her he had passed away she said, sadly, ‘Who is going to hold my hand when I walk you back to the booth?’” 

He loved the young people in the plays, and they loved him. To each young actor he spoke with he would say, “I saw you up there. You were great. You’ll be good. Stay with it.” 

“He cared about all the kids,” she said. George did for others what no one could do for him, know and accept him for his authentic self. 

I sat at George’s celebration of life at Camelback Country Club surrounded by 200 of George’s friends. The theatre group told heartwarming stories of a loving, caring person. The golf group, many of whom sat stunned, were regaled with tales of the silly, funny things George had said and done. 

“That answers a lot of questions,” reflected Mike Morley, a former ASU and PGA Tour player, and mutual friend. 

Everybody loved George in both of his lives. He was a tortured soul who finally found his true self before the end of his life. 

Cal H Simmons

Simmons, of Minnetonka, is a former officer of the Minnesota Golf Association (he was president, 2001-2002), served on the board of directors, from 1980-2013, was a longtime committee volunteer with the USGA (Mid-Amateur Committee, 1984-2004), and continues to volunteer as an MGA Rules official. Simmons was instrumental in bringing the USGA’s Senior Amateur, Walker Cup (which he co-chaired) and Women’s Open championships to Interlachen Country Club, his home course. He was also chair of the Dayton’s Challenge, from 1995-2012, which raised a significant amount of money for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. Simmons is a director of the Western Golf Association, is a tireless supporter of the Evans Scholar Program, which provides college scholarships to deserving caddies, and has been a strong supporter of the University of Minnesota Golf Program, particularly during a turbulent period when the program was in danger of being eliminated. 

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