“This is my Daddy’s Disney World.”
World Golf Hall of Fame is for all golfers young and old.
By: TIM BAINES
As a young girl was tagging along for a journey through the World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum, she paused, looked around and said: “This is my Daddy’s Disney World.”
Yep, it’s got that Magic Kingdom feel to it – not Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck or Goofy – it’s a mesmerizing spin down memory lane for golf fans, with an interactiveness that never makes it tired.
Located just outside St. Augustine, Fla., the World Golf Hall of Fame anchors the World Golf Village, a smorgasbord of awesomeness for golf fans, with a couple of excellent courses – the Slammer and Squire (Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen) and King and Bear (Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus). There’s also a PGA Tour Golf Academy and the Renaissance Resort along with the Murray Bros. Caddyshack, a bar/restaurant opened in 2001 by funny man Bill Murray and his five brothers.
The World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum is a delightful walk through history where you can almost hear whispers from many of the greatest names in golf. It opened in 1998.
There are tributes – including Bob Hope’s, “Shanks for the Memories” and a homage to African-American golfers – with plenty of artifacts, audio, video, art, photographs and interactive exhibits including a simulator and a putting green. You can peek into the lockers of golf’s elite, the Hall of Famers.
Dr. Tony Parker, the hall’s historian and the former curator of the golf collection at the University of St. Andrews, is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, with golf story after golf story. A tour through the exhibits should be on the bucket list for any golf enthusiast.
“If golf is now global, it’s intergalactic at the museum,” said Parker with a laugh.
There’s plenty to absorb in your tour.
Did you know Kathy Whitworth won 88 pro tournaments, most by man or woman, and finished second 95 times … or that Gary Player cut a record “Gentle On My Mind” that you can listen to at the museum.
It was interesting, along with being particularly disturbing that Joseph Bartholomew, an African-American, designed seven golf courses in Louisiana, but wasn’t allowed to play on them because of his colour.
Within the museum, there’s an exact replica of Swilken Bridge from St Andrews. Parker told a story about bodies buried under the 18th green at St Andrews – deaths that could have been the result of the bubonic plaque that swept through Europe in the 17th century.
The museum also has a replica of the 6-iron that Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard hit two shots with on the moon in 1971. While he shanked the first shot, the second shot, with the benefit of lower gravity, traveled an estimated 200 yards.
The museum also has an original Rembrandt, The Kolven Player, a sketch from 1654, with the participants playing a golf-like pursuit.
The World Golf Hall of Fame is getting much more accessible to Canadians in the Toronto area, with Air Canada beginning non-stop flights between Pearson Airport and Jacksonville International Airport May 7. The direct flight schedule will see departures out of Toronto Saturdays at 9:20 and out of Jacksonville at 12:15 p.m. on Sundays. Easy to be on the course on the same afternoon!
“Nonstop service to Toronto, a city in the top five in golf courses per capita in North America, will undoubtedly translate to more Canadians coming to Northeast Florida during the winter months,” said Dave Reese, president of Florida’s First Coast of Golf.
A trip to the World Golf Hall of Fame can also be tagged along with a visit to nearby Ponte Vedra to watch The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, home of the Stadium Course and that much-talked-about 17th hole, the Island Green. It’s at that hole where country music star Toby Keith will kick off The Players week with a May 10 concert on Military Appreciation Day.
The Players Championship, May 10-15, is a smorgasbord of everything golf. There’s the course itself – a beauty that’s gotten the best of some of the world’s best golfers – and there’s the fan experience, which is second to none.
“This thing was built for fans,” said Matt Rapp, executive director of The Players Championship. “There’s never been a course like it ever built and I don’t think there will be another one built quite like it.
“If you went out and asked golfers, create a golf tournament, what would you create? Honestly, you’d create this. It’s got the best field in golf, it has that every year. There are no “gimmes” as far as getting into the field. No lifetime exemptions, no amateurs, there are no club pros. It was designed to be the truest test in golf, it’s completely neutral. There is just as much right to left as there is left to right. It’s designed to test every aspect of the game, every club in the bag.”
TPC Sawgrass, which started as 415 acres of wetlands and swamp and was purchased by the PGA Tour for $1, has become majestic. Everything that’s on the grounds is educational, captivating and magical. There are 60 guys in burgundy coats waiting to tell you about the history and the lore. Lightposts bear the faces of past champions. The walls of the clubhouse are full of portraits of past champions, a Who’s Who of the game.
As for the experience, Rapp said: “You can see any golfer hit any shot on any hole at any time. It’s walkable, a great viewing experience. Golf courses are built to host golf. They’re not built to host large groups of people. A lot of places, you’re looking up, you might see the top of a guy’s head. That’s not the case here. It’s all about that experience – we’re flying in award-winning chefs and there are a variety of packages available.”
The area has plenty going for it.
“It’s May, it’s nice down here,” said Rapp. “There are 70 golf courses in the area. So much to do, deep sea fishing, hunting, shopping or simply hanging at the beach. Vibrant Jacksonville with all its Beaches is 35 minutes away and then St. Augustine maybe the prettiest city in the south and also the oldest continuously occupied city in the U.S. – a city with brick-paved streets, full of amazing architecture, eclectic dining and electric nightlife, along with the serenity of the beach with ocean waves gliding into the shore.
It’s a must-visit on your trip, even if only to drink from the authentic Fountain of Youth (though, I must admit after a look in the mirror later, I maybe needed a few more sips).