By: Tim Baines
The World Golf Hall of Fame is much more than a playpen for those who give a hoot about the history of golf.
It’s got the kind of pizzazz that prompted a visiting young girl to pause, look around and said: “This is my Daddy’s Disney World.”
Disney, indeed. It’s another Florida treasure, with plenty of bells and whistles to go along with an inclusiveness that pays attention to all aspects of the history of the game.
“If you want to know anything about the game of golf, we want you to come to this place,” said World Golf Hall of Fame historian and chief storyteller Dr. Tony Parker. “It’s not just hitting the ball into a hole in a tournament here and a tournament there. It’s all inclusive, it’s all about the game. You’d be surprised by the number of comments we get from folks who had no interest in the game initially and leave here with a real appreciation of the game.”
Located just outside St. Augustine, 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 is a delightful experience where hundreds of years of history – including golf variations like chole, kolven and kolf – speak to you from the walls.
“If it contributes to the history of the game of golf, it absolutely should be here,” said Parker. “We want to tell the whole story. I’m a storyteller. As Paul Harvey used to say, ‘Now for the rest of the story.’ That’s what I like to get to. Non-golfers come away with the, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that.’ ”
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 putting green. You can peek into the lockers of golf’s elite, the Hall of Famers.
New to the hall of fame is an exhibit titled Road To Rio: Golf’s Return to the Olympics. LPGA star Amy Alcott was there to open the exhibit. Even newer is an exhibit, opening Sept. 23, saluting champions in women’s golf – from Babe Zaharias and Louise Suggs all the way up to Lydia Ko, Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis, and everything in between.
Visiting the hall of fame, you can hear about people like Lloyd Mangrum (a star golfer who won two Purple Hearts and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II), Larry Nelson (who took up golf after serving in the infantry in Vietnam), Althea Gibson (a Wimbledon champ who broke colour barriers and crossed over to join the LPGA Tour.) and Bobby Locke and his ukelele.
In a case at the hall of fame is an uncashed $4 cheque from Ben Hogan to Lanny Wadkins. There’s a wonderful story that goes with it, one Parker loves to tell.
“Ben Hogan was playing a skins game with Lanny Wadkins. On the 16th tee box a gentleman drives up and says he’s joining them. Hogan turned to Wadkins and says, Are we done?’ The cheque for $4 comes in the mail to Wadkins. For weeks, Hogan’s secretary would call Wadkins and ask him to cash the cheque. ‘We can’t reconcile the books unless you do.’ Wadkins never cashed the cheque.”
Parker, 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 has gotten much more accessible to Canadians in the Toronto area, with Air Canada offering non-stop flights between Pearson Airport and Jacksonville International Airport.
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.
The Players Championship, May 9-14 in 2017, 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.
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.