As far as I’m concerned there is no sport that has a tradition more rich than golf. The game has seen so many changes and implementations over the centuries that it’s nearly obscene. Since the beginning of time our ancestors had a natural tendency to swing objects. Perhaps it was a weapon to bludgeon your next meal or maybe it was a stick to swing at a ball filled with feathers over some barren land littered with the likes of large boulders or maybe a few heads of livestock. It was in 1296 where a game called “Kolf” was contested which very much sounds like our beautiful game of golf. In St. Augustine, Florida sits a beautiful property that houses The World Golf Hall of Fame. A special place that is devoted to showcasing our sport through the centuries.
It was predetermined some time ago that if I drove down to the PGA Show (or flew and rented a car) that I would take out time to visit “The Hall”. A plan that I made good on after driving through the night (except for a couple of brief naps) and safely arriving in Florida. “The Hall” is located a very short distance conveniently off of the I-95 which makes it easy for travelers to visit. For lovers of the game it’s a chance for us to pay homage to those before us that paved the way. Driving down the lane-way the street is adorned with banners of those legends that have been enshrined. Names like Jack Nicklaus, Babe Zaharias, Annika Sorenstam and Mr. Arnold Palmer to name a few. Personally speaking, I loved the section of the drive in that had trees lining each side of the road that acted as a canopy. Upon parking the car you are greeted by a majestic looking building that is complimented with a tower, a beautiful man-made lake with an island green in it that is definitely inspired by the Par 3 17th at TPC Sawgrass – Stadium Course. This site with a cloudless blue sky acting as a backdrop is stunning. Much like the game itself.
When you enter the large wooden (I assume Oak) doors you are greeted by a foyer that is almost cavernous. The cost for entry is $20.95 (Florida Residents have a discount) and it includes use of their 18-hole putting course, one swing at the aforementioned island green, and next day re-entry. Beside the desk is complimentary fresh orange juice which I definitely had a glass of. Long drive right? You also receive a “passport” that takes you on a “scavenger hunt” through the hall. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy this interaction because I left my glasses back in my vehicle. As soon as you enter the Exhibit Hall you are greeted by large images of Mr. Palmer, Mr. Nicklaus among others. Ironically, the former Bob Hope Classic was played this past week on the PGA Tour and as you navigate the corner there is a massive exhibit featuring the legendary comedian. His love for the game and servicemen and women of the United States Armed Forces (USO) is quite evident and on full display.
Leaving this exhibit behind you start to travel back in time. I was greeted by one of the museum employees who gave me the chance to hold onto a Gutta-Percha ball and a feathery. I received a quick history on both. The Gutta-Percha was a relatively soft wood from a tree and in case you weren’t aware as a result of hitting the ball with implements it created dimples. The Scots realized that these dimples made the ball fly further and eventually this is what led to dimples as we know them on golf balls. In comparison the feathery was tirelessly packed by ball makers who added down inside of a leather cover and rolled them on their chests. Packing the ball and making the ball more and more firm. As I recollect a ball-maker would only make 5-10 balls per day. As I rounded another corner I had the chance to simulate putting and chipping with equipment from the earlier era of the game. Clubs made of all wood on a green that was quite shaggy representing the conditions. My first putt was about a 20-footer that I made. The feel was by far the most pure sensation that I have experienced in my golfing life.
As I left the all-wooden equipment behind I made my way to another exhibit that featured clubs of all varieties and designs. Some that made sense and eventually re-surfaced (square heads), designs that featured heads that were a hollow oval with a couple of horizontal metal bars that acted as the face, to a head that was huge… like a shovel. Never again will I refer to a club as a shovel. As you work your way through you enter an area that features The Majors”. Artifacts like “The Green Jacket” adorn this section and you make your way to an area that focuses on the greats of Women’s Golf. From Babe Zaharias and Mickey Wright to Lorena Ochoa, Karrie Webb and Annika. These women much like this area is titled epitomized “Grace and Grit”. Other areas of the hall feature exhibits that focus on events like The Ryder Cup, The President’s Cup, The Solheim Cup and The Olympics. In this area there is a Golfzon golf simulator where you can chip, pitch and putt. I made par on a hole from The Slammer & Squire located there in Golf World Village. As you depart the area you walk through an area that has lockers filled with belongings of those enshrined.
I took the opportunity to take the elevator up into the tower of the hall. Hanging from the ceiling is a model made of crystal that is said to resemble the shape of a perfect swing. It’s a pretty cool piece. The view from the tower is 360* and the view is terrific however this was where I was just a little disappointed. The tower would have made for some great pictures of the property however the doors were locked and I was not able to go outside. A minor thing but seeing that I wanted to take in all of the scenery it was a little bit of a “buzzkill”.
Overall, a visit to The World Golf Hall of Fame is definitely worth a stop. Whether you’re a fan of the game, a fan of a certain golfer (I was enamored with anything Mr. Palmer) or a fan of sports in general it is a must see. Amazing history, one of a kind artifacts and interaction it is money well spent. So if you’re ever passing through St. Augustine make the stop at “The Hall”.
Until The Next Tee!!