Sport’s legendary figures, memorabilia to be honored at Golf House Pinehurst starting in 2024
PINEHURST, N.C. — The great Bobby Jones once argued that the greatest figures in the game of golf should be honored not in Augusta, but in Pinehurst — dubbed the Home of American Golf.
Almost 50 years ago now, president Gerald Ford made his way to the North Carolina Sandhills for the first induction ceremony at the brand new World Golf Hall of Fame facility, which was situated on 17 wooded acres behind the fourth green and fifth tee box of Pinehurst No. 2.
It seemed like a wonderful idea at the time, but the luster and the crowds soon faded, so off it went to Florida in 1998 where the PGA Tour was eager to take over the operation in Saint Augustine at the newly designed World Golf Village.
Surely the bustling traffic along the I-95 corridor would make the new venture a success, correct? But almost 25 years later, the World Golf Hall of Fame board of directors was looking to move the museum yet again.
"Hall of Fames aren’t built to make money," said Peter Stilwell, the former executive director of the World Golf Hall of Fame in Pinehurst. "They are built to honor individuals. When it moved to Florida they expected 500,000 or more a year would visit. It just didn’t happen. The I-95 corridor wasn’t as attractive as everyone thought it was going to be."
As the discussions began on finding a new home about a year ago, USGA chief executive officer Mike Whan — who is on the hall of fame board — chimed in.
“I told the board ‘If you can just give me eight months I think I have the answer before you go shopping this around,”’ Whan said. "I came to the board with a proposal and I just needed a little time to make sure the state of North Carolina and Pinehurst were supportive of it, and then we moved quickly. That’s the best thing about these (political) guys in North Carolina, they don’t fool around. You don’t get that in every state."
With the USGA Golf House Pinehurst already under construction, Whan proposed using the second floor of the new building for the World Golf Hall of Fame, which would be a homecoming of sorts for the Pinehurst community, where 1 million golfers migrate on a yearly basis to partake in some of the best golf in the world.
"If you ask people who love baseball they will tell you they’ve never really made the pilgrimage to Cooperstown. I’m not going to Cooperstown or Canton (for the NFL Hall of Fame) anytime soon," Whan said. "But the hockey hall of fame being in Toronto is interesting because everybody in Canada and everybody associated with the game at some point is in Toronto. We’re kind of following that model. Everybody who plays the sport — if not annually — at some point will make the pilgrimage here to Pinehurst. We want to make it where they don’t have to make a separate trip. The golfers are already coming and we need to make it convenient and sized appropriately and not worry so much about what the bottom line is. With those three ingredients I think it is different than it has ever been.”
It now costs $20.95 for adults, $19.95 for seniors and $5 for kids to visit the World Golf Hall of Fame in Florida. Whan isn’t even sure yet if the USGA will charge admission when the new World Golf Hall of Fame opens the week of the 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
"I can tell you this, if we do charge it won’t be an amount that stops anybody from coming in," he said. "This won’t be about making money. When you run an organization like the United State Golf Association certain things you do because they are the right things to do. We think this is one of the things we need to do for the sport and for the game, so to me this is preserving history and that’s in our by-laws. We have a museum in New Jersey and we don’t make money at that museum. This is something we’re giving back to golfers."
Whan expects to scale down the World Golf Hall of Fame significantly from its 70,000-square-foot home in Florida to about 9,000 square feet in Pinehurst.
"We’re going to build an incredible locker room of the best-of-the-best, and build some museum around it but we’re not going to make it a museum that also holds the World Golf Hall of Fame," Whan said. "It will be the World Golf Hall of Fame with some artifacts that we think will make it special. If you have to commit to another golf museum that’s hard to do, so we just want to make sure the greatest in the game had a home."
Whan said the World Golf Hall of Fame inductions won’t always be held in Pinehurst.
“That will be good for both us and Pinehurst,” he said. “No matter where the induction is we’ll be talking about ‘Have you ever been to Pinehurst?’ But I don’t want to have everyone here all the time because I think there is some value to Scotland or Pebble Beach or somewhere else. Regionally, it wakes people up to where we are."
For Pinehurst Resort, it is yet another positive for one of golf’s best destinations.
"Sure, we want people to play golf here but having another thing to do that is part of our DNA, to come and play where the world’s best have played, and then to be able to learn more about their history and their accomplishments within 200 yards of the first tee of Pinehurst No 2 feels appropriate," said Tom Pashley, president of Pinehurst Resort.
"I would imagine of the elite players who have been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame 99 percent of them have played Pinehurst No. 2. It is good synergy. I don’t know why it didn’t work the first time. Who knows what the contributing factors were, but Pinehurst has evolved over the last decade, so I feel this is the right time, the right moment for it to be successful here, especially being inside Golf House Pinehurst.”
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper was on hand for the announcement in Pinehurst, noting that there are more than 500 golf courses scattered across North Carolina with an estimated economic impact of $4 billion per year.
Artifacts from Hall of Fame inductees to be displayed in Pinehurst include:
- Johnny Miller’s clubs, ball and champion’s gold medal from the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he shot a record 63 in the final round
- Shirt worn by Annika Sorenstam in the first round of the 2003 Colonial, becoming the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event since 1945
- Compass, slide rule and bifocals used by Donald Ross
- Jack Nicklaus’ MacGregor golf bag from the 1965 Masters
- Golf bag and clubs used by Lorena Ochoa to win the 2008 British Women’s Open, her first major victory
- Spalding 2-wood used by Bobby Jones
- Wedge used by Seve Ballesteros to win the 1979 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes
- 1922 PGA Championship trophy and 1935 Masters champion plaque from Gene Sarazen, the first player to complete the professional career Grand Slam