A walk down memory lane

A pair of golf memorabilia shops in the Village of Pinehurst, site of the 2024 U.S. Open, are windows into the game's rich history and offer no shortage of nostalgic collectables

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Tom Stewart's Old Sport & Gallery is the oldest of Pinehurst's two golf memorabilia shops and offers a variety of golf books, clubs, artwork and collectables.

PINEHURST, North Carolina — With an origin of resort play dating to the 1890s, U.S. Open fans won’t have to wonder too far from the course to soak in some golf nostalgia in the Village of Pinehurst.  

Situated just a short walk from the action at Pinehurst No. 2 are two of the most unique and well-stocked golf memorabilia shops in the country.

Located on parallel streets in the iconic village and separated by a European-style brick alleyway, the Old Golf Shop and Old Sport & Gallery offer an amazing variety of collectable items for those looking for that special piece of golf history.

“We go back 250 years in here with our items and I have been collecting for 54 years and built a collection we’re proud of,” says Bob Hanson, the owner of Old Golf Shop along with wife Carol. “We have vintage items from golf clubs and golf balls dating to 1800, and documents and artwork to a myriad of other things that bring us full circle from the origins of the game to today.

“And we’re gotten into a habit of doing some new fun things, too,. For instance, we have a shadow box that has signed golf balls by the five grand slam champions.”

Hanson also recently received a framed photo and signed golf balls of Tiger Woods and a cigar-smoking Michael Jordan exchanging a fun moment during a round together.

“That is just such a unique and cool piece,” Hanson says.

Meanwhile, Tom Stewart, the 77-year-old owner of Old Sport & Gallery, once taught former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev how to golf and is celebrating his 50th year as a PGA Professional this month. His store contains more than 5,000 golf books alone, and an estimated tens of thousands of other golf items.  

“Well, we're part retail store and part museum and part research library,” Stewart says. “I have people come and borrow my books to do stories and television productions. And the store is also kind of a meeting place for people who love the game.”

Hanson says 90 percent of his inventory is on consignment, while the rest he owns. There are times when he has to go to auction to complete a rare piece. For example, he has a shadowbox of arguably the six greatest athletes in their respective sports — from Tom Brady to Willie Mays to Tiger Woods — that display signed balls by each.

Bob Hanson, owner of Old Golf Shop, displays a shadow box that includes an image of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, along with signed golf balls.

“The item we got was the Muhammad Ali signed ball,” Hanson says. “There are only 12 known to exist, so it took me two years to finish that piece.”

The cost of that unique item is $8,500, considering Hanson paid $5,000 alone for the Ali ball at auction.

The 25th anniversary of Payne Stewart’s U.S. Open win at Pinehurst is being promoted this week. Hanson and Stewart agree that the late golfer’s signed items will be a hot commodity.

“We have this ’99 poster, which is just a fabulous item,” Hanson says. “Most of them were printed in very poor fashion and they faded so to find one in full brilliant color is almost impossible. But to find one that Paint Stewart signed in full brilliant cover is near unique.”

The cost of that item is $5,500.

Old Sport & Gallery displays a 1999 U.S. Open flag signed by about dozen golfers, one of which is Payne Stewart, who died in a plane crash less than five months after his dramatic major victory at Pinehurst.

Woods memorabilia also remains hot at both shops. Hanson has a poster of Woods with a signed Nike-branded ball, something you won’t see any more since Woods has played Bridgestone logo balls since 2000.

“It’s just a brilliant presentation of Tiger Woods,” Hanson says.  

Hanson’s store has an estimated 2,400 collectables, containing many high-end pieces, but there is one special item that stands out.

“We are very blessed to have one of the two 1904 Olympics trophies for golf that are available for an individual to own,” Hanson says. “There are four others that are in permanent museums. And one of the two available sold last year for $493,000.”

Vintage golf clubs and an abundance of tchotchkes help fill up a shop that has been in business for more than 30 years.

Closing in on three decades at his present location, Tom Stewart says he still gets “juiced up” when he comes across a rare golf item for the shop.

“I’ll say it’s like Christmas,” he explains.

While there are companies that specialize in autograph authentication, Tom Stewart and Hanson prefer to stand on their word and decades of experience.

“You have to be honest with people because being a golf professional for 50 years and having played all over the world — and I have friends all over golf — I have a zero margin of error,” Tom Stewart says. “I can't afford to have a bad deal with anybody. It’s just who I am.”

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve seen a lot of autographs and handled a lot of autograph items,” Hanson adds “I know that there are professional services out there but for those professional services golf is less than 1 percent of their business. So I'm not too sure who actually sees more autographs. I’ve never had a problem with an autograph.”

To guard against fakes, Hanson has built his own photographic inventory of autographs over five decades that he can refer to on his computer.

“I’m constantly checking reliable sources,” he says.

Hanson says he and competitors like Tom Stewart are beginning to teach a whole new generation about golf collecting.

“And the advantage they have is that a bunch of us for 60 years went out and found it,” Hanson says. “My wife and I have been to Scotland for 47 years in a row and we had to go dig and find it. The new collectors today can figure out what they want, make a list, and because of our ages it's all coming on the market in the next five years.”

Hanson does have some solid advice for those U.S. Open fans who patronize his shop this week.  

“I do have three rules for collectors — slow down, learn about items you are looking to purchase and don’t buy too much,” he says.