World Golf Hall of Fame About to End in Its Present Form? – Sports Illustrated

The future of the World Golf Hall of Fame, currently located in St. Augustine, Fla., is in jeopardy.
Bob Self, Florida Times-Union
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.—The World Golf Hall of Fame? “You’ve gotta go!” legendary golfer Gary Player implores us in the television commercial spots.
Prepare the irony. After next year, it might be the World Golf Hall of Fame that has to go.
There have been many signs the Hall of Fame was aging poorly at its home in St. Augustine, Fla., where it was founded in 1998. Its administrators have long ago vacated their on-site offices at the Hall. The outdoor putting course is gone, along with the try-to-hit-the-replica-island-green contest in the courtyard.
Perhaps the most telling was PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan’s ringing non-endorsement of the Hall this week when he discussed the topic with media before the Players Championship, comments that were overshadowed and overlooked by most of the media due to all the hoopla about Tiger Woods being inducted.
“We’re committed to the World Golf Hall of Fame through 2023,” Monahan said. “We’re looking at all of our options as we go forward.”
Hmmm. “All of our options?” Presumably, that includes moving the Hall of Fame elsewhere, taking it digital and/or discontinuing it altogether. Throwing more money at it probably is not among the options, given the public’s 25 years of general disinterest.
Another not-so-minor tipoff was the biggest moment in the Hall’s history Wednesday when Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer of modern times, was inducted into the Hall. Where did the Hall of Fame’s finest hour take place? Uh, er… not at the Hall. No, it was held at the PGA Tour’s expansive new headquarters here in Ponte Vedra Beach where seating was limited and guests reportedly “donated” $5,000 to be part of it. Previous ceremonies had been held at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews—again missing opportunities draw attention and fans to the Hall in St. Augustine, which has always suffered from weak attendance.
Tiger’s night was a massive marketing whiff. Unless, of course, you already know the faltering Hall of Fame is sailing Titanic-like toward an end-of-contract iceberg.
Monahan wanted it to sound like business as usual with his diplomatic and upbeat tone. “We’re fortunate to have been in St. Augustine for 25 years and are proud of the presence that we’ve created there,” he said, “but the business of the Hall of Fame and the way that people consume Hall of Fames has changed. We want to make certain that any decision we make about the next 25 years maximizes our ability to showcase the incredible careers and impact that every single member that’s in the Hall of Fame has had on our game.”
The Tour’s 25-year lease is expiring and a bond agreement with the State of Florida is ending. What’s next? The Hall of Fame needs a benefactor with deep, deep pockets and a love of golf history. Good luck with that.
The World Golf Village, home of the Hall of Fame, has been a partial success. The home sites around it were slow to sell at first but now it’s a finished community. The golf courses built to go with the Hall—The Slammer & The Squire and The King & The Bear—have proven popular with golfers.
The stores and shops originally built around the Hall of Fame, though, have mostly gone bust. The PGA Tour Shop is long gone. About all that’s left is the Reverb Church and the original restaurant next door to the Hall, Caddyshack, which was begun by Bill Murray and his brothers, including Andy, who was the original chef there.
I was at the Hall of Fame voting session in 2018 in South Florida, part of a panel of 16 golf representatives who met to decide which nominees would make the Hall and which wouldn’t in the Class of 2019. I was there as president of the Golf Writers Association of America, not as a reporter, and reminded that I couldn’t print any of the comments made by a board that included Player, Jack Nicklaus, the USGA’s Mike Davis, Nancy Lopez and others.
So, I won’t go into details but somehow the state of Hall of Fame came up and I’ll never forget the look of shock and dismay on Player’s face when Monahan told him it was in serious trouble and that the tour was going to consider other options after the end of its lease.
The empty storefronts tagged the site with a derogatory nickname – The World Ghost Village.
I could offer a list of poor decisions and bad ideas made by those putting together the Hall of Fame that has led to its slide. But even the little things were wrong, like:
The nearest parking is 300 yards from the entrance (on the other side of the Renaissance Hotel); arrivals must drive slowly around a big circle past a golf course and housing to reach the Hall and shops off the I-95 exit, instead of a short, straight direct line; not enough focus on the game’s great players and personalities and especially, the players the public cares most about – Player, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, not in that order. Even today, you’ll see more Bob Hope artifacts in the Hall than the Big Three combined.
The sad truth about the World Golf Hall of Fame, which moved to St. Augustine and became a PGA Tour property after going belly-up in Pinehurst, N.C., under the PGA of America’s watch, is that maybe there just isn’t enough interest in golf history to support a golf museum.
Golf is a niche sport. Those who play it as recreation and also closely follow the PGA and LPGA Tours are a niche of a niche. Those who play it and watch it and have an interest in Ben Hogan or Jimmy Demaret or Patty Berg or the history of maintenance equipment is a niche of a niche of a niche.
In other words, there is only a small audience for a golf museum/Hall of Fame. Even Golf Channel, the network that golf fans rely on for daily golf news, has a fairly low viewership. Golf isn’t the NFL or the NBA or NCAA basketball.
Once again, Monahan said: “The way that people consume Hall of Fames has changed,” is what Monahan said. That sure sounds as if it signals the end of an era for the current Hall. If the induction of Tiger Woods can’t save the Hall of Fame, nothing can.
The World Golf Hall of Fame? “You’ve gotta go!” Woods finally made it to the Hall of Fame but he still didn’t go. The Hall came to him.
Drop the mic, Tiger. Now drop the curtain.
Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980, following the tours to 125 men’s major championships, 14 Ryder Cups and one sweet roundtrip flight on the late Concorde. He is likely the only active golf writer who covered Tiger Woods during his first pro victory, in Las Vegas in 1997, and his 81st, in Augusta.


You may also like