President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s golf shoes. Sam Snead’s lunchbox. Canadian legend Marlene Stewart Streit’s first hole-in-one trophy. These are among the thousands of artifacts displayed at the World Golf Hall of Fame, the centrepiece of Florida’s World Golf Village, a combination resort and theme park located between Jacksonville and St. Augustine.
As in every corner of the golf-obsessed Sunshine State, the northeast has targeted golf travellers, who account for one-third of the rounds played annually. More than 50 public-play courses are found in a 153-kilometre stretch of prime beachfront marketers have tagged Florida’s First Coast, since it was the first region settled by Europeans and offers the first beaches most vacationers see as they motor into the state.
Many visitors to the World Golf Hall of Fame stay on site at the refurbished 300-room Renaissance World Golf Village Resort, then set out to explore the village’s shops, restaurants and the World Golf Hall of Fame, an entertaining mix of conventional museum-style exhibits and cutting-edge video presentations.
The brainchild of former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, the hall is designed to reflect both golf’s past and the spirit of the game. The 18 peaks of the roof of Boston architect E. Verner Johnson’s glass-and-steel shrine represent the 18 holes in a round of golf. And the front curve of the building is meant to symbolize the arc of a golf swing.
A barrage of archival films unreel on screens large and small throughout the hall. In the Bob Hope Theatre, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and other immortals appear in a video highlighting the comedian’s famous passion for the game. Also rolling in a never-ending loop is film of astronaut Alan Shepard’s 6-iron shot during the 1971 Apollo 14 mission, the swing that made golf the first interplanetary sport.
Interactive exhibits include a putting green where visitors can try their luck with old-style wood-shafted putters and gutta percha balls. Another highlight is the Trophy Room at the top of the Hall of Fame Tower, which holds the World Cup, the President’s Cup and many more of golf’s most famous baubles.
But the spiritual heart of the museum is Shell Hall, where hand-crafted bronze relief plaques of each of the 141 honoured members line the Wall of Fame like ancient sarcophagi.
Even more fascinating — and intimately revealing — is the Member Locker Room, featuring more than 2,000 artifacts and memorabilia from the hall’s members in lockers dedicated to telling their individual stories. Found here are Nicklaus’s favourite fly fishing rod, Babe Zaharias’s harmonica, one of the two Purple Hearts won by Lloyd Mangrum in the Second World War, and the 1970 and 1972 World Team jacket worn by Marlene Stewart Streit, the winner of every major title in women’s amateur golf, who in 2004 became Canada’s first — and still only — inductee to the hall.
Found almost in the shadow of the hall is the PGA Tour Golf Academy, the only teaching facility that carries the PGA Tour name. And right on the World Golf Village property are the two excellent golf courses built to serve, together with the hall, as the complex’s primary draw.
Opened in 1998, the 6,939-yard Slammer and Squire course snakes tightly through wetlands before widening and wrapping around the hall. The layout was designed by Bobby Weed with input from Sam Snead (the Slammer) and Gene Sarazen (the Squire).
Palmer and Nicklaus, in their only design collaboration, built the King and Bear course, a 7,279-yard beast opened in 2000. Palmer (the King) handled the layout’s original routing, which Nicklaus (the Bear) then refined.
Snead, Sarazen, Palmer and Nicklaus are all, of course, members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, where the historical evidence of their greatness awaits discovery.