A Monument to Golf

The USGA Museum as seen at the USGA Headquarters, Golf House on Thursday April 13, 2006 in Far Hills, NJ. (Copyright USGA)

The USGA Museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History

By Bill Alden | Photographs Courtesy of the USGA Museum

The famed architect John Russell Pope designed some of the iconic structures in Washington, D.C., including the Jefferson Memorial, the National Archives, and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.

But it is one of Pope’s lesser-known creations, a stately brick mansion nestled in the rolling countryside of Far Hills, built in 1919, that has been transformed into a monument to the history of golf.

The United State Golf Association (USGA) purchased the Pope-designed home in 1972 to serve as its headquarters and moved its collection of golf artifacts there from New York City as it formally created its museum.

It doesn’t take long to get immersed in golf history upon entering the museum, as turning left at the front door transports one into the oak-paneled Bob Jones room, which is filled with artifacts from his legendary 1930 Grand Slam. Winding through the museum, there are rooms dedicated to such icons of the game as Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and Mickey Wright.

The Hall of Champions in the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History at the USGA Museum as seen on May 22, 2008 in Far Hills, New Jersey. (Copyright USGA/John Mummert)

“We want to preserve golf history as a whole. Not just golf history in the U.S., but golf history throughout the world,” says Maggie Lagle, one of the museum historians.

To help accomplish that mission, the museum underwent a major renovation from 2005-2008, which added a 16,000-square-foot wing named the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History. It essentially doubled the size of the facility.

“We just wanted to expand, we value being the golf history epicenter of the U.S. and being the center point for people coming to learn golf history,” says Lagle, noting that the museum is open Tuesday through Sunday and draws around 8,000 visitors a year. “The future of the game is obviously important, but we are very proud of our collections.”

The new section features the Hall of Champions with all of the original trophies from USGA events and plaques with names of the event winners. There is also a chronological timeline of golf featuring galleries starting with the “Dawn of American Golf” and going to the “Golden Age,” the “Depression and World War II,” the “Comeback Age,” the “Age of Superpowers,” and ending with the “Global Game.”

Those exhibits include display cases and multimedia presentations mixed with some of the treasured artifacts of the game. “We have some very famous clubs, we have Francis Ouimet’s club when he won the 1913 U.S. Open,” says Lagle, noting that visitors can try out replicas of late 19th and early 20th century clubs and balls by testing their skills on the 9-hole Pynes Putting Course adjacent to the museum.

“We have the ‘moon’ club, the club that they used on the Apollo mission,” continues Lagle. “We have the Calamity Jane putter used by Bobby Jones. We have Arnold Palmer’s visor that he wore during his 1960 U.S. Open win.”

In addition to the permanent collection, which includes more than 70,000 artifacts, the museum features special displays.

“We do rotating exhibits, we do one quarterly and one monthly; we try to tie that into topical events,” says Lagle, pointing out that there was a display on Amelia Earhart’s golf connection in May in conjunction with a focus on women in golf history stemming from the addition of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open as the USGA’s 14th championship event. Materials from Shinnecock Hills Golf Club were on display in June as it hosted the U.S. Open.

For those interested in digging deeper into golf lore, the new wing also includes a library and research center containing 40,000 cataloged items, including books, journals, scorecards, and championship records. The collection also includes more than 500,000 photographic images, and more than 9,000 hours of historic film and video footage.

The Superpowers Gallery in the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History at the USGA Museum as seen on May 22, 2008 in Far Hills, New Jersey. (Copyright USGA/John Mummert)

“The library and research center is amazing,” asserts Lagle, noting that the center recently added the Colonel P. Otto Probst Library from the PGA, which includes 800 rare books and 1,400 periodicals with some documents dating back to the 1500s.

“It gets used pretty often. We do have a lot of independent researchers come in, and some college students. Some people come in just for their general research and some people are writing books.”

Mirroring the changes in the game which have seen upgrades in clubs, balls, technology, and training, the museum is constantly broadening its portfolio.

“We are hoping to do more offsite exhibits at other golf courses and expand other exhibits,” says Lagle. “We try to pair our exhibits and artifacts to what we have going on as a whole at the USGA.”

And spending a few hours taking in the sights augmenting Pope’s grand structure will certainly expand one’s understanding and appreciation of golf.

The Jack Nicklaus Room in the USGA’s Museum at United States Golf Association in Far Hills, N.J. as seen on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. (Copyright USGA/Jonathan Kolbe)