Sneak peek at the USGA Museum

• USGA shares history at museum

Senior Writer

Step inside the USGA Museum and prepare to be transported back in time. To the days of C.B. MacDonald winning the inaugural U.S. Amateur in 1895, of Francis Ouimet ushering in an era of American golf with his unlikely triumph in the 1913 U.S. Open, and Johnny Goodman, the last amateur to win the U.S. Open in 1933, dressed in plus-fours and a tie. It’s the story of American golf and its significance and place in the larger picture of American politics, culture and society.

Visitors are greeted by an oil painting of Arnold Palmer before strolling into the newest exhibit celebrating “The King.” It’s a room that befits an American icon, or as museum director Rand Jerris put it, “the first golfer who was successful enough to market motor oil.”

It’s not another exhibit filled with trophies, medals and a locker full of clubs. The exhibit focuses on his personal relationship with fans, best encapsulated by “Gratitude,” a portrait of Palmer from shoulders up created by Jim Chase, who long ago enlisted in Arnie’s Army.

He spent 14 years creating the portrait, comprising 22,000 words drawn from quotes by and about Palmer. An interactive station allows visitors to explore these quotes in detail and watch a video explaining the artistic process.

The Palmer room best reflects the evolution of the “museum narrative.” The story of golf used to be told chronologically from the origins in Scotland to the present through the evolution in equipment.

“I don’t think that’s a compelling story,” Jerris says, “or one people can relate to.”

Now the exhibits are designed to tell the personal stories of USGA champions and its championships. The new philosophy was tested before the museum closed for renovations in May 2005 during a special exhibit focusing on Babe Zaharias, who overcame cancer to win the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open.

Some things haven’t changed. Visitors still enter through the front door of a Georgian mansion better known as Golf House, and the Ben Hogan Room remains frozen in time. Bob Jones’s famous putter, Calamity Jane II, Ben Hogan’s 1-iron from the 1950 U.S. Open and the makeshift Wilson 6-iron Alan Shephard used to hit golf’s first lunar shot remain showcase pieces of the collection.

The museum will display more than 2,000 items, artifacts from Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam and many other star players of today’s game. All told, there will be twice as many as before, half of which have never been on display before.

The original John Russell Pope house has been renovated. It’s here where rooms are devoted to Palmer, Hogan and Bob Jones. The Jones and Palmer rooms feature “video jukeboxes” with touch-screens that present highlights from their careers.

The new wing, named the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History, was designed to match the basic architectural themes of Pope. One of its must-see rooms is the Hall of Champions, a rotunda, illuminated by a clerestory.

With the name of every winner of a USGA championship etched on bronze panels hung from the wall and encircling the room, it is truly for winners-only. It also houses all 13 USGA championship trophies, which have been retired and permanently reside in the museum.

The Palmer Center wing has six permanent galleries; central to each is a main story – six iconic moments – pivotal for understanding the game’s development. The first of which is Francis Ouimet’s triumph in the 1913 U.S. Open, which ushered in a century of American golf. The USGA acquired four of the irons Ouimet used in his unlikely victory.

The USGA wants the Palmer Center to be a repository for historical artifacts, photographs, films and videos. Located at the end of the visit is a research facility for a study of the game’s history. Jerris says they built in 40 years of growth to the library collection, at which time he says, “We can begin working on the Tiger Woods Center.”

Here are a few other highlights garnered from a pre-opening tour given to Golfweek:

• Since its inception in 1936, the USGA has asked every USGA champion to donate a club that was instrumental in their victory. “Clubs of Champions” are displayed in two artifact cases.

• Inspired by the Himalayas putting course at St. Andrews, a 16,000-square-foot green has been constructed behind the museum. When it opens in September, replica antique clubs and balls such as Walter Travis’s Schenectady putter, Arnold Palmer’s Tommy Armour Ironmaster model used to win the 1960 U.S. Open, and Payne Stewart’s SeeMore putter from his 1999 U.S. Open triumph will be available for use.

• Daily tours of the USGA’s Research and Test center, where golfers will have a chance to hit on the range with an assortment of clubs and balls from different eras.

• There’s also the obligatory gift shop where visitors can pick up a souvenir or two.

General information:
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Closed Monday and major holidays; research center open weekdays
Admission: Adults, $7; USGA Members, $5; Groups (10 or more), $5; Children 13-17, $3.50; Children 12 & under, free.

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Adam Schupak is a Golfweek senior writer. To reach him e-mail [email protected]

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