The World Golf Hall of Fame is a popular tourist attraction in the World Golf Village complex near St Augustine, Florida. Hundreds of thousands of golf fans visit each year, and due to its size and sheer number of exhibits, it requires a good four hours to take it all in. The purpose of the WGHOF is simple: showcase the men and women whose contribution to golf made the game what it is today. That is as it should be, but unfortunately is not actually true.
What few realize is that the financial and political machinations that led to the creation of the World Golf Hall of Fame in the first place have resulted in many of the greatest early players being “evicted”, despite having been inducted decades before to the original PGA Hall of Fame. The result is an embarrassing number of early stars being ignored and unknown to current and future generations.
Two years after baseball created the first sporting Hall of Fame, and at legendary writer Grantland Rice’s suggestion, the governing body of professional golf in the US founded a PGA Hall of Fame in 1941 to celebrate the achievements of the early golfing greats that shaped the game. A total of twelve players were inducted that year. As the years went by, more greats were added to the roll of honour.
In 1974, the owners of Pinehurst Resort, Diamondhead Corp, seeking a tourist attraction, started a privately-operated World Golf Hall of Fame with thirteen original inductees. This also added players as the years went by.
In the early 1980s, the World Golf Hall of Fame ran into significant financial difficulties and in 1983 the PGA stepped in to take over management, eventually taking over full ownership in 1986. The PGA planned to merge their Hall of Fame, now consisting of fifty members, with that of World Golf. However, only twenty-one of the PGA names were already members of the World Golf inductees. For reasons that have never been fully explained, the remaining original members of the PGA Hall of Fame were simply dropped, evicted, and required re-election to become part of the new merged World Golf Hall of Fame.
PGA officials refused to comment on the decision to exclude some of the greatest names in golf, instead pointing to the possibility of re-election. Some names have managed to creep back onto the list, but shamefully there are still seventeen players – seventeen of the finest players of their generation – left out in the cold (see below).
Unforgivably, this includes the tragic figure of Johnny McDermott, the first American-born winner of the US Open in 1911 (which he defended the following year) and still the youngest ever winner at the age of nineteen. Visitors to the faux chateau in St Augustine that now houses this “Hall of Shame” will see no reference to arguably the world’s best player of his time and a genuine American hero, but instead can read about Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and even major-less Seniors’ Tour cabaret act Chi Chi Rodriguez.
To muddy the waters further, in 2005 something called the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame opened in Port St Lucie, Florida. The names here are primarily those of PGA Past Presidents and PGA Golf Professionals (aka club pros) of the year since 1955. Whilst it is unlikely that many will go out of their way to look at an exhibit on pros such as Dugan Aycock (1957), Hubby Habjan (1965) or Hardy Loudermilk (1968), or leave the beach to see portraits of former PGA officialdom, what may draw attention is the inclusion of what they’ve called PGA Member Original Inductees. Perhaps in recognition of their disservice to their sport in the World Golf debacle, the PGA has belatedly restored their original honorees (including all seventeen missing above) and McDermott is once again in a PGA Hall of Fame.
However, the fact remains that the claim of the World Golf Hall of Fame to be “the ultimate destination for the celebration and recognition of golf's greatest players and contributors – an inspiration to golfers and fans throughout the world” will not be realized. Not until they cease the internal bickering and restore the missing original inductees to their rightful place.
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