The news came a little more than a month after the World Golf Hall of Fame first opened its doors -- albeit in a different locale -- on Sept. 11, 1974. The original WGHOF was built in Pinehurst, N.C., adjacent to the resort’s famed No. 2 course. On opening day 40 years ago, President Gerald Ford was present to cut the ribbon and address the assembly who were there to see the inaugural 13 inductees be honored.
Like the initial class that entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, which had the likes of Ruth, Cobb and Wagner, the WGHOF class recognized golf’s early legends Bobby Jones, Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, Babe Zaharias and Walter Hagen. Enshrinees attending included Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Patty Berg, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Sam Snead.
The creation of the WGHOF had been a long time coming, and officials had high hopes that it would become a mecca for golf visitors. Along with the presence of President Ford and a parachute exhibition by the Golden Knights, the assemblage of eight of the game’s royal legends gave the Hall of Fame an extra-special start. The ceremony was also notable for a rare dressing of Player—the Black Knight—wearing white, and the normally serious Hogan laughing broadly.
But the lure of Pinehurst wasn’t enough, and low attendance, among other issues, forced the hall to close in 1993, having witnessed 71 member inductions. In May 1998, the WGHOF opened in a new location, St. Augustine, Fla., just a high-handicapper’s wedge shot off I-95. It is the main attraction of the World Golf Village, but it’s also still working to find its niche in the golf world. Election of new Hall members had been a major concern in recent years, some feeling the threshold for entry was too easy, allowing popular players who might not have proven their worth for an entirety of their career to be inducted to make the ceremony a must-see event.
The WGHOF now has 146 members, and artifacts from those members alone are enough to provide a significant history of the game. So the WGHOF is putting out great effort to fulfill its mission to “preserve and honor the history of the game of golf and the legacies of those who have made it great.” And the fulfillment of that all started 40 years ago in Pinehurst.