In honor of International Museum Day (May 18), we highlight one of the great cathedrals of sports history and culture: the USGA Golf Museum. Its collection includes 75,000 artifacts, 750,000 photographs and 200,000 hours of historic film and video footage.
But beyond the numbers, it contains the stories of golf’s most influential figures. Some have inspired us, like Francis Ouimet, who became America’s first golf hero when he won the 1913 U.S. Open as a 20-year-old amateur, and Se Ri Pak, who made golf a truly global game with her victory in the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open.
Others have shown us their perseverance, like Ben Hogan earning the 1950 U.S. Open title after a near-fatal car crash, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias winning the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open by 12 shots just a year after colon cancer surgery.
The Museum has stories of the stars we grew up idolizing like Mickey Wright, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods; but also some lesser-known players whose impact on the game shouldn’t be ignored.
The Museum itself also has an interesting backstory worthy of further exploration. Here are nine nuggets about the USGA Golf Museum that everyone from the casual weekend duffer to the most ardent golf fan will find fascinating.
It’s the oldest sports museum in the United States
The USGA Golf Museum opened in 1936, which predates the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., by two years. In 1972, the Museum moved from New York City to Liberty Corner, N.J.
The Museum is located in a building designed by John Russell Pope
The renowned architect also designed the National Archives (1935), the National Gallery of Art (1941) and the Jefferson Memorial (1943). The “Pope House” in which the Museum is located was built as a domestic residence for Thomas H. Frothingham, a New York City stockbroker, in 1919.
Each USGA champion has their name inscribed on a bronze plaque
The stunning display is located in the Museum’s Hall of Champions, a rotunda illuminated by a clerestory that also houses all 16 original USGA championship trophies. Through 2019, there are 958 names on the walls of the Hall of Champions, including Bob Jones and Tiger Woods, whose names appear a record nine times each.
It has an artifact from every U.S. president who has played golf since William Howard Taft in 1909
Golf and the presidency have a long connection dating back more than a century. The USGA collection includes clubs, golf balls, head covers and even a letter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower thanking the USGA Green Section for helping him to install a putting green on the South Lawn of the White House.
One of its most famous artifacts has been on the moon
On Feb. 6, 1971, Admiral Alan B. Shepard Jr. took arguably the most famous swings in golf history. Using an instrument for collecting lunar rock samples, a 6-iron clubhead and two golf balls he smuggled aboard the Apollo 14 spacecraft, Shepard hit two shots on the surface of the moon. In a ceremony during the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Shepard donated the club to the Museum.
The USGA Golf Museum has the world’s largest and most complete golf library
There are more than 100,000 items catalogued, including books and periodicals printed in 25 languages. Different areas of the collection include club histories from around the world and the largest collection of golf-themed comic books.
Only 5 percent of the collection is on display
Like an iceberg, the part of the collection you can see is only a small portion of its entirety. Artifacts are frequently rotated so those that are especially delicate can be preserved, while others can be put on public display so visitors can learn about their stories.
Champions frequently donate items to the Museum
Starting in 1938 when Bob Jones gave his famous putter, Calamity Jane II, to the Museum, hundreds of USGA champions have donated artifacts from the biggest moments in golf. The list includes Hogan’s 1-iron from the 1950 U.S. Open, Wright’s putter that she used for 81 of her 82 professional victories, Palmer’s visor from the 1960 U.S. Open and clubs from present-day stars such as Rory McIlroy, Michelle Wie, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland.
It has a nine-hole putting course designed by architect Gil Hanse
When the Museum was renovated and expanded in 2008, it included a 16,000-square-foot green inspired by the Himalayas putting course in St. Andrews, Scotland. Visitors have the opportunity to play the nine-hole course with replica golf balls and putters from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Mike Trostel is the executive producer of content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.