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Resort's museum aims for golf aficionados

Swing with an 1880s wood-shafted putter, walk the Hall of Fame or take a break in the IMAX theater.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 30, 2000


America's Ancient City
As St. Augustine wrestles with the modern problems of growth and development, its centuries-old allure beckons visitors.

St. Augustine: If you go
St. Augustine cannot quite be all things to all tourists. But for Florida, it's not bad.

ST. AUGUSTINE -- Golf is a game with a rich history, from its origins in Scotland with gutta percha golf balls to the game played now with high-tech equipment, from British Open champion Old Tom Morris to today's superstar Tiger Woods.

Capturing the essence of that history is the World Golf Hall of Fame at the World Golf Village just off of Interstate 95 a few miles northwest of St. Augustine.

The $300-million resort recently celebrated its second anniversary, and although there have been some growing pains -- disappointing first-year attendance, revenue below projections -- the World Golf Village is slowly but surely catching on: It is a place for fans to learn about the game's past, while also attracting visitors who might not be as enamored with golf.

photo
[St. Johns Visitor & Convention Bureau]
The World Golf Village includes a Hall of Fame, interactive displays, a putting course and a regulation 18-hole course.
"Overall, we are delighted with the progress in terms of attendance," said Ruffin Beckwith, former chief executive officer for the World Golf Village. "I am pleased with our numbers, given that we just opened. And we were faced with a lot of things."

For the first time, the PGA Tour, United States Golf Association, LPGA Tour, PGA of America and 21 other major organizations from around the world have united to honor the game's past. Included are changing exhibits, interactive technology and footage of all the Hall of Famers.

"One of the things I'm most gratified about is the cooperation of all the organizations," said Beckwith, who notes the help of Scotland's venerable Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and of Augusta National, home of the Masters.

"I'm sure when we first started meeting with them in 1993, there was a very healthy skepticism," Beckwith said. "They were thinking, "This is a PGA Tour project, and we'll get a couple of square feet in the corner to tell our story.'

"We were able to overcome that skepticism by listening and addressing people's concerns."

The Hall of Fame, which encompasses 75,000 square feet, is divided neatly into a front nine and back nine. In the first half, the Historical Game, visitors can try their touch on an 1880s green and can putt with a wood-shafted putter with replica 19th-century gutta percha balls. This section covers the history of golf writing and has a tribute to St. Andrews and the game's birth in Scotland and the first days of golf in the United States.

The Modern Game section takes a look at present rules, the impact of television and the greatest moments in major championships. Guests can have their swing evaluated by a computer and compared to a tour pro's in the Swing Analyzer. You can even check out leaderboards for matches taking place throughout the world.

Among the contributions to the museum are Jack Nicklaus' favorite fly-fishing rod, Babe Zaharias' harmonica and a pair of President Dwight Eisenhower's golf shoes. A popular display is an exhibit celebrating astronaut Alan Shephard's golf shot on the moon.

Hall officials acknowledge, however, that memorabilia are lacking. The museum needs more artifacts to showcase.

In addition to the World Golf Village's showpiece, the World Golf Hall of Fame, there are shops, hotels, restaurants, a time-share complex, IMAX theater and a golf course on the property.

Opened in May 1998, the project was first conceived by former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, whose idea was to have a PGA Tour Hall of Fame located a short drive from the tour's headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach. But the concept grew.

The idea was to give golf enthusiasts a one-stop destination for their sport, in much the same way that Cooperstown caters to baseball fans and Canton does the same for football fans with their halls of fame.

The first 18-hole course, named the Slammer & the Squirefor Hall of Famers Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen, has been home to the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf the past two years.

Another golf course is on the way. Called the King and the Bear, it is a collaboration of longtime rivals Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Those legends competed for years as players and saw their rivalry spill over into the golf course design business: Between them, they have designed more than 400 courses -- but never together.

That makes this bond unique -- and unlikely to happen again.

"We may not agree on everything that happens here, but in the end, we will agree," Palmer said.

When Palmer and Nicklaus met late last year to review the site of their course, it gave the World Golf Village a boost.

"On a normal basis, we wouldn't be involved like this," Nicklaus said. "But because it is the Hall of Fame and because it's good for the game of golf, (that) is why it means so much for the two of us to be here."

Palmer and Nicklaus are already there in spirit as members of the Hall of Fame. Joining them later this year will be Judy Rankin, Beth Daniel and Juli Inkster from the LPGA Tour, along with former PGA Tour commissioner Beman, former head of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club Sir Michael Bonallack, former European golf stars Neil Coles and John Jacobs, and Jack Burke Jr.

If you go

Getting there: World Golf Village is just northwest of St. Augustine, about 30 miles south of Jacksonville. Take I-4 east to I-95 north; the World Golf Village is off the interstate.

The attraction: The facility is open daily. Admission to the Hall of Fame and IMAX theater is a combined $14 for adults and $11 for seniors and students. A putting course outside the museum is $5 for adults and $2 for children.

Rates for the regulation course the Slammer& the Squire vary depending on the season from $90 to $165, including cart.

For more information: Call (904) 940-4000 or visit the Web site at www.wgv.com.

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