Links With History


One favorite nineteenth-hole story actually did take place at the bar of the Pine Valley Golf Club, in Clementon, New Jersey, just outside Philadelphia. Pine Valley is routinely regarded as the best golf course in America and the most penal. In effect, the course is a pitiless tract situated inside a 184-acre bunker. One day Woody Platt, a strong amateur, started out by getting a birdie on the first hole and an eagle on the second. The third hole is a tricky par three with a tilted green difficult to putt. Platt solved that problem by getting a hole in one. The fourth hole is a monstrous 461-yard par four, which Platt birdied by sinking a 30-foot putt. Platt stood six under par after four holes. The course swings back toward the clubhouse before heading out to the fifth. Platt stopped at the bar for some refreshment before continuing his scorching round—and didn’t come back out until it was safely dark.

The game of golf has spawned several interesting museums. The largest is the extremely handsome museum and library at Golf House, which also serves as the national headquarters of the USGA in Far Hills, New Jersey. The collection is extensive and well ordered, tracing the evolution of the game from the earliest days up to the present. Principal among its treasures are two of the most famous golf clubs in the world: “Calamity Jane II,” the putter used by Bobby Jones in most of his famous victories, and the club that the astronaut Alan Shepard took with him to the moon to work on his mid-iron game.

Pinehurst, North Carolina, a busy center of golf in the United States is also the home of the PGA Hall of Fame, designed along the lines of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. In addition to plaques of the great figures in the history of the game and an excellent research library, the facility encompasses some of the antic aspects of the game. One charming display holds a collection of more than ten thousand small pencils used for keeping score. The local town library has a special wing that holds much of the personal memorabilia of James W. Tufts, founder of Pinehurst. It is an informal gathering of material, and going there is like sitting down with your grand-father as he shows you his favorite albums. There is a nice collection of old pictures of the area, and you can get a sense of what it was like when you could come to Pinehurst for golf and stay at the gracious Carolina Hotel for eight dollars a day.

Pebble Beach comes as close to the spirit of Ireland’s ragged oceanside courses as anything in America.

The only public golf-research facility in the Western United States is housed in the Ralph W. Miller Golf Library/Museum, in City of Industry, California. The collection is small but deftly organized with an especially good reference library that reaches back to the sixteenth century.

Of all the artifacts of this enduring game, my favorite is at Golf House. It’s the 1-iron Hogan hit at Merion. Fact and fantasy have gathered about this implement until it has taken on the mythical quality of Excalibur. The iron was stolen from Hogan’s bag shortly after the 1950 Open and kicked around for more than thirty years until it was discovered among a group of undistinguished old clubs in a collector’s shop. Over the years, we had been told Hogan was such a flawless striker of the ball with a swing so constant that he wore an impression the size of a dime on the face of his 1-iron. Now that we can actually see the club, we realize that Hogan was human after all. The impression, dangerously near the hosel, is closer to the size of a silver dollar. It serves to remind us that Ben Hogan was not the perfect golfer. Merely the best.