The USGA Golf Museum and Library is archiving and preserving golf for future generations

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(Editor’s note: This is the second article of a four-part series explaining the mission of the United States Golf Association. The USGA, which governs the game of golf in Mexico and the United States, serves several functions. What exactly is the USGA? Why is the organization important? This series delves into these questions and others. This article looks at how the organization not only crowns champions but also works to preserve the game’s history and ensure that future generations remember important people and events from different cultures and backgrounds that make golf unique.)  

Jon Rahm’s right fist clenched, and his uppercut in the air would have made Mohammed Ali proud. The crowd behind the 18th green erupted, and Rahm bounded toward the cup, smiling and shouting. He had just holed a long birdie putt at Torrey Pines South and, on that Sunday evening, was on the cusp of winning his first major championship, the 2021 U.S. Open.

Hitting balls in preparation for an unlikely playoff, he learned he had officially won. Rahm hugged his caddie, Adam Hayes, then picked up his son, Kepa, who had been in the arms of Rahm’s wife, Kelley.

“Little man, you have no idea what this means right now,” said Rahm as he hugged the two-month-old boy. He had just become Spain’s first U.S. Open champion. “You will soon enough.”

U.S. Open
U.S. Open

Jon Rahm celebrates making a putt for birdie on the 18th green during the final round of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course) on June 20, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Rahm’s words and those images were broadcast worldwide and seen by millions of golf fans, instantly becoming a part of the game’s history. 

Fifty-six days later, Jensen Castle, a sophomore at the University of Kentucky, also became a part of the game’s history. Seeded No. 63 among the 64 golfers to advance to match play, Castle won the 121st U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Westchester Country Club in Harrison, New York, by defeating Yu-Chiang Hou, 2 and 1.

Rahm and Castle’s names are now permanently etched on a wall in the Hall of Champions inside the USGA Golf Museum and Library in Far Hills, New Jersey. All the winners of USGA championships have their names on the walls of that room, which is also the permanent home of the real trophies for each of the USGA’s 14 national championships. Inside their protective cases, they glimmer and shine safely, free for anyone to view.

The USGA Museum's Hall of Champions
The USGA Museum's Hall of Champions

The USGA Museum’s Hall of Champions (USGA)

Along with establishing the rules of the game and testing equipment to ensure it is legal for play, one of the USGA’s biggest jobs is preserving the legacy of golf. That means doing everything it can to ensure future generations remember stars like Rahm and U.S. Women’s Open winner Michelle Wie West, along with winners of other championships, like Castle, and people who played an essential role in the game who did not win major championships. 

To that end, the USGA Golf Museum and Library acts as a repository for things like clubs, balls, scorecards and artwork and a place where researchers can access more than 100,000 documents, periodicals, letters and papers in 25 different languages. The collection is constantly growing, and only a tiny part can be displayed to the public at once, but that doesn’t mean the work will stop.

Saving artifacts

Bob Jones's Spalding Dot Golf Ball
Bob Jones's Spalding Dot Golf Ball

Bob Jones’s Spalding Dot golf ball from the 1930 U.S Amateur. (USGA)

The USGA Golf Museum and Library was founded in 1936, and for many years, it told the story of golf through equipment. But according to Rosemary Maravetz, the museum’s assistant director, after a 2008 expansion created more space, a different philosophy was adopted.

“The thought really shifted to positioning golf within American history, global history and cultural history,” she said. “That’s way more accessible to a wide range of people. I’m not a golfer, but I’ve been with the USGA since 2005, and to me, it was obvious that was where the stories are. That’s where anyone can connect.”

So instead of exclusively looking at the winners and focusing on their accomplishments, the museum tries to show more sides of the people who influenced and shaped the game.

For example, a room dedicated to Mickey Wright was opened in 2011, but at that time, it only featured things from her playing career. However, upon her death in 2020, it was discovered that she bequeathed her belongings to the USGA.

“So, in 2020, what we found was evidence of a life well lived,” Maravetz said. “We found more personal pursuits. It’s important for us to collect those stories as well and preserve those stories.”

Now visitors will see a mandolin hanging above scorecards in a case, along with a deck of playing cards, fishing gear and Christmas cards sent to Wright from Jack and Barbara Nicklaus.

Similarly, in the Arnold Palmer room, visitors will see models of the planes Palmer flew, a flight suit he wore and a helmet he used because Palmer was also an aviator. In the Ben Hogan Room, you see Hogan’s actual locker from Shady Oaks Country Club in Ft. Worth, Texas. A towel is neatly folded on the door, and Hogan’s sports jackets and shirts hang perfectly on hangers. You can feel how orderly he was. In the Jack Nicklaus room, there is a prescription bottle and a pill box from his father’s pharmacy in Ohio and a large photo of Jack playing basketball for his high school team, along with a picture of Jack and Barbara on their wedding day.

Mel Reid's Pride hat
Mel Reid's Pride hat

Mel Reid’s hat, with a Pride logo, from the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open Championship. (USGA)

In addition to memorabilia that celebrates the game’s most well-known players and biggest championships, there are hallways filled with artifacts that bring to life other people and events that shaped golf, including cases focusing on the United Golf Association (UGA) and golf in the Black community, displays that highlight the role of women in golf and more.

Twenty-four steps below ground, however, in an area that is off-limits to visitors and locked behind a secure door, the USGA stores a treasure trove of clubs, artwork, trophies, pins, balls and other pieces of golf history. The Vault, as it is referred to, is the home to things like President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s golf clubs (he loved to play before he was diagnosed with polio), Babe Didrikson Zaharias’s scarf from the 1932 Olympics, where she won two gold medals in track and field, a putter used on Mt. Everest and thousands of scorecards dating back to the 1920s.

Jackie Robinson's 4-wood headcover.
Jackie Robinson's 4-wood headcover.

Jackie Robinson’s 4-wood headcover is in The Vault. Robinson had a 2 added to it to match his playing number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, No. 42. (USGA)

Some items in The Vault will be moved to the showcases upstairs, and others occasionally are displayed at championships and on special occasions. However, while everything cannot be displayed at once, the USGA wants it saved, cared for and preserved.

A place for research

USGA Library
USGA Library

The USGA Library is filled with more than 100,000 magazines, books, letters and documents. (USGA)

There are a few ways to get to The Vault, one of which is in the back of the USGA’s library, a place where golf publications, books, journals, letters and writing of every kind related to golf is stored and where historians, students and others can access it.

“That’s the beauty of it. This is accessible in a way that a lot of our other collections aren’t,” Maravetz said. “Anyone, really, it doesn’t have to be someone who is working on a project, if you want to come, you can.”

For instance, if you want to read letters and papers written by Bobby Jones, it can be arranged.

“It’s another reason why it’s definitely worth the trip out here,” Maravetz said. “He can provide a lot and send things to people via email, and we do a lot of that, but the experience here is really great.”

A challenge the USGA faces is that much of the material it would love to collect and store, especially content related to Black golfers and historical events, is scarce. However, that collection is still growing, and Maravetz said it is a priority for the USGA to document those players and their history. UGA yearbooks and programs from tournaments like the Joe Louis Open in Detroit during the late 1940s and ‘50s tell stories that rarely get told.

“We have been achieving hard copies of things, and also digitally,” she said. “We have some things, but we’ll take a preservation copy, which is basically a photocopy to document things.”

Jon Rahm memorabilia
Jon Rahm memorabilia

2021 U.S. Open winner Jon Rahm’s credential, shoes and golf ball from Sunday at Torrey Pines are at the USGA Museum.

Rahm will be among the favorites to win the 2022 U.S. Open and make more history at Brookline on Father’s Day, but his name is already in the USGA’s history books, archived both in words and items (his scorecard, the ball he played on the 18th hole Sunday and the shoes he wore during the final round are in The Vault). Minjee Lee, the winner of the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, will soon have her name inscribed on a wall in the Hall of Champions too, but rest assured that the USGA is working to tell as many stories as it can, and preserve them, so golf’s rich history can be savored for generations to come.

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