ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida — The World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum will be in business for one more week in St. Augustine — after a quarter-century that included 16 induction ceremonies, 76 new members, special exhibits honoring the game’s greatest players, entertainers and U.S. Presidents — plus the memories of as many as 280,000 visitors per year at its peak.
Therein lies the problem: attendance dipped to around 40,000 during the pandemic year of 2020 and was around 60,000 in 2021 and 2022.
That wasn’t enough to financially sustain the facility and some of its assets — and the brand — are being shipped to the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina as part of the United States Golf Association’s new USGA Golf House Pinehurst, set to open in the late spring of 2024.
And it’s been with a mixture of curiosity, sadness and regret that visitors are prowling the halls and exhibit rooms of the Hall of Fame in the final days.
“It was so much fun to come here,” said Melody Herbert of St. Augustine, who came to the Hall of Fame with her husband Hank and their granddaughters Camille and Audrey to escape the heat of a late summer afternoon. “I loved the putting course and now that they’re old enough for that, it’s gone. I thought they had made improvements after [the recession of 2008].”
Another set of visitors were the Reyes brothers Benny (and his wife Janie) and Arnold (and his wife Elizabeth) from Corpus Christi, Texas. Arnold Reyes’ son had graduated from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Field Operations Academy in Brunswick and they took the opportunity to drive to St. Augustine when they read about the facility closing.
“It’s a bucket list item,” said Benny Reyes. “We’re just lucky we could get here before it closed. It’s a shame, really. If you’re a golf fan this is an incredible place.”
David Feherty hosted the 2022 World Golf Hall of Fame Induction ceremony at the PGA Tour Global Home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo: by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
They’re not alone with those feelings.
“We are sad … the vision 25 years ago was incredible,” said Sarah S. Arnold, vice-chairman of the St. Johns County Commissioner who represents District 2, which includes the World Golf Village. “Unfortunately times have changed.”
Henry Dean, the District 5 commissioner who formerly represented the district where the World Golf Village is located, said the county has an opportunity for the future of the property, rather than dwelling on why the concept failed.
“I think all of us at the St. Johns County Commissioner and many citizens of the county are a bit sad about the Hall of Fame leaving,” he said. “It had become sort of a fixture but it was never as successful as we hoped and what they [the World Golf Foundation and PGA Tour] thought. We’re turning the page. We have a blank canvas and we’re going to decide what’s best for the residents on what to do with the property. We look at this as an opportunity to bring good things to the area.”
Free admission the final week
With one week left, the facility is giving golf fans on the First Coast a parting gift.
Admission will be free to the Hall of Fame and Museum, plus the IMAX Theater, from Aug. 28 through Sept. 1 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (no visitors will be admitted after 5 p.m.). The theater will show a series of documentaries, with the movies and showtimes available on the IMAX website.
All of the golf artifacts and memorabilia still remain at the Museum, such as the Hall of Fame Members Locker Room, the replica of the Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews, plus bags, balls, clubs, clothing, trophies, trinkets and treasures that tell the stories of the game’s greatest players, administrators and course architects.
The Hall of Fame and Museum, and the IMAX Theater are all that are departing at this time. Still in place will be the St. Johns County Convention Center, the Renaissance Hotel, resort condos, the two golf courses that are managed by Troon Golf (the Slammer & Squire and King & Bear) and the Caddyshack Restaurant.
Also remaining will be the bronze plaques honoring the World Golf Hall of Fame members, which at this time will remain in the rotunda of the Museum building, on the second floor.
“It’s important to the community that there still be some kind of identity to golf,” Arnold said.