The gathering on June 3 at U.S. Golf Association headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., was billed as the unveiling of USGA's renovated museum. But it quickly turned into another celebration of the King. Considering one room is devoted to his career, and a new 16,000-square foot wing is called the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History, the adulation was more than fitting.
A dramatic improvement over its previous incarnation, the $19.7 million project encompassing 33,000 square feet is now officially open to the public. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the admission price is $7 for adults, $5 for USGA members, $3.50 for ages 13-17. There is no charge for children 12 and under.
But the admission fee was waived for Palmer and other dignitaries on this special day. They walked through a Hall of Champions rotunda that lists the winners of every USGA championship and displays the associated 13 trophies, and passed into the new Palmer Center, with galleries covering various eras of the game, interactive exhibits and a research center.
“I was extremely flattered when they asked me to be a part of this,” says Palmer, who has won three of those USGA championships-1954 Amateur, 1960 Open and 1981 Senior Open. “Now to be here and see this in reality is one of the great thrills of my life. This is a major championship for me.”
Highlights of the 2,000 artifacts on display include a set of irons used by Francis Ouimet during the 1913 U.S. Open, the champion's medal from the first U.S. Open in 1895, the Calamity Jane putter Bobby Jones used to win 10 of his 13 national championships, and a new portrait of Palmer made entirely of 22,719 words covering the legend's life and career.
One feature has yet to open. Located behind the museum, a 16,000-square-foot putting green shaped by Philadelphia-area architect Gil Hanse and similar to the Himalayas in St. Andrews, Scotland, will be open in September.
A driving force behind the renovation, which began in 2004, was the urgent need for better preservation of the organization's extensive collection, housed in Far Hills since 1972.
“We had almost a moral and ethical obligation to make sure we were caring for the artifacts properly,” says Dr. Rand Jerris, director of the USGA Museum. “We needed a building where we could control the temperature and ensure preservation for future generations. That's really what we anchored our plans on.”
After the grand opening, there is much work that is just beginning. “It's the first step in a whole new museum,” says Jerris. “ It's spectacular, it's beautiful, but it's not what is going to reach the most people. Maybe we will get 50,000 people a year to come here, but we know we can reach two, three or four million people a year through the new website and our traveling exhibits.”
But there is no experience that quite compares to making the 40-mile trek from New York City. (At one point, the USGA had planned on building a new museum on 57th Street, having bought the former Russian Tea Room for $16 million in 2002. But the state of New York's regulations regarding museums and the cost of needed renovations scuttled the idea and the USGA sold the property more than a year later for $20 million.)
Now that's the USGA's long journey to find a new home for some of golf's most precious artifacts is over, fans from all over the world once again can experience in one place golf's great tale.
“As you walk through the galleries,” says Palmer, who himself has contributed so much to the game's colorful history, “I hope that you will become, as I am, awed, fascinated and humbled by the wonderful stories of the men and women whose actions on and off the course make golf the world's greatest game.”