Museum Reopens With 'The King's' Blessing


June 3, 2008

By Tom Ierubino

Far Hills, N.J. - One of golf's greatest champions was celebrated and saluted Tuesday as was the game itself during the grand opening of the United States Golf Association Museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History.

"We are very proud to have Arnold here and have his name on our center," said Dr. Rand Jerris, director of the Museum, noting that "having Arnold's name on this wonderful building" will help make more people aware of the museum and its importance to the game of golf.

Palmer, who won three USGA championships in his career (1954 U.S. Amateur, 1960 U.S. Open and 1981 U.S. Senior Open), has been closely linked with the USGA throughout his career and has served as the national chairman for the USGA's Members Program since its inception in 1975. He compared having the Center for Golf History named after him to winning another major championship.

"I've received a lot of honors, but his may top them all," the 78-year-old Palmer told an audience that included USGA officials, state and national officials, former USGA champions and the general public. "I'm very flattered, and I can say I wouldn't be here without the support of the members of the United States Golf Association over the years. I'm very proud to be here and have the center named after me."

 

 
Arnold Palmer addresses a massive audience that attended the reopening Tuesday at Golf House. (John Mummert/USGA)

The $19.7 million renovation and expansion to the original 1919 building features the Ben Hogan Room and Bob Jones Room with the addition of the new Arnold Palmer Room, growing the state-of-the-art facility to 33,000 square feet. When visitors walk in the front door, the Bob Jones Room is immediately to their left and the Arnold Palmer Room on their right. The new 16,000-square-foot Palmer Center features more than 5,000 square feet of public exhibition galleries, a new research room to facilitate access to collections, and state-of-the-art storage areas to provide the proper climate and security for long-term care of historical artifacts.

The centerpiece of the new space is the Hall of Champions, which houses all 13 original USGA championship trophies and has the name of each champion inscribed on bronze panels that encircle the hall. From the hall visitors make their way through six galleries that trace the history of the game: The Dawn of American Golf, The Golden Age, Depression and World War II, The Comeback Age, The Age of the Superpowers and The Global Game.

Former LPGA star and current NBC golf commentator Dottie Pepper hosted the grand opening ceremony and said one of the things that makes Palmer special is that "he is both an ordinary and an extraordinary man."

USGA executive committee member Jay Rains, Dr. Jerris, U.S. Curtis Cup captain Carol Semple Thompson and USGA president Jim Vernon spoke about Palmer, the museum and golf. Vernon called Palmer "one of the greatest advocates the game of golf has ever known."

Palmer also was honored by state and national officials. Nancy Byrne, executive director of New Jersey's Division of Travel and Tourism, presented Palmer with a proclamation declaring June 3 "Arnold Palmer Day" in the state. Representative Mike Ferguson of New Jersey's seventh Congressional district called Palmer "not only one of he great golfers who ever lived but also one of the great human beings" and said that the House of Representatives had unanimously passed a resolution honoring Palmer for his distinguished career in golf and his commitment to excellence and sportsmanship.

Palmer toured the museum with his wife Kit in the morning prior to the opening ceremony. In the Hall of Champions, after spotting the name of John "Spider" Miller, the 1996 and '98 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, on the wall, Palmer turned and said, "Where's Spider?" When he spotted Miller, Palmer kidded him, "They allow anyone in here." The two became friends after playing a practice round together at the 1997 Masters.

"It brings back very pleasant memories," said Miller of seeing his name on the wall with all the other USGA champions. "It's very nicely done. I'm humbled to be included."

Other former USGA champions in attendance were former USGA president Fred Ridley (1975 U.S. Amateur); George Zahringer (2002 U.S. Mid-Amateur); Deb Richard (1984 U.S. Women's Amateur); William Wright (1959 U.S. Amateur Public Links); James Masserio (1965 U.S. Junior Amateur); Trip Kuehne (2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur); and Carol Semple Thompson, winner of seven of USGA titles.

Also on hand was artist Jim Chase, whose "Gratitude" portrait of Palmer is one of the featured items in the Arnold Palmer Room. The unique portrait is made up of words and quotes about and by Palmer.

Authors Jim Finegan and Kevin Cook, recipients of the USGA's Herbert Warren Wind Book Award in 2006 and '07, respectively, were on hand to sign copies of their books, "Where Golf is Great: The Finest Courses of Scotland and Ireland" and "Tommy's Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf's Founding Father and Son."

The museum is open from to Tuesday to Sunday. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for USGA members, $3.50 for children ages 13-17 and free for children 12 and under.

Along with the grand opening, the USGA has launched a new Web site - usgamuseum.com - where those who can't make it to the museum itself can view the exhibits and learn about the history of the game.

TomIerubino is a freelance writer. 

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