ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum will be running 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 a year at its peak.
Therein lies the problem: attendance dropped to around 40,000 during the pandemic year 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 sent to 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 has been with a mixture of curiosity, sadness and regret that visitors roam the halls and exhibition rooms of the Hall of Fame in recent days.
“It was so much fun coming here,” said Melody Herbert of St. Augustine, who came to the Hall of Fame with her husband Hank and their grandchildren 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 it, it’s gone. I thought they had made improvements afterwards [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 was a graduate of the US 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’s closure.
“It’s a bucket list item,” Benny Reyes said. “We’re just lucky we were able to get here before it closed. It’s a real shame. 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 are not alone in those feelings.
“We are saddened … the vision 25 years ago was incredible,” said Sarah S. Arnold, vice president of the St. Johns County Commissioner, who represents District 2, which includes World Golf Village. “Unfortunately times have changed.”
Henry Dean, the District 5 commissioner who previously represented the district where World Golf Village is located, said the county has an option for the property’s future rather than dwelling on why the concept failed.
“I think all of us in the St. Johns County Commissioner and many citizens of the county are a little bit sad that the Hall of Fame is leaving,” he said. “It had become kind of a fixture, but it was never as successful as we hoped and what they had [the World Golf Foundation and PGA Tour] thought. We turn the page. We have a blank canvas and we have to decide what is best for the residents, what to do with the property. We see this as an opportunity to bring good things to the area.”
Free entry last week
With a week to go, 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 August 28 to September 1 from 10 a.m. to 18.00 (no visitors will be admitted after 17.00). The theater will show a variety of documentaries, with films and showtimes available on the IMAX website.
All the golf artifacts and memorabilia still remain at the museum, such as the Hall of Fame Members Locker Room, the replica Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrewsplus 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 departing at this time. Still in place will be St. Johns County Convention Center, Renaissance Hotel, vacation rentals, the two golf courses managed by Troon Golf (Slammer & armourer and King & Bear) and Caddyshack Restaurant.
Also remaining will be the bronze plaques honoring members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, which will currently remain in the second floor rotunda of the museum building.
“It’s important to the community that there’s still some kind of identity to golf,” Arnold said.