By Steve Sears
Maggie Lagle has been the USGA (United States Golf Association) Museum and Library Historian for four and a half years, and her thoughts and emotions are the same each time she drives to work.
“I get excited walking in the beautiful historic house that John Russell Pope built,” Lagle says. “His architecture is just absolutely incredible. Even just walking up the driveway, you feel very excited. But then, just walking in and celebrating the history of the game – the very rich history – not only of the game itself, but the amazing people that have played the game over the last 125 years.”
The USGA Golf Museum and Library preserves and celebrates the history of golf, and fosters an appreciation of the game worldwide through collection stewardship, education and outreach. For the golf history buff, the facility is a treasure. Between 4,000 to 8,000 people annually enter through the doors and walk the halls of the oldest sports museum in the United States. “We predate Cooperstown, the Baseball Hall of Fame, by a couple of years,” says Lagle. “When you walk into the museum, you do have the Hall of Champions, which is that beautiful rotunda where we have all of the original USGA trophies, and where we celebrate each of our champions on bronze panels circling the room. But then we also have a really nice permanent gallery that tells the story of golf here in the United States, beginning in the late 19th century to the present day.” There are also individual rooms dedicated to golfing greats Bobby Jones, Mickey Wright, Arnold Palmer, and the newest addition, the Jack Nicklaus wing, which was added in 2015.
USGA Executive Committee member, Chicago’s George Blossom, Jr., suggested the idea of creating a golf museum. “At the time in 1935, there was very little space to store or display the artifacts,” Lagle explains. “What they did in the 1930s and 1940s is actually displayed a lot of the artifacts throughout the office space. There wasn’t an official area for the museum.” In July of 1950, the USGA purchased property in New York City, where they were able to dedicate a room specifically for displaying golf balls, etchings, and photographs, and similar articles pertaining to the popular sport. The USGA purchased 62 Somerset County, New Jersey acres in 1972 and relocated from New York City, and the three-story home that John Russell Pope built in 1919 is now dedicated specifically to the museum. “The main level of the museum is what the public has access to, and between 2005 and 2008, the USGA Golf Museum and Library added 22,000 square feet of archival storage as well as exhibit space,” Lagle says.
Only about 5% of the museum’s inventory is actually displayed. The museum also has artifacts and items that are in a climate-controlled facility below the main floor, with well over 750,000 photographs and 100,000 library items – and much of it, but not all, are USGA related. “We have comic books and sheet music, we have children’s books, cookbooks, a lot of really, really cool things in the library, including over 35,000 scorecards,” Lagle says. In addition, among the items below the main floor are Amelia Earhart’s golf bag. “It’s one of our really special artifacts we have in storage.”
The USGA Museum and Library also offers its Pynes Putting Course for visitors, a nine-hole course where each hole is a par two. Modeled after the Himalayas putting course in Saint Andrews, Scotland, museum goers have the opportunity to use replica clubs and balls and putt, enjoying some link time.
The USGA Golf Museum and Library is always looking to expand its collection. Lagle explains. “Right now, our priority is to really celebrate those diverse stories, including the artifacts, maybe from the United Golfers Association, and black organizations and black golfers, including Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder. Also, there’s always the need and the want especially to really build up the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association), items maybe from the 13 founders, including Patty Berg or Shirley Spork. We love telling the stories of Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer, but we’d really love to continue building the collection just to celebrate those more diverse stories that most people aren’t familiar with.”
The USGA Golf Museum and Library is located at 77 Liberty Corner Road in Liberty Corner, New Jersey. For more information, visit www.usga.org/history/visit-the-museum.html.