ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida — The World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum, the brainchild of former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, who was later one of its inductees, fell victim to dwindling attendance even before the pandemic when most museums closed in 2020.
The challenges of keeping the facility open were not unique: according to the American Alliance of Museums, attendance at museums nationwide was still down 38 percent in 2022 from pre-pandemic levels and 17 percent of museum directors believed there was some risk of having to close.
Once a 20-year sponsorship agreement with Shell ran out in 2018 it became harder and harder for the Hall of Fame to pay for itself.
But World Golf Foundation officials are quick to point out that the Hall of Fame is only changing places.
In the spring of 2024, the United States Golf Association will open the new version of the Hall of Fame at its six-acre Golf House Pinehurst Campus. That means it will have come full circle — the inaugural Golf Hall of Fame, with the charter class selected by the Golf Writers Association of America, opened at Pinehurst in 1974.
“It’s back where it started,” said Melody Herbert of St. Augustine, who came to the Hall of Fame with her husband Hank and their granddaughters Camille and Audrey during a visit last week. “It makes perfect sense to relocate it there.”
From now on, the World Golf Hall of Fame will be a joint operation between the USGA and the World Golf Foundation, which has moved to offices at the PGA Tour’s Global Home in Ponte Vedra Beach.
The Foundation will manage the process of nominating and electing new members, and plan and stage the induction ceremonies. The next ceremony will be the week of the U.S. Open in Pinehurst next June, with Padraig Harrington, Tom Weiskopf and the 13 founding members of the LPGA highlighting the Class of 2024.
“Once in the USGA will manage [the Hall of Fame] day-to-day,” said Greg McLaughlin, the executive director of the World Golf Foundation. “The foundation will work in concert with them for events and offer curating support.”
What to do with the property?
The issue now is what to do with a 64,000-square-foot Hall of Fame and Museum building, a 17,865-square-foot IMAX Theater and 36 acres of land.
There also will be the issue in early 2025 after PGA Tour Entertainment vacates its 32,000-square foot building for a new structure in Ponte Vedra near the Tour headquarters.
St. Johns County is in the midst of soliciting public opinion on the uses of the property and buildings, through a survey on the county website and two public meetings.
The meetings will be Sept. 27 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. and Sept. 28 from 9-11 a.m. at the St. Johns County Administration Building Auditorium, 500 San Sebastian View in St. Augustine.
Sarah S. Arnold, vice-chairman of the St. Johns County Commissioner who represents District 2, which includes the World Golf Village, said the county has received more than 2,300 responses on the survey or through emails. She said many of the ideas center around the recreational use of the property, which has served that purpose in the past through Easter Egg hunts, holiday tree decorating contests, car shows and school field trips.
“I think people very much want to see some form of recreation,” she said. “A community asset that serves all the demographics and the county as a whole. It’s important to have a strategic plan going forward.”
Arnold all but ruled out additional residential development, pointing out the number of single-family homes and condo communities on the site or that have been built around it over the past quarter-century.
“We have plenty [residential] there and don’t want to add to the traffic concerns,” she said.
Dean said other ideas have included using part of the Hall of Fame building as another branch of the county library and renting kayaks and canoes for the lake.
“It could be sort of a town center, a multi-use park, a place for kids and families to play,” he said. “But want our residents to have some creative thinking. We’re listening.”