In the late 1980s, former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman envisioned a Hall of Fame for the PGA TOUR. The Golf Hall of Fame had previously been located in Pinehurst, NC. With Beaman’s leadership, the new Hall of Fame became an industry wide initiative and welcomed some of the game’s best known organizations to assist in the effort. With help from founding partner Shell Oil Company and many others, construction began in 1996 and the World Golf Hall of Fame opened in St. Augustine on May 19, 1998. Since then, 125 of the most influential and well known figures have been enshrined in the hall, along with memorabilia and artifacts from the careers of the inductees.
This year, the four names selected for induction into the Hall of Fame were Christy O’Connor Sr, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jose Maria Olazabal and Lanny Wadkins. It was a great night in North Florida, with temperatures for the induction in the low 70s, and plenty of star power in attendance. Presenting the inductees were Christy O’Connor Jr. for his uncle Christy Sr., Arnold Palmer for Dwight D. Eisenhower, Seve Ballesteros (via Video) for Jose Maria Olazabal, and Jim Nantz presented Lanny Wadkins.
Born in Fuenterrabia, Spain on Feb 5, 1966, Jose Maria Olazabal was the son of a farmer. Growing up, he started playing cross handed, and even though he eventually made the switch, it was difficult for him at first. It’s a good thing for us that he did. At 17 years old, with the unwavering support of his family, he turned pro, and as he stated in his induction speech “the rest is history”. Jose Maria had seven wins as an amateur, 21 European Tour wins, two victories on the Japanese Tour and six PGA Tour wins, including of course, two Masters Tournaments. His Ryder Cup record is just as good, with 18 wins, five halfs and eight losses. Many of his victories came while partnered with his mentor and great friend Seve Ballesteros. Before his pre-induction press conference, Arnold Palmer was coming off the stage and met Jose Maria to congratulate him. Mr. Palmer asked him “How do you feel today Jose?” Jose replied in his signature Spanish accent, “I’m shaking like a leaf!” His induction speech was delivered with the same passion and emotion with which he played golf. He told a story of a young boy who grew up to become a major champion, and finished his delivery with an emotional tribute to his parents, who were sitting in the front row, in Spanish.
Born in 1924, Christy O’Connor Sr’s great career spanned over 40 years. He won no less than 24 European Tour events, including two British Masters and two Vardon Trophies. In the 60s he won at least one tournament a year on the European Tour. He also played in an Irish record 15 Canada Cups, now called the World Cup, winning it in 1958. As far as the majors, he only played in The Open Championship. He had 10 top-10 finishes in 26 tries, including a tie for second in 1965 at Royal Birkdale. Americans don’t know the O’Connor name very well, mostly because he rarely played in the US. He was often refered to as “Himself” and was a huge star in Ireland. One of the best players ever in adverse conditions, he developed a smooth swing and ball striking skill that made comparisons to Ben Hogan inevitable.
Christy’s Nephew Christy Jr attended the induction ceremony on his behalf, siting health concerns for his Uncle making the trip overseas. In a video address, Christy Sr. stated that he was very sad to not be able to attend in person, but he was truly honored and had been walking on air since being notified that he had been selected to being the Hall of Fame.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was selected posthumously to the Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game of golf. I took the following text from the Hall of Fame’s website Bio, since they summed up Ike’s life in golf much better than me. I wasn’t even born when Ike was a public figure!
“So just why is this all-American hero with an 18 handicap being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame?After all, he never won a major. Or a professional golf tournament. Or a significant amateur event. Heck, he never even won a club championship – at any level.
Quite simply, Ike profoundly popularized and significantly helped grow the game as no one else since perhaps Francis Ouimet in 1913 and Bobby Jones in 1930. Ike didn’t start playing the game until he was in his mid 30s and then, because of a knee injury, suffered from what was called a “congenital slice.” But once he did start playing, he became completely smitten. Upon his return from Europe, he joined Augusta National – and later Blind Brook Club in New York, Burning Tree just outside of Washington and El Dorado in Palm Springs. His handicap varied from a low of 14 to 18, but he did manage to break 80 on about a dozen occasions.
And boy did Ike love the game! He had a putting green installed on the White House lawn and would occasionally slip out of the Oval Office in the afternoon for a round. His 29 trips to Augusta during his Presidency were dutifully reported in the national press, sometimes derisively. Of course, all that publicity shone a hot spotlight on the game and fueled continued interest in it. At the same time, a young charismatic golf professional by the name of Arnold Palmer came out of western Pennsylvania hitching up his pants and winning golf tournaments. With Palmer’s win in the 1958 Masters shown on television, America fell hard for the game, just as their President had. And it didn’t hurt that the President and Palmer became fast friends and would play often at Augusta. It was a combustible mixture – a President, a King, The Masters and the advent of golf on television, to catapult the game to dizzying heights of popularity. And it was Dwight David Eisenhower – Ike to all of us – an inveterate everyman golfer, who was responsible for igniting America’s love affair with the game.”
Lanny Wadkins was the final inductee into the Hall of Fame for 2009, and he was presented for induction by his friend and CBS Sports golf anchor Jim Nantz. Nantz delivered an eloquent and vibrant speech, telling a few stories and engaging the crowd. He even pointed out the match Wadkins played with Arnold Palmer as a young man, beating Palmer that day. Of course, that drew a smile from the King, sitting in the front row. Nantz also listed Lanny’s accomplishments, which included 21 PGA Tour wins, including the 1977 PGA Championship. Lanny was a great amateur player in the 70s. He attended Wake Forest University on the Arnold Palmer scholarship, and played on the 1969 and 1971 Walker Cup teams and the World Amateur Team in 1970. Along with his PGA win in 1977, he had 7 other top three finishes in majors from 1982 to 1993. He also played on eight Ryder Cup teams which is a record he shares with Billy Casper and Ray Floyd. His overall record of 20-11-3 is one of the best of all time.
Wadkins started to tear up as he worked his way down the list of his closest supporters, and for a man of strong character such as him, it was quite a moment. His brother Bobby was in the crowd and could not hold back his tears. He also took a moment to remind his sons that he can still play, and looks forward to taking a few dollars from them yet. Both his sons have developed into fine players, with his oldest son attending his Alma Mater – Wake Forest.
It was a great day at the World Golf Village and the Golf Hall of Fame. We had a wonderful opportunity to meet some legends of the game and enjoy a beautiful evening in St. Augustine.
The World Golf Village is much more than just the Hall of Fame. The WGV offers world class golf, accommodations, shopping and entertainment. The golf courses at the WGV are second to none. The first course called the Slammer & Squire was designed by Bobby Weed with special consultants Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead. Winding through pine forests and open wetlands, many of the holes offer a view of the World Golf Hall of Fame. The second course was co-designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Naturally, they called it the King & Bear. It remains as the one and only collaboration between these two legends of the game, and of golf course architecture. The WGV also features a world class Spa and several dining options. The Hall of Fame is also accompanied by an IMAX theater and the 30,000 sq/ft PGA Tour Stop, which is the largest golf retail store in Florida. For more info on vacation packages and what the WGV has to offer, click HERE.
Congratulations to the World Golf Hall of Fame’s Class of 2009. I can’t wait for the Class of 2010 next year!
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