Main image: the USGA Museum at the USGA Headquarters, Golf House, Liberty Corner, NJ.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) was formed in 1894 and since then the Association has become recognized as the steward of golf. The USGA not only writes the rules of the game, oversees standards, and organizes fourteen championships, including the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, the Association also houses the world’s largest collection of golf-related artifacts, books and documents at the USGA Golf Museum, Liberty Corner, New Jersey.
USGA Senior Managing Director, Public Services, Rand Jerris, in conversation with Charles Ford, describes how the Association has worked tirelessly since 1936 to bring together this unique collection of golf treasures, going on to explain how the artifacts themselves have a story to tell, and why an understanding of golf’s past is intrinsically tied to the wellbeing of golf’s future.
- It was an inspired idea for the USGA to start collecting artifacts, books and documents, a collection that must have grown into something far bigger and more important than anyone could have imagined at the time. How did it start?
RJ: In 1935 George Blossom brought forward to the USGA Executive Committee the suggestion that we start to collect items of historical significance with an eye toward creating a museum. The items that he initially proposed to collect fell into two categories. The first actions he took were to reach out to every living USGA champion, as far back as 1895 when the USGA conducted the first U.S. Amateur, first U.S. Open, and inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur, and ask those champions to donate to the Association a club that was significant in their victory. These clubs became the foundation of the museum collection – what today we call our Clubs of Champions Collection – and it’s a tradition that we still carry on today. Anyone who wins one of the USGA’s fourteen national championships is asked to donate to our museum a club that was significant in their victory. We have more than five hundred of these clubs in the collection today. They are wonderful artifacts that represent an individual moment of triumph. Many of these clubs also relate to a specific shot that was significant in that player’s victory, so have added meaning.
The other things we started to collect back in 1936 were books and documents that recorded the history of the game. Typical of any museum collection, you have an artifact that, on the surface, is what it is. It may be simply a golf club or a golf ball—but what gives it historical meaning and significance is that there may be an important story connected to it. Artifacts disconnected from a story are voiceless, lifeless. It is, then, the books in our library that have enabled us to match the story, to match the moment, with the artifact. With the story and the artifact together, you can create a presentation of history that can be both educational and entertaining, emotional and inspiring.
I think there’s a reason why the Museum came about in 1936 … the 1930s were a period of great disruption, especially here in the U.S. but also globally, with the economic challenges of the Great Depression, and with rising political tensions around the world. These challenges brought about substantive changes for the game—golf clubs were closing, clubs that had been private were becoming public golf courses, and the game was becoming far more accessible to the average American. The demographics of who was playing were changing dramatically. Here in the States, the number of women playing golf increased by twenty-five percent every year from 1930 to 1936! And the equipment golfers were using was evolving, most notable being that hickory shafts were out, and steel was in. Against this backdrop of so much change in the sport, it was an appropriate moment to stop and make sure that we, the USGA, understood where the game came from, to collect its past, to bring it in, to curate it. To be certain that we as an organization understood where we came from, and that we understood the traditions of the game that we were responsible for protecting. Collecting history and collecting artifacts became important ways to help us understand our mission and our mandate to ensure that the game that had been played for five hundred years, and that had been enjoyed by so many people, continued to thrive into the future.
- Would you say there is a similar period of change happening today given, not only the new technologies, but also rules of the game changes?
RJ: Absolutely, and I’ve been suggesting this for a number of years. While there are people who push back against any new technology and any evolution of the game, arguing that it’s a very traditional game and should stay the way it was, I would suggest that technological evolution is in fact one of the traditions of golf. If it weren’t, we’d still be playing along with long-nosed woods and feather balls and the game would be very restricted as to where it was played and who was playing. The truth is that golf has a six-hundred-year history of change, and that change is a very natural part of a healthy game. But what we don’t want is to compromise what it is that makes the game so special—the challenge that the game represents, the fairness of competition, the skill that’s required for success—those are fundamental principles of golf and I think those have remained core to the game.
- Some might argue that some of these gadgets, they reduce the level of the necessary skills you’ve mentioned.
RJ: I think you have to be intentional in identifying the skills that you believe are definitional to the game. Let’s look, for example, at so-called distance measuring devices. When I first took up the game more than thirty years ago, on the course where I first learned to play, they had planted little spruce trees one hundred and fifty yards from every green, and there were distance markers embedded in the fairways every fifty yards. As a community, we had grown comfortable with the notion that distance can measured and marked in different ways. Moreover, at the professional levels of the game, caddies always understood what the distances were; before every tournament, they went out and measured distances. As such, distance has long been information that has been commonly available. If you have today hand-held technology to measure distance that can help speed up play and help keep the experience enjoyable, that’s positive for golf, because we understand differently today that the ability to judge distance from the tee or fairway is not truly a critical or essential skill.
- And the speed of play has become quite a big issue in recent times …
RJ: It sure has. There’s a lot research that’s indicative of the challenges that have come from longer and longer rounds. And sometimes it’s not simply the pace of play, the flow, but the overall time it takes to play—how many of us today in our busy lives have the time for six-hour rounds of golf?
- And that affects the overall access to the game because, as you say, many people don’t have the time they’d like to have to play golf.
RJ: It certainly does. We can find ways to make the game more accessible to a broader community if the game can be adapted to the amount of time we have available in our busy schedules. That can be shorter 18-hole rounds; or, that can be 9-hole rounds, because there may be times that you might not have four and a half hours to play 18 holes of golf, but you might have two hours, or you may only have an hour. Moreover, if you want to go out and play just three of four holes, because that’s all your schedule may allow, we think that golf courses should enable you to do so.
- You talked earlier about the Museum’s extensive book collection, can you elaborate a little on the research facilities that are available?
RJ: I mentioned how we’ve been collecting since 1935 books and documents on the history of the game and through the years we have been very intentional about growing that part of the collection. It’s now the largest golf library in the world; we have more than a hundred thousand individual items in the Library catalogue; we strive to collect any book or magazine that’s been published on the game in any language, so we have more than twenty-five languages represented in the Library today. It’s an amazing resource for anyone who is conducting research on any topic related to the game, whether that’s an academic writing a Ph.D. dissertation, a member of the media who’s writing on the game’s history, or simply a casual golf fan. It might be someone whose relative played in a USGA championship in the 1940s and they want to understand their playing record. In so many ways, our library collection is the definitive record of the game’s history and an incredibly valuable resource.
We’re also working intentionally to build our collection of original manuscripts and personal papers related to some of the game’s most celebrated personalities. We have in the collection the personal papers of Bob Jones, one of the most influential figures in the history of the sport, that include his correspondence and letters from the last twenty years of his life [1950s/60s]. We have an archive of papers from Walter Travis [1862-1927], the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur champion turned golf course architect and founder of The American Golfer magazine . And we have collected important papers from other individuals in golf history, including golf course architects. From Desmond Muirhead [1923-2002], who revolutionized golf course architecture in the 1960s, 70s and into the 80s, we recently acquired a large collection of original drawings and golf course plans. These types of material are rare and unusual and they don’t survive as much as we, as scholars and historians, would like them to. We see collecting such documents as a really important part of what we’re trying to accomplish through the Arnold Palmer Research Center.
We also have an extensive oral history program, as well as several million photographic images, spanning from the early history of photography right up to the digital photography of today.
- How does access work for serious researchers? Do they have to apply for a reading-room ticket?
RJ: The Library is open weekdays from 8am to 5pm. It’s generally helpful if people call ahead to chat with one of our Library staff about what they might be working on, so that we can pull the information or materials that they are seeking. But there’s no formal process of applying—for example, any Museum visitors, when they complete their tour of the historical galleries can simply knock on the Library door and go in. If you’re wandering through the museum and you see an artifact and you say to yourself, “Wow, that’s absolutely fascinating, I’d like to know more about it,” we want you to come into the Library. If you are really intrigued by the story of Babe Zaharias’ heroic comeback from colon cancer to win the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open, we can put her autobiography in your hands; we can get out a folder of black-and-white photographs from the championship; we can get out film footage of her playing in 1954. We can help you, as a visitor, bring that story to life and help you dive deeper into the moment.
What I love most about our collections is precisely this sort of connectivity that we can bring to the museum experience—when a visitor responds positively to an artifact in the museum, we are able, on the spot, to help them and encourage them and to facilitate their being able to go deeper. With the depth of all we have to offer, we can support the informal moment that inspiration happens; and we can support the scholar who is dedicating years to a full-length book, who might spend many weeks or months working in the Library and not exhaust all our resources.
- How did you become involved in the USGA, as you have been, I think, since 1988?
RJ: Yes, [laughing] I have! The USGA is the only place I’ve worked. It’s a wonderful organization and the Museum is a wonderful institution. Before I started working at the USGA I was a golfer who didn’t know a whole lot about golf history, but I certainly was passionate about the game. I grew up about twenty minutes from Liberty Corner [USGA HQ] and I was looking for a summer job after completing my first year at university. I originally applied for a job at the USGA’s Research & Test Center, where we test golf balls and clubs for conformance to the rules. I mentioned to the woman conducting the interview that I was an art history major and that I was considering a career in museums, and she said, “Oh, maybe you’d rather work in the Museum.” To be honest, I had no idea it was even an option. I immediately fell in love with the museum collection and with the history of the game. That first summer, I had the opportunity to have my hands on some of the most significant artifacts in the game’s history, whether that was Bob Jones’ putter from the Grand Slam in 1930, Ben Hogan’s 1-iron from the 4th round of the 1950 U.S. Open, or Alan Shepard’s Moon club from his 1971 Apollo mission. It was inspiring to hold golf history in my hands, and to put history together with artifacts. My primary responsibility that first summer was to start creating the first-ever computer catalogue of the museum collection. It was such an incredibly rewarding experience that I returned every summer through my undergraduate and graduate school years, but I never imagined it would become a career.
When I finished my Ph.D., I received a job offer to come back to the USGA to serve as the Association’s first historian and librarian—and that was nineteen years ago.
- And you progressed to become Museum Director.
RJ: Correct. I was Director of the Museum from 2002 to 2010 and I still spend a lot of time with the Museum team, although my responsibilities at the USGA have expanded considerably through the years. The Museum will always be my first love and I head over to the galleries and collections storage areas as much as I can because I love that intimate connection with the artifacts.
- Another significant development for the USGA Museum was the opening of the Arnold Palmer Center.
RJ: Yes, that was the most significant thing we accomplished while I was the museum director. We undertook a complete renovation of the historic building where the Museum is housed; we doubled the size of the original building with an expansion (the 30,000 square-foot Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History); and we created a whole new visitor experience. As we did so, we put forward a new vision and approach to golf history, by considering the game as an extension of American culture, economics, and social history, as a mirror of the American experience. Such an approach came from my training as an art historian, where we were taught to take an object, a painting, a work of art, and to consider it as a product of its historical context. In so doing, it helps us understand the artistic choices that the artist made and that provides a richer and deeper understanding of a work of art as more than just a beautiful painting. It becomes a cultural artifact with historical connection and meaning. It tells us about the time in which the painting was made and the conditions in which the artist worked. I argue that you can do the same thing for sport, and specifically for golf. And so we did. We took moments in golf history and we worked to understand what was going on in American culture, society and economics, what was changing actively in the country, and this allowed us to develop a new interpretations, richer understandings, of key moments and influential people in golf history. Traditional histories of sport focus on data and facts – who won what event, where did they play, and how did the competition unfold. But these details don’t necessarily explain the significance of the moment. Let’s look, for example, at Ben Hogan’s victory in the 1950 U.S. Open: we can compile all of the facts of the championship, but the really important thing about Hogan’s victory was his comeback from a horrific car accident. Doctors told him that he’d never walk again, let alone play golf. Yet, incredibly, he overcame horrific physical injury to win the U.S. Open on year later. Inspirational stuff, but now let’s consider the moment in its historical context … the U.S. and the world were just coming out of World War II. Everybody knew someone who was severely injured in the war. Viewed against this backdrop, we appreciate that Hogan’s comeback from terrible physical injury has so much more meaning than it does portrayed simply as Ben Hogan winning the U.S. Open—it enriches our understanding and appreciation of why Ben Hogan became a national hero to so many people, even those who never played the game
In telling the history of the game, we also changed the focus of the exhibits from equipment to people. When I first started working at the museum, we presented the story of golf through the evolution of the golf ball, an inanimate object. But that’s not where the richness of the game sits—the richness of golf is in the stories of people, the personal stories, the stories of inspiration and courage, of overcoming adversity.
- And in our modern era, do you think there’s just as much relevance in a historical context?
RJ: Yes. I think there’s a renewed interest today both in history and in connecting to people and their stories. You see this happening clearly across the social media landscape. Facebook, Twitter and so on are social media platforms that allow us to curate communities where we can share stories with one another. In a world that is increasingly dominated by technology and data, there is a need to create human connections. It’s when we find moments of humanity that history really resonates. And it’s these moments in golf history that I really want to tell, when golf transcends itself and becomes much more than just a sport.
We remind ourselves constantly that events that happened yesterday are history today. As a Museum, we have to be aware of those defining moments and to make sure we are documenting and collecting them. One of the great stories of the last ten years has been the globalization of the game. If you consider, for example, the number of international players winning USGA championships you will see this clearly. Back in the 1970s, there were perhaps just four or five international players in any given U.S. Open; today, that number is often closer to forty-five percent of the field (of 156). And even more so in the U.S. Women’s Open or in the Girls’ Junior. We have to look at who are the best young players coming from Asia, and to make sure that we’re documenting their stories, collecting their artifacts, and recoding their moments, because there’s a huge shift in champions being younger and more diverse.
It’s wonderful when someone calls in with a treasure from a hundred years ago, but it’s also wonderful when someone comes in with a treasure from last week.
- While it’s reassuring that the USGA is such a strong and proactive custodian of golf history past and recent, there are also concerns and challenges for the future of golf and its development, which must largely be the reason for the USGA launching the current “Driving Golf Forward” initiative?
RJ: That certainly is the case, if you consider at its core the mission of the organization, why we were created and why we come in to the office every day. We are the inheritors of an incredibly rich tradition, golf, which for more than six hundred years has enriched people’s lives and our communities, giving us recreation as well as opportunities to form friendships, to test ourselves against one another or against a golf course. The game has been strong for six hundred years and we want to make sure that it’s strong for another six hundred years. Given our role in the game, we have the benefit of being able to take the long view. We can understand those challenges that the game will be facing down the road, and we are taking steps to make sure that the future is bright. For example, an issue that’s near and dear to me and that I work a lot on is water. Golf, as an industry, has become very dependent on water and water resources. And we all understand what’s happening around the world in terms of fresh water resources; the challenge that already exists today will only grow as populations increase and urbanization accelerates. The challenge is: how can we be investing today in new technologies, new varieties of turfgrass, better irrigation systems, better agronomic practises that over time are going to help the game become less dependent on this critical natural resource, so that golf continues to thrive. We’ve been doing work in this area through the USGA Green Section since 1920; we have close to a hundred-year history of helping golf courses provide better playing experiences, while being less dependent on water, on nutrients, on chemicals and pesticides. It’s important to understand where we’re coming from and where the game needs to go in the future.
As an organization, we are better at what we do today because we understand the past and therefore, we hope, we have a clearer vision for the future of the game.
ALL IMAGES COURTESY USGA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Rand Jerris, Ph.D., Senior Managing Director, Public Services, USGA
As the United States Golf Association’s senior managing director of Public Services, Rand Jerris oversees a variety of functions, including research, science and innovation; the USGA Green Section; the USGA Golf Museum; Regional Affairs; strategic planning; campus planning and development.
Beginning in 1988, Jerris interned at the USGA Golf Museum for nine summers while completing his undergraduate and graduate studies, eventually assuming the position of librarian/historian in 1999. He then served as director of the Museum from 2002 to 2011, taking on additional duties as managing director of Communications from 2009 to 2011. He remains active in researching and promoting the history of the game, with an emphasis on the history of golf course architecture and golf art.
Jerris has authored three books: Golf’s Golden Age: Robert T. Jones Jr. and the Legendary Players of the ’10s, ’20s, and ’30s; The Game of Golf and the Printed Word: 1566-2005, with co-author Richard E. Donovan; and The Historical Dictionary of Golf, with co-author Bill Mallon.
For his work with Donovan, Jerris was awarded the Murdoch Medal by the British Golf Collectors Society in recognition of outstanding contributions to the game’s history. In 2015, he received the prestigious Schroeder Award from the International Sports Heritage Association in recognition of meritorious service to the sports heritage industry and its community. Jerris currently serves on the board of the Environmental Institute for Golf, the executive board for We Are Golf (World Golf Foundation), and the Board of Overseers for the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program.
Jerris has a doctorate in art and archaeology from Princeton University and a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Williams College (Mass.).
Visit the USGA Museum
The USGA Museum is located at 77 Liberty Corner Road, Liberty Corner, NJ 07938, near the intersection of Interstate 78 and Interstate 287. The Museum is a 30-minute drive from Newark Liberty International Airport and approximately one hour from New York City.
Hours of Operation
The USGA Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. We are closed on Mondays and major holidays (New Year’s Eve & New Year’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve & Christmas Day). We are also sometimes closed during normal business hours for special events and/or severe weather or other emergencies. Please contact the Museum ahead of time to ensure that the facility will be open during the time you plan to visit.
To contact the USGA Museum, please call a USGA Museum Welcome Ambassador at 908-234-2300, ext. 1057, or email [email protected]
Adults — $10
Seniors — $7
USGA Members — $5
Group Rate (10 people or more) — $5
Children (13-17 years) — $3.50
Children 12 and under — Free
For groups of 10 or more individuals, the USGA Museum offers a 30-minute guided tour, Tuesdays through Fridays during normal Museum hours, by experienced staff. The group rate is $5 per person. For additional information on scheduling a tour, please email Kim Gianetti, manager of education and outreach, at [email protected]
The USGA Museum Shop offers a range of items—books, souvenirs and special gifts—so that every visitor is sure to find the perfect gift for their favorite golfer. USGA Members receive the applicable member discount at the time of purchase with their member card.
The Pynes Putting Course
The Pynes Putting Course, inspired by the world-renowned Himalayas putting course in St. Andrews, Scotland, is a 16,000-square-foot green located on the lawn immediately behind the Museum. The green includes humps and swales to offer a challenging and entertaining experience, including the opportunity for visitors to putt with replica antique clubs and balls. It is named for Percy and Evelyn Pyne, who once resided on the property that is now Golf House.
The Pynes Course is open from April through November during normal hours of operation, weather permitting. Visitors should allow 30 minutes to play the nine-hole course. The green fee is $5.
Putters are provided by the Museum and a souvenir golf ball is included with the green fee. Appropriate footwear is required—no high heels or heavy-soled boots will be permitted.
For additional information, please contact a USGA Museum Welcome Ambassador at 908-234-2300.
Additional Visitor Guidelines
- Strollers are permitted throughout the Museum.
- Restrooms are equipped with changing tables.
- Photography without flash is permitted in all the galleries. Flash photography, video, and the use of tripods are not permitted in the galleries.
- Eating, drinking, and smoking are not permitted in the galleries.
- Mobile phones must be turned off or set to a silent alert at all times. Please refrain from using mobile phones in the galleries.
- Please refrain from touching artifacts, artwork, and exhibition cases.