Greetings from St. Andrews and the Senior Open Championship. Looking out from the media centre to the right of the 1st fairway on the Old Course, I can see a small tent. On the front it reads “World Golf Hall of Fame.” The actual hall is nowhere near the East Neuk of Fife of course. It is in St. Augustine, Florida, not coincidentally close to the headquarters of the PGA Tour along the road in Ponte Vedra.
If you’re like me, you’ve always found America’s love for the 'Hall of Fame' a wee bit difficult to comprehend. Yes, the New World’s undying adoration for the cult of even minor-league celebrity goes some way to explaining this strange phenomenon. But when something called the “Insurance Hall of Fame” in Alabama can draw more than 250,000 visitors in a single year – I kid you not – you have to wonder what is going on over there. What’s next? A hall of fame for halls of fame?
Which is not to say that golf’s hall has nothing much to commend it. It does. For fans of all shapes and sizes – and nationalities – it is a fascinating place, a brilliant blend of memorabilia and ancient artefacts that appropriately and reverentially celebrates the greatest game of all. If you are, say, a Ben Hogan fan, it is more than worth a visit.
That’s the good news.
Sadly, the same level of satisfaction does not extend to the ridiculously arbitrary list of criteria used to determine who is and who isn’t granted entry to the hallowed premises. Most laughable is that, not so long ago, the voting system had two separate sections. Believe it or not, the WORLD Golf Hall of Fame had something called an “INTERNATIONAL ballot” that sat alongside the “PGA Tour” equivalent. I mean really.
Sadly then, the Hall of Fame is little more than a PGA Tour puppet. Over the years that fact has become increasingly clear as a series of ever more egregious omissions and inclusions have pointed to an almost complete ignorance of anyone and everyone not able to call Sam, “Uncle.” Anomalies are everywhere, albeit things have improved – slightly – over the past few years.
An example. Back in the days before this jaded correspondent grew tired of the US-centric bias within the Hall of Fame voting system, I routinely ticked the box next to the name of the legendary Australian, Norman Von Nida. Quite apart from his considerable and impressive playing career – three Aussie Opens, four Aussie PGAs, twice third in the Open Championship and many other titles at home and abroad – the “Von” made an immense contribution to the game in his native land and beyond. So many of his younger compatriots benefitted hugely from his experience, advice and general largesse.
“If you’re like me, you’ve always found America’s love for the 'Hall of Fame' a wee bit difficult to comprehend.”
But Von Nida is not in the Hall. And he never will be. The list of “luminaries” on the current selection committees reveals only a few who will have heard of him, never mind owning the ability to regale the room with even one illustrative anecdote from his colourful life.
Another example. Only last year Ian Woosnam was granted a long-overdue admission to the hall. In his time, Woosie won a major championship and was for 50 weeks ranked the best player in the world. He is also one of only three men to have won on the PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions, European Tour and European Senior Tour and has won more tour events around the world than any other male British golfer.
That’s a pretty chunky record. But already in the hall waiting for the wee Welshman were the likes of President George Bush (the first one), Chi Chi Rodriguez, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and the former executive director of the European Tour, Ken Schofield. I mean really (2).
Anyway, I digress. My main point here is one of geographical point-missing. Is it not obvious to anyone and everyone that the Hall of Fame is in entirely the wrong place? Especially when where it should be is so apparent – not far from where I currently sit. One of the knocks against the building in Florida is that a disappointing number of people actually visit. That would not be the case in St. Andrews, a place of pilgrimage for many tens of thousands of golfers every year. Plus, if we are to have a Hall of Fame, how can there possibly be a more appropriate place than the Home of Golf?
But then, I shake my head. Even in the face of such irrefutable logic, the powers-that-be in the never-never land that is the PGA Tour are unlikely to acknowledge their propensity for parochial partisanship. No chance. It is a colonial characteristic even greater than my own audaciously apparent aptitude for alliteration.