USGA Museum: a place every golf enthusiast must add to their bucket list

LIBERTY CORNER, N.J. — History screams off the walls at the nation’s oldest sports museum, and you need to be a part of it.

As soon as you walk through the front door of the United States Golf Association (USGA) Museum, not only are you greeted by one of the USGA’s friendly staff members, but you are welcomed by golf’s legends, too.

Immediately to your left, you are first introduced to Bob Jones.

You learn all about how he worked to design Augusta National alongside renowned architect Alister MacKenzie, turning the former nursery into golf’s hallowed ground. He also established a relationship with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, whom he met when serving in World War II.

But the best Bob Jones story that I learned at the USGA museum is this, which all golfers should abide by:

Throughout his career, Jones was known for his honesty and fair play. During the first round of the 1925 U.S. Open at Worcester Country Club, Jones hit his approach into deep rough by the 11th green. While addressing the ball, Jones inadverently made contact. Neither Walter Hagen, his fellow competitor, nor the official watching Jones, saw the ball move. Jones could have let it pass, but instead imposed a penalty on himself. He subsequently lost the championship in a playoff. When interviewed afterwards, Jones responded, “You’d as well praise me for not breaking into banks. There is only one way to play this game.”

Bobby Jones

Bobby Jones.
Getty Images

Thirty years later, the USGA established the Bob Jones Award, now regarded as the association’s highest honor. Tiger Woods received this award for his commitment to the game, and will be honored ahead of this year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

Speaking of Pinehurst, the USGA and the World Golf Hall of Fame are collaborating to create a more extensive museum for golfers and fans on the famed North Carolina property. The museum will open ahead of the 2024 U.S. Open, meaning all those who attend this year’s national championship will have the opportunity to learn more about our great game.

The Game’s Greatest Artifacts

The museum possesses two of the game’s most renowned relics, one belonging to Jones.

Calamity Jane II, also known as “The Most Famous Golf Club in the World,” sits proudly in the gallery for all to see.

The story behind the club goes as this: the pro at Nassau Country Club on Long Island gave Jones this putter on the eve of the 1923 U.S. Open at Inwood Country Club in New York. Initially made in Scotland, Calamity Jane proved instrumental in securing Jones’ first national championship that week. He was only 21 years old at the time.

But after three years, the club had become worn down, so Jones had a replica made for him. As such, Calamity Jane II, the name of this replica, helped him win 10 of his 13 national championship titles, including the Grand Slam in 1930.

The aura of this club is still felt today at the Tour Championship, where a trophy that looks like Calamity Jane II is handed to the winner. Last year, at East Lake in Atlanta, Bobby Jones’s home course, Viktor Hovland received this putter as he clinched the 2023 FedEx Cup.

Viktor Hovland, Tour Championship

Viktor Hovland celebrates with the Calamity Jane trophy after winning the 2023 Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The other astonishing artifact in possession at the museum—and a fan favorite—is the club used by Alan Shepard on the moon.

On February 6, 1971, Shepard landed on the moon as part of the Apollo 14 mission and “brought golf to a new frontier.” An avid player, Shepard tucked a custom six-iron into his space suit. He brought two golf balls, too.

After descending from the spacecraft and landing on the lunar surface, Shepard collected some rock and dust samples. He then pulled the six-iron out, put one golf ball down, and took a swing.

The first shot turned out to be a complete shank. Shepard was nervous; he had first tee jitters on the moon!

Thankfully, he brought two golf balls as his second shot went “miles and miles and miles.”

Alan Shepard, Golf

Alan Shepard plays golf on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission.
Photo by NASA via Getty Images

10 Other Incredible Relics

Indeed, these two golf clubs are one of the museum’s big draws. But I was amazed by many other artifacts at the New Jersey museum.

Here are my top 10, which was difficult to decipher since there are so many great things on display:

1. Amelia Earhart’s Headcover

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How crazy is this? I did not realize Amelia Earhart was a golfer until I saw her headcover on display. She was a remarkable woman, but come to find out, she was an avid golfer, too! Earhart considered Babe Didrikson Zaharias a close friend.

2. The Golf Ball used by Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open

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Arguably the most important tournament in American golf history, a young Francis Ouimet, who lived across the street from the Country Club at Brookline, beat British professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff. Ouimet’s win at Brookline led to a boom in the sport’s popularity in the States. He later became the first recipient of the Bob Jones Award in 1955.

Imagine winning a U.S. Open with that golf ball.

3. Arnold Palmer’s Flight Log

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Like Bobby Jones, the USGA has dedicated rooms to many of the game’s legends. Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Micky Wright have devoted spaces, each with important memorabilia.

Palmer’s room is unique, as it contains so many incredible artifacts from his life. But what struck me the most was his flight logs. An avid aviator, Palmer flew all over the world for golf, family, and pleasure. You could spend hours in Palmer’s room alone, reminiscing about ‘The King’ and his greatness.

4. Caddy Bib used by Jack Nicklaus’ son at the 1986 Masters

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Perhaps the greatest Masters Tournament of all time, Jack Nicklaus came from behind to win his sixth career green jacket—a record—in 1986. His 6-under 30 on the back nine will live on forever.

But what was Nicklaus’ favorite moment from that special Sunday at Augusta? Having his son, Jackie, caddy for him.

My favorite story from that Masters came immediately after Nicklaus struck his tee shot on the par-3 16th hole.

After lashing at it with his 5-iron, Jackie uttered, “Be the right. club”

The elder Nicklaus responded, “It is.”

The 18-time major winner was right. His ball almost went in for an ace, as Nicklaus made an easy birdie.

5. “Pearl Harbor Golf Tournament Today”

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One of the cool features of the USGA Museum is how it guides you through American history—not just golf history.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the USGA sponsored a nationwide series of events where 100 percent of the entry fees would go to Hawaiian war relief.

I was struck by this and other artifacts related to both World War I and World II on display.

6. Tiger’s Towel

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Some may argue this to be the greatest U.S. Open of all time.

In 2008, Tiger Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole playoff to win his third U.S. Open title. He did so on one leg, as he had a torn ACL and two stress fractures. His pain was visible throughout the tournament, but Woods was dead set on winning.

As such, every U.S. Open winner gives the museum an artifact from their victory, and Woods decided to gift the towel he used during his final round. He constantly used this to wipe the sweat away from his face and hands, a metaphor for the blood, sweat, and tears he had to overcome to prevail.

7. Amy Bockerstette’s “I Got This”

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During the 2019 WM Phoenix Open, Amy Bockerstette and Gary Woodland met on the 16th hole during the Tuesday pro-am.

Bockerstette, who was 20 at the time, has Down Syndrome. She played the famous par-3 16th alongside Woodland and Matt Kuchar. After hitting her tee shot into the greenside bunker, Bockerstette hit up onto the green and faced a 10-foot putt for par.

But before approaching her putt, she turned to Woodland and said, “I got this.”

True to her word, Bockerstette rolled it into the center of the cup, eliciting a massive roar from the crowd on hand. The moment also went viral on social media, as her “I got this” mantra became an internet sensation.

A few months later, Woodland won the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by three shots over Brooks Koepka. After holing the final putt, Woodland FaceTimed Bockerstette, telling her he relied on her “positive energy.”

Two days later, Woodland, Bockerstette, and the U.S. Open trophy appeared side-by-side on The Today Show, with Woodland confidently saying that the two of them “won this together.”

Then, in 2022, she competed in the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open, a championship conducted by the USGA that showcases the world’s best golfers. The hat she wore that week hangs proudly in the museum, inspiring everyone who passes by.

She continues to inspire today. Bockerstette and her non-profit, aptly named the I GOT THIS Foundation, help provide golf instruction and playing opportunities while creating lasting memories for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

8. Matt Fitzpatrick’s 9-iron

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Another artifact from the Country Club at Brookline, Matt Fitzpatrick hit the shot of his life with this 9-iron during Sunday’s final round.

On the 72nd hole, he faced a tough lie in the sand trap to the left of the fairway. Fitzpatrick then hoisted his ball up and onto the green with this 9-iron and two-putted for his first major championship. He bested Will Zalatoris by a stroke.

The Englishman joined Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open on the same golf course.

9. Bryson DeChambeau’s hat

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I found this interesting and peculiar, on par with Bryson DeChambeau’s personality.

DeCheambeau can sign his signature in reverse, as displayed on his cap. He wore this when he prevailed in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2020.

10. Ben Hogan’s Hickok Belt

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Awarded to the best athlete of the year in the United States, Ben Hogan received the Hickok Belt in 1953, when he won The Masters, U.S. Open, and The Open.

These 1953 triumphs were four years after a near-fatal car accident that almost ended his career. The Hickok Belt is one of the many items in the expansive Hogan Room at the museum, a room in which you need hours to understand how great this man was.

Hogan was one of only two golfers to win the Hickok Belt, awarded initially between 1950 and 1976 at the Rochester Press Radio Club in Rochester, New York. It was then discontinued until 2012, and the National Sports Media Association has since revitalized it and awards it on a monthly basis.

Funny enough, the other golfer to win this award during its heyday was Lee Trevino, who won his first U.S. Open at Oak Hill Country Club in 1968, also in Rochester. Trevino won his belt in 1971, the same year he won his second U.S. Open at Merion.

The Hall of Champions

One of the most incredible rooms at the museum is the Hall of Champions, which lists every single winner from every USGA championship contested since 1895.

Visitors can also see the original trophies, which always sends chills up and down your spine. But no trophy is more beautiful and elegant than the Robert Cox Trophy, awarded to the U.S. Women’s Amateur champion each year.

You can spend hours in this room, admiring each of the trophies and their polish. But you need to spend time looking at the names, where they won, and how many times they prevailed.

In doing so, you will recognize that Tiger Woods accomplished the most remarkable feat in USGA history throughout the 1990s.

In 1991, Woods won his first of three consecutive U.S. Junior Amateurs at Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Then, Woods won three straight U.S. Amateurs in 1994, 1995, and 1996, meaning he triumphed in USGA match-play competitions six years in a row.

The icing on the cake came at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, when Woods obliterated the field by 15 strokes.

Nobody will ever accomplish this stunning feat again.

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A picture of a young Tiger Woods on display at the USGA Museum.
Jack Milko/SB Nation

To learn more about the USGA Museum, be sure to visit its website here.

You need to visit, especially when the USGA unveils its new museum this spring in North Carolina. It will not disappoint. I guarantee it.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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