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Golf House is a home

Take a tour of Golf House in Far Hills, N.J., home to the USGA Museum and the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History.


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The USGA Museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History, informally known as Golf House, is located next to USGA’s headquarters in Far Hills, N.J. Photo by Wasted Time R/Wikipedia

A well-known song says that a house is not a home. Golf House, now home to the USGA Museum and the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History, was, in fact, a family home. The building was designed by the architect of the Jefferson Memorial, John Russell Pope, for Thomas Frothingham and his family, and it remained a residence from its construction in 1919 until the USGA purchased the building and the surrounding property for its headquarters in 1972. 

Located next to USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., the museum is, according to its website, “dedicated to fostering an appreciation for the game of golf, its participants, and the Association.” One of the first significant pieces donated to the museum was Bob Jones’ famous putter, Calamity Jane II, which he used in his 1930 Grand Slam. Since that 1938 gift, Golf House has become home to a collection of more than 40,000 artifacts related to the history of the game.

Golf House still feels a bit like a comfortable home (an inviting leather couch and chairs in the Bob Jones room contribute to that feeling), and, at the same time, an elegant museum with a carefully curated collection. Areas in the museum are devoted to legendary golfers Bob Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Mickey Wright, considered by many to be the greatest woman golfer. A new addition, the Jack Nicklaus Room, opened in 2015.

Besides honoring individual accomplishments of the very best in golf, the museum traces the history of the USGA and of golf in the United States through artifacts and documents. Exhibits of particular interest include the homemade putter — built from a soil sampler — that astronaut Alan Shepard used to hit a golf ball as he stood on the lunar surface. Shepard never revealed what type of ball he used, but according to some sources, he said that it traveled “for miles and miles and miles.”

Another unusual piece of memorabilia is the visor Arnold Palmer wore in 1960 when he made what has been called the greatest final round comeback in the history of the U.S. Open. After overcoming a seven-point deficit to win, Palmer tossed his visor to celebrate the moment. Eleven-year-old Skip Manning retrieved the visor, and Palmer signed it for him. Forty-eight years later, Manning donated the visor to the museum, with Palmer present for the ceremony.

No golf museum would be complete without trophies — and trophies are in abundance at Golf House. Among the trophies from USGA events is the oldest and one of the most beautiful in the collection: the trophy for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, the Robert Cox Cup, which was donated by Robert Cox, a golf course designer and member of Parliament. First awarded in 1896, the cup is the only USGA trophy donated by someone who was not from the U.S.

Someone who was most definitely from the U.S., George Herbert Walker, a former president of the USGA, is now probably best known as the maternal grandfather of former President George W. Bush. Walker was instrumental in instituting the event that bears his name, the Walker Cup, and he also commissioned the tournament’s sterling silver trophy from Tiffany & Co.

Some of the greatest treasures at Golf House are not on display. In 2015, the museum added the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History, which includes a research room for individuals who are conducting research related to the history of golf. (Interested researchers should schedule an appointment in advance.) The research center houses more than 20,000 books, as well as periodicals and the personal papers of some of the greats in golf. The USGA says that the research center “is the world’s foremost repository for the game’s history.”

Like many homes, Golf House has a spacious backyard. In this case, the backyard is a 16,000-square-foot putting green, the Pynes Putting Course, named for previous residents of the property. Visitors can wrap up their visit to Golf House by using replica antique clubs and balls to perfect their putting skills on the green, which is modeled after the Himalayas putting green at St. Andrews Links in Scotland.

Teresa Carson is GCM’s science editor.