SI Vault
Charles Brome
July 14, 1975
You're welcome anytime at the country seat of the game, to lose yourself amid its secret gardens or idle in the halls of history
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July 14, 1975

Ramble In Golf's Great House

You're welcome anytime at the country seat of the game, to lose yourself amid its secret gardens or idle in the halls of history

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Just to the right as you enter is a shelf with a guest book of the finest parchment imaginable. Or perhaps of plastic that is made to look like the finest parchment imaginable, but costs more. Once when I was there, Byron Nelson had signed that guest book only one week before! I found out that when he was there he took down his one-iron from the wall and went out on the lawn and hit dozens of long, straight, beautiful shots. That is one of the nice things about Shangri-La—time means nothing. I hope that when Byron Nelson is 300 years old he will come back and hit some more shots. But this time I will come a week earlier so I can watch him.

In the middle of the great hall is a reception desk. There will probably be somebody there who will smile at you and be glad you came. Or perhaps the person will not be there but out in the garden taking a nap. Either way it will be all right. You do not want a guided tour anyhow. You just want to wander around and get lost and look at things.

It is easy to get lost in a place like this, because there are so many rooms. Attached to the main building are wings. And some of the wings seem to have sprouted wings of their own. The rooms vary from medium-large, to large, to enormous. There is one room, which used to be the master bedroom, about the size of a high school gymnasium, except that instead of a basketball hoop at each end there is a fireplace. Unfortunately, that room is now divided up with nasty little partitions and is filled with typewriters and filing cabinets, and is therefore to be avoided.

But by and large, the USGA has done very little to spoil the feeling of Golf House. There are great, massy, wrought-iron lighting fixtures everywhere, and the lights are almost never too bright. In a stairwell there is a hanging lamp, big enough to house a gorilla, suspended by a chain extending upward until it disappears from sight. There is a grandfather clock with carved feet, and real toes on the feet, and real toenails on the toes. There are acres and acres of carpeting (62 acres, I think, but maybe that is how much land there is, not how much carpet), very deep and very red. The men who come to clean the carpeting must be tall, because a short man would disappear into the carpet and be sucked up by the cleaning machinery.

If you turn to the right from the reception desk you will come to the room that was once the dining hall and is now sort of a trophy room. Most of the rooms are probably best described as "sort of a trophy room."

In the center is a huge glass case filled with medals and pieces of cloth and fairly neat little cards telling what everything is. Everywhere in this room there are photos, plaques, medals, paintings—you could spend the rest of the day there very easily. The painting of Joseph C. Dey Jr. has the brightest light aimed at it. Mr. Dey was once the executive director of the USGA, until he jumped to the Mexican League, so to speak. He was a very neat man who took great pride in spending a whole day at a golf tournament in 100� heat without getting even one wrinkle in his pants. In a newspaper I once saw a picture of him and another man picking the pin locations for a U.S. Open. It was a hot day, but Mr. Dey looked as fresh and neat as a man who has just been laid out in his coffin for a high-class funeral. The other man was wearing a very dirty and crumpled mechanic's coverall, unbuttoned to the waist because of the heat, and he had a very large and hairy stomach. The newspaper had mixed up the captions—the man with the stomach was identified as Joseph C. Dey Jr. I cut that picture out and sent it to the USGA to put in a glass case, but they must have lost it because I have never seen it there.

Next to the former dining hall is the former breakfast room. It is now sort of a trophy room that also shows the evolution of everything—clubs, balls, tees, gloves, eyeshades, shoelaces, everything. Each item has its explanatory notice, each notice more solemn and dignified than the last.

There is an admirable disdain for order. In this trophy room, for example, there are all types of other things that seem to be there just because somebody found a handy spot left over in a glass case. "Silver spoon with handle shaped like two-iron, used by so-and-so to eat her porridge and perhaps to develop a subconscious confidence in her long irons at the same time." Who knows? "Donated by so-and-so." Soon you will find yourself making up notices of your own: "Wooden leg carved from rare Peruvian mulgawood, with foot shaped like sand wedge. Used with devastating effect by Major L.O.K. Waterman (Ret.) during semifinal round of Northern Midlothian Amateur until Rules Committee lowered the boom. Donated by so-and-so." That sort of thing.

I do not mean to imply that there is no system at all. There are places where you will find mostly golf clubs, and others where you will find mostly golf balls, and so forth. There is even a special Bobby Jones room, and another (smaller and more plain) for Francis Ouimet.

But the system is not so rigid as to become a nuisance. If there were a Grand Design, the place would lose its charm. There would be no surprises. As it is, there are vague groupings. I got the impression that when the USGA moved in, there were hundreds and hundreds of boxes, a good many of which were labeled MISCELLANEOUS—HANDLE WITH CARE. The moving men put the boxes down wherever they found a handy place, and when it came time to unpack, whatever was in that box stayed in that room. If it was small enough, it was put in a glass case. If it was too big, it was hung on the wall.

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