Western Golf Association Donates Rare Photos to USGA Museum

The USGA Museum's photo collection is in a constant state of growth thanks to acquisitions and donations from a variety of places. In March 2008 the Western Golf Association (WGA) sent the Museum eight large boxes of photographs.

Founded in 1899 by 11 Chicago-area golf clubs, the WGA decided that the photographs ought to be properly preserved and made readily available to a broader audience. With more than 500,000 photographs, including original black-and-white prints from the beginnings of golf photography in the U.S., and an extensive collection of contemporary images, the USGA Museum's photo collection is already one of the world's largest.

But as the Museum staff began to open the boxes from the WGA - an assemblage of some 15,000 images stashed in a myriad of envelopes, sleeves and folders - we soon realized the significance of the donation in terms of historical value: the photographs might very well be the fabled "lost" archive of Golf Illustrated magazine.

Founded in New York City in 1914 as Golf Illustrated and Outdoor American, later shortened to Golf Illustrated in 1919, the monthly periodical was established to "furnish golfers with a wealth of reading and illustration" and featured instruction, tournament news, opinion, fashion advice, photographs and advertisements for the well-to-do player.

The magazine published contributions from leading golfers and champions of the day like Francis Ouimet, Jerry Travers and Harold Hilton. Horace Hutchinson, Bernard Darwin and John G. Anderson were its exemplary early columnists. Golf Illustrated counted among its editors the influential architects Max Behr and A.W. Tillinghast.

As a consequence, the magazine had strong leanings toward course architecture, and the resulting depth and breadth of architectural photos in its archive were not a coincidence. Golf Illustrated ceased publishing in 1935 during the depths of the Great Depression, shortly after being purchased by the Hewitt Publishing Company, which owned an early version of Sports Illustrated (though not the more famous Sports Illustrated begun by Henry Luce in 1954).

The final edition of the magazine in the USGA Library is the July/August 1935 issue, though there were plans for a September issue. After the magazine folded, very little is known about what happened to its photo archive, though the magazine itself remains one of the finest chronicles of golf in its "Golden Age."

"We have always suspected that the collection of Golf Illustrated images was out there," said Rand Jerris, director of the USGA Museum, "and we have always hoped that it would turn up some day."

While there is no confirmation that this is in fact the Golf Illustrated collection, we believe it might be due to the information provided by the WGA and the content of the individual photographs.

"The story I heard was that the original Golf Illustrated went out of business in the 1940s and someone there donated [the archives] to the WGA," said Gary Holaway, WGA communications director. "It clearly is a collection that would not have been expected to be in our archives, as all of the photos are unrelated to WGA events."

The USGA Museum staff has spent the last nine months sorting through the tremendous array of images, identifying the historically significant photographs and organizing everything to be integrated into our archival filing system. Many of the images have the original caption information from when they were first printed.

At this point in the archival process we have alphabetized all the players and are now working on the course images. With every folder we open we are amazed by the beautiful imagery that exists within. Among the 15,000-photograph treasure trove are some 3,000 black-and-white images from golf courses in the U.S., Canada, England, Scotland and Wales, with a few images from other countries such as Colombia, Italy and Puerto Rico.

The other 12,000 images feature players from a variety of tournaments, including both USGA and non-USGA events. Some of the notable players and champions include: Gene Sarazen, Denny Shute, Billy Burke, Patty Berg, Tommy Armour, Olin Dutra, Leo Diegel, Francis Ouimet, Willie MacFarlane, Ted Ray, Sam Snead, Glenna Collett Vare and Walter Travis.

"The WGA wanted to make the images available to a wider public audience," said Holaway. "Thus, we donated them to the USGA for secure archiving and public access." The images donated by the Western Golf Association now have a permanent home in the USGA Museum.

These highly valued photographs will be stored and cared for in the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History and will be used to educate future generations about the game of golf. Over time, as these images are scanned into our digital archive, more and more of them will once again be available to the golf community, just as they might have been decades ago on the pages of Golf Illustrated. For more details, visit www.usga.org.  

This release was written by Ellie Kaiser of the USGA.