After 12 years on hiatus, the Texas Golf Hall of Fame was scheduled to reopen next spring at the newly renovated Brackenridge Park Golf Course in San Antonio, the state's first public course. But when Hall of Fame Chairman Joe Black and other board members went to retrieve the artifacts from the Woodlands, the club outside Houston where they were displayed from 1978-1996, most were missing.
As of this week, memorabilia donated by the more than 40 inductees, including Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Bill Rogers, Ben Crenshaw and former President George H.W. Bush, was nowhere to be found. A collection of 228 antique golf clubs and a large book collection were also missing. "I really don't want to say much because we are in a very sensitive phase, but I'm very concerned about these items," said Black, who has recovered a file cabinet full of photos and documents but little else.
The problem began when a shortage of funding forced the Hall to close in 1996. The Woodlands Operating Company, which owned the facility, asked the Houston Golf Association to help disburse or store the large collection. Letters were sent to the inductees asking if they wanted their items returned or held for future use. Most chose the latter, but in the ensuing decade, the Houston Golf Association has moved out of The Woodlands, and The Woodlands Operating Company itself has had multiple owners. The facility that housed the Hall has been used for a variety of purposes.
"It's a recipe for losing things," said Bruce Lietzke, who played his college golf at Houston and asked that his artifacts be stored for future use.
Steve Timms, the current director of the Houston Golf Association, said: "We wish we could help them more, but we just don't know what happened to [the items]. We've taken them to our warehouse. The last thing we would want to do is mislead somebody, but it's been 10 years."
Francis Trimble, the Hall's former executive director, can't believe that whole portions of Texas golf history have just disappeared. "How do you lose whole sets of antique clubs? How do you lose an entire library? Somebody needs to be deposed, to find out what really happen to these priceless items."
So far nothing that drastic has happened, but some artifacts have resurfaced. The first riding golf cart, unveiled in the late 1940s, was found at San Antonio Country Club. Books turned up at used-book stores.
Still, the larger part of the mystery remains unsolved, and the mood of the executives, fans and players involved were best summed up by Bill Rogers, the Texarkana legend and 1981 British Open winner who currently lives in San Antonio. He said, simply, "It's disappointing."