The World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame was founded in 1998 by Golf Magazine to ensure that the theories and philosophies of the game’s greatest instructors live on. It is the only hall of fame of its kind, honoring those teaching giants who have demonstrated an unfailing dedication to their students, have created new knowledge that has shaped the way the game is taught and played, and have furthered the professionalism and importance of golf instruction. The four charter inductees were Tommy Armour, Percy Boomer, Ernest Jones, and Harvey Penick. The World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame now boasts 17 members.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Armour embodied the greatest melding of playing and teaching talent the game has ever seen. After immigrating to the United States in 1923, he turned professional and won the 1927 U.S. Open, the 1930 PGA Championship and the 1931 British Open — accomplishments that are all the more remarkable considering he lost the use of his left eye during World War I. After establishing himself as one of the game’s finest players, Armour began to cultivate a reputation as a keen student of the swing and eventually as one of the game’s most successful teachers. He was legendary both for his fee and the large sun umbrella he sat under, drink in one hand, golf club in the other. He charged $50 per hour, during the Depression no less; it was by far the highest sum commanded by any teacher at that time. For those who couldn’t afford a lesson, Armour produced three well-received texts on the game and appeared in many magazines and newspapers. “How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time” sold an unheard-of 400,000 copies in 1953, the year it was printed. Armour, who was prematurely gray, became known as “The Silver Scot” on the banquet circuit, where his talent for telling stories and his magnetic personality became legendary. His students ran the gamut from the greatest golfers in the world to celebrities and politicians. Folks from Bobby Jones to Richard Nixon spent time next to Armour’s umbrella. Read more on Tommy Armour.
PEGGY KIRK BELL
Kirk Bell was the first woman inducted into the Hall of Fame. Born in 1921, Kirk Bell earned a degree in education from Rollins College and was one of the most decorated amateur players of her generation. She turned professional in 1950 and became a charter member of the LPGA, but she never won a tournament as a pro. After marrying in 1953, she and her husband purchased a share of the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, a Donald Ross design in Southern Pines, N.C. Kirk Bell began teaching at the club and discovered that she loved it. She started the first women’s golf school at Pine Needles, and another of her inventions was the Golfari, a golf school vacation that has become hugely popular. In 1994, Kirk Bell purchased the Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club, also in Southern Pines. She has written two books, one an instructional tome and the other an autobiography.. In 1990, she received the Bob Jones Award, the USGA’s highest honor given for distinguished sportsmanship in golf.
Teaching and golf were in Percy Boomer’s blood. His father was the village schoolteacher in Grouville, on the isle of Jersey, off England’s Southern coast. Among those the senior Boomer taught to read and write were golf legends Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Percy also taught school for a while, giving it up to become a professional golfer in 1896. He won the Swiss, Dutch and Belgian Opens during the 1920s but soon turned his attention to teaching. Among those who sought his advice were his childhood friends Vardon and Ray. Based at the exclusive golf club at St. Cloud, on the outskirts of Paris, Boomer built a reputation as a fine teacher. He advocated learning by “muscle memory” — the feel of a correct action. “I try to teach by the pupil’s sense of feeling,” explained Boomer, “rather than his understanding of mechanics.” Boomer was one of the first instructors to eliminate negatives from his teaching. He never told the student what he or she was doing wrong, instead focusing on what the student should feel during the motion. In the 1930s he was one of the first to employ stop-action photography to dissect what was really happening during the swings of both the average golfer and the game’s champions. Besides a three-article series in the British magazine Golf Monthly in 1941 and his book, “On Learning Golf,” published in 1942, Boomer wrote little. But “On Learning Golf” received much attention even during the war and quickly sold out its first printing. It remains a ground-breaking text and is widely considered among the best books ever written on playing the game. Read more on Percy Boomer.
MANUEL DE LA TORRE
Five minutes. That’s the margin by which 15-year-old Manuel de la Torre, along with his mother and brother, made it out of civil-war-torn Spain and onto a ship to America. That was 1936, and Manuel’s father, Angel — the first Spanish golf professional — was in New York awaiting his family’s arrival. In contrast to that wild journey, de la Torre’s five decades as a club pro have been all about consistency. Milwaukee Country Club hired him in 1951, and that’s where you’ll find him today . His good fortune has kept him humble, with his lesson rate of under $100 per hour ranking among the lowest of golf’s top instructors. But his standing is now officially among the highest: in May 2011, his peers voted him into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame. De la Torre’s teaching philosophy derived from that of the late Ernest Jones, whose book “Swinging Into Golf” is gospel to many teachers. De la Torre is the foremost practitioner of the Jones method, which tells golfers to use a swinging motion, not a hitting motion.
Read more on Manuel De La Torre
Seymour Dunn, an American of Scottish descent who died in 1968, was an outstanding architect and teacher. As an architect, he worked primarily in upstate New York, designing courses such as Locust Hill and the Links at Lake Placid. He also built courses in Europe. As a teacher, he established the modern idea that an inclined plane from the target line through the shoulders dictated the correct manner of swinging the club. Realizing this concept might be difficult to grasp for many people, Dunn created a plane out of canvas, then cut out the center so he could stand inside it. Thus he showed how the club could simply move along the plane. Dunn visually presented this to the masses in his landmark book, “Golf Fundamentals,” published in 1922. In effect, what Dunn established was an iron-clad fundamental that made teaching easier for those who came after him. All golfers have idiosyncratic aspects to their swings that don’t affect the overall outcome, and teachers have to sort through them to determine which ones to ignore. But the plane, as established by Dunn, was non-negotiable. You can hit the ball with an off-plane swing, but not well enough to beat those who swing on plane.
He may be the hardest working man in golf instruction. Even in his 70s, Flick usually teaches or travels seven days a week, always up for the challenge of helping the next golfer, no matter his or her level of play. A native of Bedford, Ind., Flick began teaching in his home state and later moved to Cincinnati. In 1972 he started working in golf schools, and over the past 30 years he has taught more than 1,000 three-day programs. Since 1991, he has been the principal instructor for the Nicklaus-Flick Golf Schools , an affiliation that developed from his relationship coaching the Golden Bear himself. Besides Nicklaus, Flick has been a longtime instructor to 1996 British Open champion Tom Lehman. In all, more than 200 Tour pros have sought out Flick for advice. When not on the lesson tee, Flick is usually inspiring other instructors: He has been a speaker at more than 100 PGA and National Golf Foundation seminars. At the heart of his methods is the idea that feel is golf’s soul. “Golf has been taught as an exercise in mechanics,” he explains, “when in fact it is a game of feel.” For Flick, this means helping golfers reduce tension and raise awareness for what the clubhead is doing during the swing.
Read more on Jim Flick.
CLAUDE HARMON SR.
Born in Savannah, Ga., Harmon died in 1989. He was as accomplished as a player as he was as a teacher. He won the 1948 Masters, and he’s the last club pro to have won a major championship. He famously worked at Winged Foot and Seminole. He tried to keep his lessons simple, and he had hawk-like eyes and could often spot swing faults that other teachers wouldn’t notice. Harmon’s close friendship with Ben Hogan was well known and helped guide his own teaching ideas. Harmon is also well known for having had four sons — Bill, Butch, Craig and Dick — who have all found great success as golf professionals, mainly as teachers.
Born in 1925 in England, Jacobs is the son of a golf professional. He served in the Air Force during World War II and then became an assistant professional at a club. By the early 1950s, he had started competing as a tour pro and earned a spot in the 1955 Ryder Cup (winning two matches). He won the Dutch Open and the South African Match Play in 1957. Jacobs then became the tournament director general of the European tour and was instrumental in helping to grow that tour. He captained the 1979 and ’81 Ryder Cup teams. Jacobs is best known, however, for his teaching prowess. He taught droves of players from rank amateurs to top professionals, and he established one of the most successful golf schools, which now operates throughout the U.S. Jacobs’s teaching ideas were based on starting with observing ball flight and then determining what a golfer did to cause that ball flight, and what might need to be corrected or modified in the swing. Jacobs wrote several instructional books, including the famous “Practical Golf” (1972), which he authored with Ken Bowden. Jacobs’s influence in golf teaching is global and widespread. “There is not a teacher out there who does not owe him something,” said Butch Harmon.
Much of the information on Jacobs comes from the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Jones was one of a handful of instructors during the 1920s and ’30s who earned a worldwide following. Until World War I, Jones was one of Great Britain’s leading young players, with aspirations for a successful tournament career. But he lost one of his legs during the war. One week after returning home from the hospital, he shocked the golf world by posting a remarkable 70 at his home club. His loss turned out to be a gain for golfers everywhere as Jones focused his keen mind on teaching. In 1924, he moved from England to New York, where he taught for more than 40 years. Many of his lessons were given at an indoor studio in Manhattan, where he was based for 20 years. He was also the professional at the Women’s National Golf Club on Long Island. Jones was one of the first instructors to use the media to disseminate his theories. He was a contributor for many years to the The American Golfer magazine, and he wrote two instruction books. Jones tutored Virginia Van Wie for many years, including during her stretch of three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships from 1932-34. He also worked with Glenna Collett Vare, Lawson Little and other top players of the era. Jones is best remembered for his central theme: “swing the clubhead.
Read more on Ernest Jones.
The first instructor to become an international brand name, Leadbetter, an Englishman, began his career as a tour player in Europe and South Africa, but he had little success. He then turned his attention to teaching, and he made his early mark after rebuilding Nick Faldo’s game in the mid-1980s. Ever since, scores of world-class players have flocked to his lesson tee, including Nick Price, Greg Norman, Ernie Els, David Frost, Scott Hoch, Mike Weir, Frank Nobilo, Se Ri Pak, Bernhard Langer and Charles Howell III. To his credit, Mr. Leadbetter’s contributions to the game go far beyond his client list. He has authored numerous top-selling books, including ” David Leadbetter’s Lessons from the Golf Greats ” and “The Fundamentals of Hogan “. He has used his considerable talent to develop many other top teachers, including Patti McGowan and Robert Baker, both members of Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers. His David Leadbetter Golf Academies dot the globe in 30 different locations , and they continue to serve as leading training grounds for golfers young and old, novice and professional. He is based at Lake Nona Golf Club in Orlando.
DAVIS LOVE, JR.
Love was one of golf’s most revered teachers when he died in a plane crash in 1988 at 53. Love earned two letters in the mid 1950s on the golf team at the University of Texas, with Harvey Penick as his coach. Love was moderately successful on the PGA Tour, with one of his best finishes being a tie for sixth at the 1969 British Open. But it was as a teacher that Love distinguished himself. Drawing on lessons learned from Penick and Seymour Dunn, among others, Love had a relatively simple teaching style. It was a less-is-more presentation. Love was a lead instructor with Golf Digest’s golf schools in the 1970s and ’80s, but it was the tutelage of his son Davis III that motivated him more than anything. Davis III was blessed with enormous power, and his father helped the son utilize the power in proper ways. “I never saw a father-son relationship that was as good as Davis Jr. and Davis III’s,” Bob Toski told golf Digest in 2008.
Eddie Merrins, aka the Little Pro, is best known for his “swing the handle” teaching philosophy, but former student and PGA Tour player Bob May remembers a more lasting lesson from the soft-spoken, diminutive instructor known for wearing a blazer, tie and cap on the lesson tee and the course. “I’m very much an old-school player, and I still think of this as a gentlemen’s game,” May said. “That’s what the Little Pro teaches: etiquette and respect. It’s why our game is different than the other sports, and I can’t think of a better ambassador for the game than Pro.” Merrins first picked up the game as an 11-year-old in Meridian, Miss. He won two SEC Championships at Louisiana State, played in more than 200 PGA Tour events and made eight U.S. Open appearances. But he discovered that he enjoyed teaching as well when he took a job as a pro at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia in 1957, and by 1962 he was at Bel Air Country Club in Los Angeles, where he remained for the rest of his career. He retired in 2002. Merrins avidly studied Ben Hogan’s swing ideas, and they helped form the foundation of the advice he shared with his pupils. In 1973, he published his best-selling teaching book, “Swing the Handle, Not the Clubhead.” Merrins also coached the men’s UCLA golf team from 1975 to 2002; he led the Bruins to the NCAA title in 1998. In 1981, he founded the Friends of Golf, a charity that has raised millions of dollars for collegiate and high school programs nationwide. FOG also has endowed all the scholarships for the UCLA men’s program.
Read more on Eddie Merrins.
BILL STRAUSBAUGH JR.
Strausbaugh did as much for the education of teaching professionals as anybody in history, which is why in 1979 the PGA of America created the Bill Strausbaugh Jr. Award, given to a PGA club professional who distinguishes himself in mentoring fellow PGA pros on serving their communities.. This is one of the PGA’s highest honors. Strausbaugh was a Marine during World War II and served in the Pacific. He graduated from Loyola College and then began his career as a club professional in Maryland. For 34 years, he was the head pro at Columbia (Md.) Country club, retiring in 1995. He was the PGA’s Teacher of the Year in 1992 and died in 1999. Born and raised in the city’s Pimlico section, Mr. Strausbaugh began caddying as a youth at Bonnie View Country Club. He was a graduate of Calvert Hall College and interrupted his education at Loyola to serve in the Marine Corps, where he served aboard the carrier Wasp in the Pacific. Strausbaugh was deeply involved in PGA section activities and management, especially in the education areas. He led education seminars throughout the U.S. and in many other countries including Canada, England, Germany, Italy, Japan and Switzerland. Stausbaugh also spent considerable time giving lessons, perhaps more than 50,000 during his career. His teaching philosophy relied on his “pie”” system, which broke down the swing into five parts: (1) Launching pad; (2) creation of target line awareness; (3) pivot flat-footed twist of trunk; (4) plane wide to shallow; and (5) position flat left and bent wrist and tucked right elbow. He also had his “postage stamp” theory about teaching, which he described thusly: “I remind our fellow professionals that of all the knowledge we accrue, we can’t be successful in communicating that knowledge unless we have the ability to put that on the back of a postage stamp.
Much of the information on Strausbaugh came from the Baltimore Sun.
Born in Haydenville, Mass., Toski was one of nine children raised by his father. (His mother died when Toski was 6.) Two of his older brothers, Jack and Ben, assistant professionals at nearby Northampton Country Club, would take young Bob to the club, where he caddied and learned to play. Bob joined the PGA Tour in 1949 and gradually worked his way to the top. Five years later he became the leading money winner for the 1954 season. At his peak as a player he weighed only 118 pounds — with his trademark white cap on — and was best known as the longest hitter pound for pound in pro golf. But with three young children of his own, he chose to leave the Tour when he was only 30 to spend more time with his family. He moved to South Florida and took a series of club professional jobs in Miami and Key Largo. Later jobs took him to North Carolina and Wyoming and then back to South Florida. While his playing career was a success, it was his second career as an instructor that truly brought him fame. Toski was the teacher sought out by touring professionals. He helped dozens of the world’s best players including Tom Kite, Judy Rankin, Jane Blalock, Pat Bradley, Bruce Crampton and Bruce Devlin. With an animated style and a healthy dose of showmanship, Toski became a media darling. Since 1960, his instruction has appeared on scores of magazine covers. He has written all or part of more than a half-dozen books and was starring in videos before most people had seen a VCR. He was also a pioneer in bringing golf instruction to television: In the late ’70s, he was a regular on NBC golf telecasts, dispensing tips to millions. His celebrity status traveled well, putting him in demand in places as far away as Japan. By the early ’80s, Toski had become the undisputed dean of golf instruction worldwide. Read more on Bob Toski
A PGA Master Professional with a Ph.D. in sports science from the University of Oregon, Wiren is seemingly always open for business. For decades he has been a tireless proponent of educating other golf instructors with the best and most comprehensive information. Most famous for editing “The PGA Teaching Manual,” the landmark teaching volume distributed to all PGA members, Dr. Wiren has taught more than 250,000 golfers around the world in both individual and group settings. Between lessons, Wiren was the PGA’s director of education, learning and research for more than a decade, and he has been a featured speaker at five PGA Coaching and Teaching Summits. He has spoken to teachers in nearly every country with an organized golf program, including a keynote address at the first Scientific Congress of Golf. Named PGA of America National Teacher of the Year in 1987, Dr. Wiren is a member of the Nebraska and South Dakota Golf Halls of Fame and the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame. Dr. Wiren’s written work can be found in more than 200 magazine articles, and he has been a featured instructor on The Golf Channel and ESPN.