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It’s a wonderful old world

At my time of life, I never thought it would ever happen again, but within the space of two weeks I twice found myself saying a very loud ‘Wow’.

The first was a reaction to my initiation into the World Golf Hall of Fame. The invitation to become a member arrived out of the blue and you can imagine my delight at being voted in to join all the other Hall of Famers. My eyes misted over as I read further details. Could I fly to Florida to take part in an induction ceremony? You bet I could.

The invitation included provision for other members of the family to attend, and I could invite up to 50 guests to come along and give their support on the day. Now, I’ve seen many ceremonies in my time – the Oscars, the Emmys, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year – and they’re all done with great panache: investitures galore, the equivalent of MBEs, OBEs, CBEs, knighthoods, all handed out with great aplomb. But nothing prepared me for the World Golf Village situated on the outskirts of St Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States.

It was in the mid-1500s that the Spanish settlers came and created the town which has grown into an absolute delight. All told, 650 acres make up the complex. There are two superb golf courses, the Slammer and the Squire (in memory of those two golfing greats, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen), with beautiful manicured grounds, a 20- acre lake with a walkway circumnavigating the water into which is woven all the greats’ signatures. It’s also the home of the PGA Tour television arm, where they have facilities that would grace the BBC.

There are two magnificent pro shops; a Caddyshack Restaurant owned by the Murray family, Bill being the most famous of that breed; a 400-seater cinema open to the public; plus the splendid Hall of Fame itself, laid out so spectacularly that one could spend a whole day, maybe two, just looking and marvelling at all the artefacts that have either been given or loaned to the institution by the famous men and women honorees, alive and otherwise. The Bing Crosby and Bob Hope exhibition alone could occupy a couple of hours. Overall, the effect is quite staggering.

Another feature is the Bell Tower, looking down from high above, containing all the world’s great trophies. On some occasions they are all the genuine article but when they have to go back to base after a year on loan, replicas have been made which are absolutely perfect. The convention centre (sorry, center!) where the presentations were conducted holds 2,000 people. The TV cameras were on parade. It was staged to perfection.

There were four other leading figures in the world of golf to be inducted along with me. Dan Jenkins, a sports journalist of the highest class, was one of the recipients. Another was Hollis Stacy, who had the most glittering career as a young girl, moving on to win three US Open Championships in a wonderful but short career. And there were Sandy Lyle, who led the way for British golf even before Nick Faldo, and Phil Mickleson, who’s taken over the reins from Arnold Palmer as the nice guy of American golf. On site the hotel accommodation was first-class, everyone was so helpful, and the journey there and back on Delta Airlines was trouble-free and on time. I was lost for words – which is that’s rare for me – except to say on behalf of the Alliss family, thank you to all for the honour you have done us.

Now for ‘Wow’ number two. I am proud to be the President of the Old Thorns Manor Golf Hotel on the outskirts of Liphook in Hampshire. The owners, the Shaw family, have spent a fortune building up a wondrous facility. They’ve been working at it for several years now and have just opened a magnificent gymnasium and spa. It looks out on to the golf course, so the participants have no need to be bored by a blank concrete wall. Goodness knows how many machines there are waiting for the clients. It’s all quite unbelievable – saunas, steam rooms, a new pool 20 metres by 10, restroom, sunrooms and another 100 bedrooms under construction and the possibility of another golf course over the next months. All that was certainly worth a ‘Wow’.

July 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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