Phil Mickelson is going into the World Golf Hall of Fame in less than two weeks. It will take Tiger Woods another five years to do the same, due to a 40-year-old age requirement. Golf Writer Andy Reistetter looks back to last year's World Golf Hall of Fame induction headlined by Ernie Els.
What began on a sad note Saturday morning with the passing of Seve Ballesteros crescendoed to the most joyous of notes Monday evening with the induction of Ernie Els—the last of six to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame (WGHOF).
In between was the Saturday evening preview of the new inductee exhibits as well as the Sunday evening dinner for the inductees, members of the Hall and their friends and family.
Throughout the weekend, with the world present, the World Golf Village was the place to be—the place to be seen and the place to enjoy and celebrate golf's rich traditions and history.
At 2:10 a.m. local time in his hometown of Pedrena, Spain, Ballesteros—the legendary five-time major champion and 1999 WGHOF inductee—passed after a courageous two-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer.
As guests arrived on Saturday, they were greeted by a portrait of Seve in his WGHOF induction jacket on an easel adorned with flowers and a big black ribbon.
Larger than life, Seve's way of playing the game of golf inspired millions and his early presence in the Hall of Fame continued his legacy. At age 42 Ballesteros came in with Amy Alcott and Lloyd Mangrum in only the second induction class in St. Augustine in 1999. The year before Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo received the highest honor a golfer can achieve.
After the initial sadness gave way in part to a celebration of the life of a man who touched us all, the focus of the induction weekend turned to the six new inductees- President No. 41 George H. W. Bush, CBS Sports' Frank Chirkinian, Ernie Els, Doug Ford, Jock Hutchinson and Masashi "Jumbo" Ozaki.
Their golfing careers and lives were brilliantly captured in impressive displays by Director of Exhibits Andrew Hunold, and were exhibited along the far wall of cavernous Shell Hall.
Lifetime Achievement inductees President Bush and Executive Producer Chirkinian's notable items include, respectively, cowboy boots with golf spikes furnished by the Secret Service and five Emmy and two Peabody awards for creativity and excellence in golf broadcasting.
Veterans inductees Doug Ford and Jock Hutchinson include, respectively, the green jacket from his 1957 Masters victory and the "mashie iron" used during his 1921 British Open victory.
Voted in on the International Ballot, Ozaki donated part of his extensive Japanese sword collection as well as the trophy from his 100th career win at the 1996 Dunlop Phoenix.
Els and his wife Liezl, daughter Samantha and son Ben were the highlight of the induction weekend.
Fellow WGHOF member and South African Gary Player paid Els the highest compliment while writing the foreword to Els' first book "How to Build a Classic Golf Swing" back in 1995.
Els, a global golfer, won his first of three majors at age 24 at the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont CC and emerged to high expectations as the "next Jack Nicklaus."
Player thought "the first Ernie Els" was a more apt and deserving tag.
Sixteen years later, Els richly deserves a distinguished place in the Hall of Fame where his legacy both on and off the golf course will be preserved.
Being inducted on the first ballot at the young age of 41, like Ballesteros, says it all in terms of respect and admiration by his peers, the golfing world and his fellow 135 members of the Hall of Fame.
When asked why he thought he was voted in so soon, Els' response was vintage Els—unassuming, humble, graceful and backed up with merit.
"I think everybody here (in the WGHOF) is unique in their own way. You don't get inducted in here without doing something to catch people's attention. There's a criteria that I fell into and people feel that I should be here. It's great to be in this Hall. To answer that question, you might have to ask somebody else."
Seated in the audience with mother Liezl and sister Samantha, watching father Ernie on stage, 9-year-old Ben (who has autism) may have enjoyed the induction evening more than anyone else.
Sometimes we forget our golfing heroes and celebrities are husbands or wives, fathers or mothers or sons or daughters as well.
Ernie Els has always put his family first, and he and Liezl's Els for Autism foundation is another example of his willingness to give back, as was his inspiring presence in St. Augustine for the induction weekend.
There were many other memorable moments from the 2011 WGHOF induction ceremony, and it was hosted by NBC Sports by the Golf Channel's own Dan Hicks.
Doug Ford told funny old stories about Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan and winning more in early week betting than in the tournament.
The introduction of Hall of Famers included 87-year-old Louis Suggs, Dr. Charlie Sifford and Nancy Lopez—who currently has her own exhibit "Pride, Passion & Personality" at the Hall. Living Hall of Fame members rarely slow down.
CBS Sports' Jim Nantz' moving presentation of Frank Chirkinian, who passed only 68 days before being inducted into the Hall of Fame, was a highlight. A video acceptance speech that was recorded only days prior to his death was played and put into perspective what it means to be inducted into the WGHOF.
Nantz came on stage later to present President Bush and told a funny story about facilitating a golf game between Bush and President Clinton when they first came together to head the relief effort for the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.
Fellow South African Johann Rupert introduced Ernie Els as deserving of the title of gentleman and noted a three-letter word for elegance- E-L-S.
The night of special moments ended with a humble and heartfelt acceptance speech by Ernie Els.
For the first time ever, the 13th World Golf Hall of Fame induction in St. Augustine and the 38th PLAYERS Championship came together in a single week and it was a smashing success!
While the induction ceremony is "Super Bowl Sunday" for the World Golf Hall of Fame, don't forget it is nearby and open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and the day before and of induction.
In addition to an intimate insightful connection with all 136 of its members, guests are engaged with interactive features including putting on 19th century greens with hickory clubs and "guttie" balls, or on fast modern greens in the guise of a Shells' Wonderful World of Golf match.
Play for real at any of the world's best courses on the full-swing simulator or take your game outside to play the challenge hole or putt the 18 holes of the putting course.
While the WGHOF did not invent the magic of the game of golf, it does preserve it and creates an inspirational connection for its guests to the game, it's history and it's most distinguished contributors whether professional or amateur players, supporting celebrities, writers, architects, presidents or lifetime contributors.
If you can make it out to THE PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass you are only 25 miles from the Hall of Fame in St. Augustine. As Bob Hope says," if you love golf, you got to go."
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Research and Broadcast Assistant for the major golf broadcast companies. He spends time on all four major American golf tours- the PGA TOUR, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.
Reistetter resides within a couple of miles of the PGA TOUR headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.
A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it. He can be reached through his website www.MrHickoryGolf.net or by e-mailing him at AndyReistetter@gmail.com
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