World Golf Hall of Fame Has Made Correct Decision to Review Election Criteria

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistDecember 17, 2013

ST AUGUSTINE, FL - MAY 06:  Golfer Fred Couples speaks during his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame on May 6, 2013 at the World Golf Village in St Augustine, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

Back in October the World Golf Hall of Fame officially announced that there would be no 2014 induction ceremony.

Thank goodness for that.

The induction ceremonies have been postponed indefinitely while the World Golf Hall of Fame undertakes ''a comprehensive review of several of its processes.'' The ''strategic review" is ''focused on an evaluation of the criteria and process for electing/selecting all five avenues of induction and a review of the production of the annual Induction Ceremony, including date, location and presentation,'' the Hall of Fame said in a statement.

Over the past several years, the doors to the World Golf Hall of Fame have been flung wide open with the induction of players such as Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie and Christy O’Connor.

Recent induction ceremonies have also been filled with several non-playing head scratchers such as President George H.W. Bush and Ken Schofield.

The election criteria for the World Golf Hall of Fame is as clear as day, as summarized by's John Holmes:

--On the PGA Tour ballot, players must be at least 40 years old, a PGA Tour member for 10 years or more and have at least 10 PGA Tour wins, two majors or two Players Championship titles. For Champions Tour players, potential inductees must have been on that tour for at least five years and have 20 or more wins on the PGA and Champions tours combined, or five majors or Players Championship wins

The PGA Tour Voting Body, comprised of golf journalists, historians and golf dignitaries, determines who is elected through this category each year. Election requires 65 percent of returned ballots. If no candidate hits that threshold, the nominee receiving the most votes (with at least 50 percent) is elected.

--On the International ballot, men and women candidates must be at least 40 years old, and have accumulated 50 points or more from major wins, international tour wins and participation in the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup. The International Voting Body follows the same rules as the PGA Tour voters.

--The LPGA ballot is completely different, as it is based on a point system in which a player must have been an active LPGA Tour member for 10 years and accumulated 27 points based on LPGA Tour wins. Candidates also must have won a major championship, the Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honor.

--The Lifetime Achievement category is for people whose primary contributions have come from outside the competitive arena. The World Golf Foundation Board of Directors' Selection Committee determines each year's recipient.

--The Veterans category selects players, amateur or professional, whose careers are comparable to others who are already in the Hall of Fame. The Selection Committee also decides each year's recipient in this category.

The problem is that the current criteria are far too lenient for an establishment that is meant to recognize the greatest players and contributors in the game’s history.

Couples is a likable character that had a good amount of success on the PGA Tour, but a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame alongside the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Walter Hagen, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Travino and Harry Vardon?

Couples is not even remotely close to being in the same league as these all-time greats.

Couples has just one major and 15 PGA Tour wins.

Sixty-two players throughout the history of the PGA Tour have won 15 tournaments or more, many of who accomplished this during a period of time where there were far fewer tournaments on the schedule each year, albeit weaker fields as well.

Seventy-seven players have won more than one major championship, and the list of those who have won only one major during their career, just as Couples did, is far longer.

Couples’ career could be classified as very good, but not outstanding. Fifteen wins and one major would be the equivalent of a baseball player with a .275 career batting average and 260 home runs. It would be a very good career to be sure, but certainly not deserving of a spot in Cooperstown.

Perhaps if the PGA of America created a Presidents Cup Hall of Fame, Couples would be worthy of induction for his successful captaincies, but this is the World Golf Hall of Fame we're talking about here.

Apparently you don’t even need to win a single major to find a place in the Hall of Fame. Montgomerie, who was also inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year, never won a single major championship.

By voting in players such as Couples and Montgomerie, the World Golf Hall of Fame opened the door for the induction of players such as Jim Furyk (16 wins and one major), Corey Pavin (15 wins and one major), Hal Sutton (14 wins and one major), Mark Calcavecchia (13 wins and one major), David Duval (13 wins and one major), David Toms (13 wins and one major), Paul Azinger (12 wins, one major and a winning Ryder Cup captain), Justin Leonard (12 wins and one major) and many others.

All of these players had very good careers, but to induct them into the Hall of Fame alongside the likes of Nicklaus, Jones, Palmer, Player, Hagen, Hogan, Vardon, etc.…that just seems like a bit of a stretch.

It now appears that the World Golf Hall of Fame has decided that the doors have indeed swung open a bit too wide and that something must be done to preserve the prestige of an institution that is still trying to find its footing nearly 40 years after its inception.  

Being elected into the World Golf Hall of Fame should be an honor bestowed on the true greats of the game and those that have made historically significant contributions to the game of golf.

Golf is not like sports such as baseball, basketball and football, where there are 30-plus teams and thousands of players competing in each generation.

There are a very small number of golfers that make it to the upper echelons of the sport, and even fewer that can be labeled as truly great golfers. Whereas team sports will have dozens of legitimate hall of famers in each generation, golf is lucky if five truly great players emerge from a single generation.

The problem is that while trying to model themselves after the likeness of institutions such as the baseball and basketball halls of fame, the World Golf Hall of Fame has had no choice but to lower their induction criteria in order to be able to host yearly induction ceremonies.

The answer for the World Golf Hall of Fame is simple—strengthen the induction criteria and if there are no worthy candidates on the ballot for a few years, then so be it.

Make the opening of the doors to the World Golf Hall of Fame be a truly prestigious honor that doesn’t happen too often and is reserved for the true greats of the game.

And fill the actual museum with memorabilia from those true greats, and not with items such as a pair of spikes used by Montgomerie while blowing yet another major championship, or one of Schofield’s neckties.

The underlying problem with the World Golf Hall of Fame can be seen from the moment you walk through the front door. The first exhibit seen, which also happens to take up the entire first floor of the museum, is called “Bob Hope: Shanks for the Memories.”

Hope was certainly an important figure in golf’s history, as he used his celebrity to grow the game. A guy like Hope undoubtedly had a large enough impact on the game of golf to warrant a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

But the largest exhibit in the entire joint, which also happens to be the very first thing you see upon entering the museum?

Is the first thing you see upon entering the Baseball Hall of Fame a huge floor-wide exhibit showcasing Abbott and Costello’s "Who’s on First" routine?

Of course not.

In an effort to grow and mirror highly successful halls of fame such as those created for baseball basketball and football, the World Golf Hall of Fame has lost its way.

This institution is being diluted by a very soft selection criteria, and it is time to start closing the door on players and contributors that have no business being bestowed an honor that puts them alongside the likes of Nicklaus, Hogan, Hagen, Palmer, Players, etc. in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

It is good to see that the World Golf Gall of Fame is addressing this issue. But the future of this institution will ultimately be determined by what changes come out of this “strategic review” of its election criteria.