Who Were the First Golfers Inducted Into a Hall of Fame?

Francis Ouimet, Jerry Travers and Chick Evans at the 1915 US Open

The World Golf Hall of Fame has existed in one form or another since 1974. But today's WGHOF was not the first hall of fame to honor and induct golfers. There were halls of fame prior to the current one, and in this article we'll list the golfers who were inducted into the first class of the first hall of fame.

There might have been regional or local golf halls of fame prior to 1940, but the first national or international golf hall of fame was the PGA of America Hall of Fame. The PGA Hall of Fame was founded in the United States in 1940, partially at the suggestion of and with prodding by famous sportswriter Grantland Rice.

In that year of 1940, the PGA of America Hall of Fame inducted its first class, the first group of golfers deemed worthy. And since it was the first class, you can think of these golfers as the ones who were, in 1940, considered the most important golfers ever to that point in the history of American golf.

And all of these golfers, all of the golfers in the very first class of inductees into any national or international golf hall of fame, are still considered very important today. It's just that not all of them are still well-known today, except among fans of golf history. (Others, however, remain among the biggest names in golf history.)

The First Golf Hall-of-Famers

These are the 10 golfers who made up the first class of inductees into the PGA of America Hall of Fame in 1940:
  • Willie Anderson: Born in Scotland, Willie Anderson came to America became that country's first golf superstar. He won four U.S. Opens — the first golfer to do so — and three in a row, plus added titles in the second-biggest tournament of the time, the Western Open.

  • Tommy Armour: "The Silver Scot" was a three-time major championsip winner in the 1920s and 1930s. By 1940, he was one of the first stars of golf instruction, and famous for being the most expensive golf instructor of his time.

  • Jim Barnes: "Long Jim" was another immigrant to America, from England in his case. Jim Barnes won four majors in the teens and '20s, including the first two PGA Championships played.

  • Chick Evans: In 1916, Evans became the first golfer to win the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open in the same year. He also won the U.S. Amateur in 1920. By 1940, he had played in 29 consecutive U.S. Amateurs, and he continued playing it through 1962 (age 72) — 50 consecutive years.

  • Walter Hagen: The man, the legend, the Haig. Eleven major championship wins, including five PGA Championships — four of them successive. In 1940 he was at the very end of his competitive career. Today he is credited with 44 PGA Tour wins.

  • Bobby Jones: Still today one of the most famous names in golf, it is likely that Jones' star will never dim. His glorious career concluded with his Grand Slam year of 1930, after which he retired at the age of 30. He won four U.S. Opens, three British Opens, five U.S. Amateurs and one British Amateur, and went on to co-found Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters Tournament.

  • Francis Ouimet: Winner of the 1913 U.S. Open in a playoff over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, a victory that many credit with causing explosive growth of the American golf scene. Ouimet went on to win two U.S. Amateurs and play or captain in all of the first 12 Walker Cups.

  • Alex Smith: Born in Scotland, Alex Smith's golf career began at home in the 1800s, but his fame was earned in America in the first 10 years of the 1900s. He was a two-time U.S. Open champion and two-time Western Open champion.

  • Jerry Travers: The last two golfers on this list had a famous rivalry that ties them together in golf history. Jerry Travers was a four-time U.S. Amateur champion, and won the 1915 U.S. Open as an amateur.

  • Walter Travis: Born in Australia, Travis moved to America in the 1880s and later because an American citizen. So when he won the 1904 British Amateur, he was the first American to do so. Travis had already won the U.S. Amateur three times by then. He also wrote several classic books of golf instruction that were some of the first produced in the U.S., and designed golf courses, among other pursuits.
And there you have it, the first group of golf Hall of Famers. Interestingly, the PGA of America Hall of Fame did not induct anyone else for 13 years. Its second class of inductees arrived in 1953. And if you are going to wait 13 years, your next class better be a doozy. It was: In 1953, the PGA Hall of Fame added Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead.

This hall of fame, later renamed the PGA World Golf Hall of Fame, existed separately from today's World Golf Hall of Fame until 1993. It was based in Pinehurst, North Carolina. In 1993, the PGA moved its hall of fame to the World Golf Hall of Fame in Florida, but the PGA Hall still periodically inducts its own members, separate from the larger Hall.

Photo credit: Image of (from left) Francis Ouimet, Jerry Travers and Chick Evans at the 1915 U.S. Open. Stuyvesant Company, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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