SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Every time I glanced over at Kevin Sutherland's table, he was laughing. And smiling. Or both.
This was the pro golfer's big night at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex as one of four people honored by the California Golf Hall of Fame. He was surrounded by his peeps - his parents, wife, college coach at Fresno State University, longtime swing coach, physical therapist and brother, David, who had a run in professional golf as well. Kevin Sutherland, who grew up in and still lives in Sacramento, was soaking up the joy of a night that almost never was.
Unfortunately, the California Golf Hall of Fame is fighting for its future. The HOF celebration, a golf outing fundraiser and dinner run by the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association, used to be a lavish affair on the Monterey Peninsula the week of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. It wouldn't be unusual for Clint Eastwood or other celebrities to wander in for the festivities. But as golf writers began fading as journalism went into the tank during the recession, the event lost its mojo.
After falling off the calendar, the event was revived in 2017 at Cinnabar Hills Golf Club in San Jose. There are plans to rotate annually between Cinnabar Hills and Haggin Oaks moving forward because they're logical fits. Both clubhouses do a fantastic job of celebrating history - Haggin Oaks as one of America's only public Alister MacKenzie designs and Cinnabar Hills with its amazing collection of artifacts in the Lee Brandenburg Historical Golf Museum. This year's event attracted roughly 60 golfers, but more supporters are needed for a stable future. There are lots of worthy causes in golf, but local and state halls of fame might be the most unsung. They're worthy causes to give back to the people who have done so much for the game.
For Sutherland, a journeyman who's had a solid career, this night was, to borrow a basketball phrase, his one shining moment. He'll never get into the World Golf Hall of Fame, but he's certainly made his mark. He won once on the PGA Tour in 447 starts since joining in 1992, but it was a big one, the World Golf Championship-Accenture Match Play Championship in 2002. Now on the PGA Tour Champions, the 54-year-old golfer has revived his career, capturing the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in 2017 - the equivalent to the FedEx Cup's season-finale, Tour Championship - earning him the season-long Charles Schwab Cup and its $1-million bonus. He's also the only PGA Tour Champions player to ever shoot 59 in a tournament (in 2014). He's won more money in his career ($22 million) than bigger names like Hal Sutton and Mark O'Meara.
There are lots of other great people in golf - players, administrators, teachers, architects, etc. - who deserve their night in the spotlight where they get to thank everyone who helped them along their journey and feel like all their hard work in the game was worth it. Angie Dixon, winner of the Golden State Award, got emotional talking about her mentors, Ken Morton Sr., the man who's built Haggin Oaks into one of the game's most forward-thinking facilities, and her father, who had two strokes the night before and couldn't attend. Dixon, a former University of Washington standout, has impacted thousands of young lives as the executive director of The First Tee of Greater Sacramento. Then there's Fred Biletnikoff who won the Ambassador of Golf Award. The Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame wide receiver has lent his celebrity to golf to support charity organizations for decades, as well as hosting the highly successful Fred Biletnikoff Hall of Fame Invitational the past 12 years. He announced proudly that this was the first time he's ever been honored outside of football. Frank LaRosa won the Media Service Award. The popular Northern California radio and television personality, as well as golf writer, is also one of the people working hard behind the scenes to save the California Golf Hall of Fame, which isn't alone in its struggles.
Most state hall of fame efforts are grassroots campaigns spearheaded by passionate golf lifers. Nobody does it better than the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame under the care of the Carolinas Golf Association. Its member plaques are on display in the convention hall of the Carolina Hotel at Pinehurst Resort. But most other local and state golf halls of fame struggle to garner continuous financial support.
When I visited the Ruffled Feathers Golf Club in Lemont, Ill., in the early 2000s, it had a small but nice presentation of members of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. That hall has since moved to The Glen Club, a high-end daily fee facility owned by KemperSports in Glenview, Ill. With the clout of Kemper, I'm guessing this one sticks.
The Texas Golf Hall of Fame lost more than a decade of inductees until reviving in 2010 and has since found a home at the historic Brackenridge Park Golf Course in San Antonio. The 2018 induction ceremony honored Tour pros Chad Campbell and Billy Ray Brown, teaching pro Bill Moretti and TV announcer Bill Macatee, along with Austin Country Club.
Two other state golf halls of fame that have struggled for decades with support and fundraising might no longer be homeless. The Georgia Golf Hall of Fame has taken a winding, sometimes scandalous, road to where it is today. One article even called its former home in Augusta, Ga., a 'curse'. There's new hope, though, that the construction of the new Bobby Jones Golf Course complex in Atlanta is the answer for a permanent space. Mike Bailey profiles that nine-hole, reversible golf-course here.
Talk of building a facility in metro Detroit for the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame dates back to when I first started writing about golf in the state in the 1990s. For a while, donated office space in metro Detroit served as a temporary home, but it never felt like a good fit. Ferris State University, home to one of the largest PGA Golf Management programs in the country, has stepped up to the tee in west Michigan to fill the void. The Ken Janke Sr. Golf Learning Center, a state-of -the-art indoor facility for year-round golf instruction and practice, has broken ground and will eventually display all the memorabilia and plaques of its members, including the legendary Walter Hagen. A $500,000 donation by the Janke family helped to get shovels in the ground in April on the estimated $3.5-million facility.
Back in California, its Golf Hall of Fame is stuck bouncing between two homes in the Bay area more than 150 miles apart. Considering the alternative, two is better than none.