PINEHURST, N.C. – The Old Sport and Gallery has been open for almost 18 years and holds what seems like the entire history of golf within its modest walls.
That’s how Tom Stewart, a lifetime PGA member, 46 years and counting, as well as former professional golfer who’s a member at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, put it together back then in the Village of Pinehurst.
“It was a niche that we discovered almost by accident,” Stewart said.
“I tell people I got married at age 45 and my wife had the nerve to want some of her things on the wall, so I had to open a store to get it out of the house,” he continued with a smile.
“A lot of stuff comes to me. A lot of guys are aging out of the hobby so there are some really, really good things coming on the market at a reasonable price and we have a really strong website, so we’ve been very, very happy.”
As activity around the Carolina, the resort’s main hotel, was busy on Tuesday with guests traversing back and forth to play golf or to enjoy the background setting of the Village, it was an easy walk down to the Pinehurst Resort Clubhouse – which is surrounded by courses No. 1-5 and site of this year’s USGA men’s and women’s championship tournaments on No. 2 – and back.
With such an easy walk and in an 85-plus degree temperature with a slight breeze, the shade of tree-lined neighborhood streets provided a nice canopy for a relaxing stroll to the heart of the ‘home of American golf’ where Stewart’s shop was located.
However, before his store was ever opened and before he arrived in the area, Stewart had to experience quite a lot in all facets of the game to eventually allow him to bring, showcase, and share it all with others.
He learned at a young age how to work hard and love golf, beginning at 10 years old when he’d hitch hike 10 miles to caddie for a dollar a bag in Petoskey, Mich., an area with a big golf tradition and home to five 100-year-old golf courses.
It was a resort area where sailing was also popular and where many wealthy Mid-westerners made it their summer refuge to chase a little white ball around on the local fairways and greens.
Stewart eventually got the opportunity to play college golf on a scholarship to Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Following graduation, he wanted to go to law school, but didn’t have enough money, so he turned professional and got a job at Lakewood Shores in 1970.
Three years later he moved on to a bigger resort, Bay Valley Inn, and was involved in hosting national tournaments there.
While keeping a busy club professional schedule during the prime golfing season in the summer, Stewart went to warmer climates and competed in professional tournaments around the world.
“I was lucky enough to play all over the world, dozens of countries,” he said.
“I had my winter’s free, I was single, so I could go South and play and try to qualify on Monday’s,” Stewart continued.
“Then my best friend and I would take off and go play the Australia-New Zealand Tour, South America, and then one year I played in Asia, so it was the best of all worlds.”
Stewart’s travels even took him to Russia where he eventually helped develop the game there and he played a major role in creating and building one of the first golf courses in that country.
Following that time, he spent 10 years as a pro at an exclusive, all-men’s golf club in South Florida, Adios Golf Club, whose 200-member roll included 100 Hall-of-Famers in many sports.
“We had Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Joe DiMaggio, Carl Yastremski, Dan Marino, Ditka, Horning, a who’s who – even Steve Wynn, the casino magnet, and Donald Trump.
“I did that for 10 years and we needed some money, so we’d keep going back and forth between Michigan and Florida.”
Eventually Stewart had gotten married and decided to move his family to one location after years of living a dynamic golf professional’s life, and it was Pinehurst that he had in mind.
“When our son was born and started kindergarten, I told my wife we needed to get somewhere in between, and so I said we’ll put up a map and throw a dart. The secret was that I put up a Pinehurst map.”
Thus, after their arrival, his concept for the Old Sport and Gallery was born and has been around ever since to mesmerize, tantalize, and feed the fanatical and casual golfer and fan’s urge to own a piece of golf history.
There are lots of items to see in his store and he is more than willing to talk and discuss all things golf and what to buy for whatever the occasion or purpose is.
Being around as long as he’s been in the game and in the trade of memorabilia collecting and selling, he’s a great source to buy from and to receive advice from on intended purchases.
No stroke penalties will be applied when he does that as he doesn’t want to see anyone taken nor pay too much for an illegitimate autograph or unauthenticated art work.
As many professional golfers do, Stewart is more than willing and receptive to talking about golf – it’s who he is and what his business is about.
He’s an author himself and shared a good point when asked why there are so many golf books out there and in his store.
“You know what they say? The smaller the ball, the larger the literature.”
With the extensive background he’s had in playing and working with and amongst the sport’s best and on the best courses, he’s more than willing to offer up his opinion on who will play better between the men and the women in the upcoming U.S. Opens taking place on Donald Ross’ masterpiece No. 2 course at Pinehurst.
“I have made a prediction,” Stewart said.
“I might be wrong, but I think the womens’ scores on No. 2 will be better than the mens’ – to par. Having said that, if it’s gonna’ be weather related, if it’s a wet week, I think the men’s scores will be under par. If it’s hard and fast, like we’ve had the last couple of weeks, it could be over par.”
If you disagree, you know where to find him to take it up with him accordingly – just a short walk from No. 2.