Swing through history: Gary Wiren's golf collection tells game's story

Gary Wiren
Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America
PGA Professional Gary Wiren isn't just a great golf historian; he owns one of the great collections of golf memorabilia as well.
By
Brian Biggane
The Palm Beach Post

Series: PGA

Published: Tuesday, May 26, 2015 | 11:58 p.m.
 
NORTH PALM BEACH, Fla. – Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez is sometimes referred to as the most interesting man in golf because of his facial resemblance to the actor in the Dos Equis "Stay thirsty" commercials. That tag might better apply to Dr. Gary Wiren of North Palm Beach.
 
A former all-state golfer in his native Nebraska and All-American quarterback at Huron College in South Dakota, Wiren spent 14 years as the first Education Director for the PGA of America. He once beat Gary Nicklaus by almost 50 yards in a long-drive contest, four years ago hit a drive 310 yards at age 75 and expects to top 300 yards again after he turns 80 in October.
 
These days, Wiren, who also counts Warren Buffett, Donald Trump and Arnold Palmer among his friends, is best known for a collection of golf memorabilia comprised of everything from balls and clubs to tees and postcards that ranks among the most unique in the world.
 
Housed partly in his house but with the more valuable pieces locked away in a warehouse in Lake Park, it includes 3,500 clubs and 2,000 balls dating back to the 19th century and even before.
 
"There are other collections that are better; I think mine is interesting because of its variety," Wiren said. "And because we have some unique pieces you don't see anywhere.
 
"You can go to a golf museum and say, 'Oh, there's some old clubs,' and then 'There's more old clubs,' and 'There's more old clubs,' and you get to where you've seen old clubs. But we have items such as golf sheet music, comic books, stamps. My postcards even have categories: females only, animals, animals hitting golf balls, children, famous people.
 
"So I don't want to say it's the best collection, but it is one of the most interesting."
 
A few years ago Wiren took part of the collection for a six-month exhibition at the Cornell Museum in Delray Beach. He told of a husband and wife that stopped in and, when they learned there was an admission charge, the wife tried to beg off, saying she wasn't interested, but the husband insisted.
 
"After the second gallery, which was on the history of our presidents playing golf, my wife Ione heard her on her cell phone telling a friend, 'Margaret, you've got to come see this. It's so interesting!'"
 
After winning a conference championship in golf and being named an All-American quarterback at NAIA Huron College, Wiren spent two years as a graduate assistant football coach and PE instructor teaching golf at Michigan while earning his Masters degree in Sport Science.
 
Shortly after moving to Eugene in 1962 to pursue his doctorate at the University of Oregon, he found a local public course and decided to check it out. The proprietor told him the teaching professional had left five days earlier and asked, 'Can you play? Let's play nine holes.'
 
"It was a par-37 and I shot 34. He said, 'I guess you can play.' I was there 10 years and never shot 34 again. But he said, 'We'd like you to start teaching.' So I went to my wife and told her I was going to teach golf. She said, 'We'll never get out of here.'"
 
Driving has always been the strength of Wiren's game; in 1983 he launched a drive 381 yards, nearly 50 yards more than a young Gary Nicklaus, who finished second in the event. Wiren played in a U.S. Senior Open and three events on what was then the Senior PGA Tour.
 
But teaching has always been his staple. While still in Eugene he befriended the publisher of the local newspaper, the Eugene Register-Guard, and enlisted him to help him launch a summer golf program that produced nearly 15,000 golfers over the next 10 years.
 
During that time, Wiren was named education director for the Northwest Section of the PGA of America and instituted a program that got the attention of PGA of America president Leo Frazier, who ultimately hired him to the same position at the national organization, bringing him to Palm Beach County in 1972. He stayed with PGA of America until 1985.
 
Wiren has taught in 32 countries including Japan, where he spent two years commuting back and forth doing a golf instructional show on TV. He also staged a golf school at Boca Raton Hotel and Resort and clinics at PGA National Resort and launched Golf Around the World, which developed and manufactured golf teaching aids.
 
"He's a wonderful teacher," said Boca Raton Hall of Fame teacher Bob Toski, who has joined Wiren on many "Top 20 Teachers" lists over the years. "I would rank him in the top 10. He's smart, he's knowledgeable, he's a great credit to the game."
 
Wiren remains director of instruction for all Trump Golf Properties while working out of Trump International in West Palm Beach. If he's not there, chances are he's on his computer seeking a few more items to round out his memorabilia collection.
 
And if there's one item that stands out in that collection, it's a medal from the German Golf Union bearing the Nazi swastika from 1938, a rarity as the Germans attempted to destroy everything bearing that image after World War II. Adjacent to that is a photo of captured English RAF pilots playing golf at a concentration camp.
 
"They put the British and American pilots in different camps, and the British built themselves a course with one hole," Wiren said. "They only had one club, and they took pieces from their leather jackets and stitched them together to make a ball. I have one of those too. It's a very special piece." 
 
This article was written by Brian Biggane from The Palm Beach Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.