“Check this out,” says Tom Stewart. “It’s my favorite piece in the shop. There’s nothing like it in the world.”
The sun is just up on a quiet winter morning at the Old Sport & Gallery on Chinquapin Road in Pinehurst, and the owner of perhaps the finest golf art gallery and collectibles shop in America is already doing his famous Irish door dance, spinning the tale of an item in his well-loved establishment.
The item is an extraordinary scale model of the iconic clubhouse of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews made from 37,000 meticulously hand-carved bricks by a retired NASA engineer and former Pinehurst resident named Mike Horstman.
The model’s price tag may be a stratospheric seventy-five grand but as with most things in Tom Stewart’s shop – including the genial proprietor himself – there’s no charge for the colorful backstory.
“Mike was a great guy, one of the early scientists who figured out how to send men to the moon using a computer barely stronger than an iPhone. After he moved here with his wife she told him, ‘Mike, you can’t start drinking until six o’clock so you better find a second hobby.’ So he took up making amazing models of famous clubhouses. He did Augusta National’s clubhouse followed by Pinehurst’s. They sold in no time. The R&A clubhouse here is Mike’s final work.”
Stewart’s early visitor eyes a gorgeous silver trophy cup standing on top of a display cabinet filled with rare golf books, sports figurines, Crosby Tournament decanters, brass Putter Boys, vintage photographs and Harvie Ward signature golf balls.
The proprietor’s face lights up. “Oh,” he declares, “you’ve got to see that!”
So down it comes – a sterling silver trophy cup from the Inverness Invitational Tournament staged between 1935 and 1952, complete with the inscribed names of the tournament’s winning teams, the likes of Walter Hagen and Ky Lafoon, Henry Picard and Johnny Revolta, Horton Smith and “Lighthorse” Harry Cooper and others.
“Please note … Ben Hogan and Jimmy Demaret. They won it four times.” This leads to the story of how such a unique artifact came his way from an aging private collector who placed his beloved golf artifacts in the hands of Stewart, hoping to find both a good new home and a fair price.
One learns this is a common circumstance throughout the rambling floors of the eccentric establishment that sits just a mashie-shot off the square in the Home of American Golf, Pinehurst’s own version of Charles Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop.
Some locals even think of Stewart as the de facto Lord Mayor of Pinehurst because his shop is both a daily destination for locals who love to gab about golf, and a mandatory stop for serious collectors and curious tourists.
Interested in a framed photograph of the 1999 U.S. Ryder Cup team signed by Payne Stewart and Tiger Woods? How about late Masters Chairman Hord Hardin’s Wilson Staff golf clubs (never used, a steal at $600) or a rare private golf book collection that includes first editions of titles like Chronicles of Blackheath Golfers, Harry Vardon’s The Complete Golfer and Sir Walter G. Simpson’s The Art of Golf.
“The collection is extremely rare, with an appraised value of $35,000,” explains the fellow who once owned and sold Samuel Ryder’s original work desk. “But you could probably get it for $12,000.”
Stewart pauses, Irish eyes twinkling. “Fair terms can be worked out. See the front desk for details.”
In the market for a mint-condition MacGregor persimmon driver from the age of Arnie and Jack or a vintage hickory-shafted putter from the Golden Age of Golf? The Old Sport has barrels full of them.
Ditto signed photographs of Arnie and Jack, Seve and Payne, just about every tournament champion you’d care to name from any era, along with framed letters from half a dozen U.S. Presidents, rare etchings, authentic tournament signs (“Masters Parking 50-Cents”), vintage adverts, rare prints, autographed club flags, major championship memorabilia and arguably the finest collection of framed historic and contemporary golf art by the hands of the game’s most celebrated artists.
If a Richard Chorley original oil of Pinehurst or rare giclée of Charles Lees’ 1847 masterpiece “The Golfers” – all 7 feet of it – is out of your man-cave budget, how about Michael Jordan’s autographed retirement jersey from the Chicago Bulls, or Dick Butkus’ signed Bears helmet? Over there is a signed team jersey from the victorious USA Hockey squad known as “the Miracle on Ice” that beat the Russians at Lake Placid in 1980, sitting right next to Mikhail Gorbachev’s personal golf bag.
But more on that in a Moscow minute.
Point is, keep following your eye around the shop and you’re bound to discover something that trips your nostalgia switch. That is, after all, the purpose of a true curiosity shop, equal parts golf museum and sports collector’s paradise – the very reason Stewart and his Russian-born wife, Ilana, and their young son, Bryan, rolled into Pinehurst and opened the shop in the historic Harvard Hotel building back in 1997.
“In a sense,” Stewart explains, “Old Sport came directly out of my own long journey through the game, a love affair with the people, traditions and art of golf that I was more or less born into.”
A Life Member of the PGA of America, Stewart is the son of a rural Michigan postman and registered nurse. By age 10 he was already caddying at his hometown Petoskey-Bay View Golf Club in Northern Michigan. As captain of the Aquinas College golf team, Stewart spent summers working as an assistant professional at elite Wequetonsing Golf Club in Harbor Springs, after which he went on to compete on the Australian-New Zealand and South American tournament circuits with his traveling pal Fred Muller (longtime head pro at Crystal Downs). He capped off an award-winning career as head professional at several leading clubs by being recruited by Arnold Palmer to run the prestigious men-only Adios Golf Club of South Florida, where his members included the likes of Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and even one Donald J. Trump.
In between these compass points of a career, Stewart also managed to just miss being elected to Congress from the largest district east of the Mississippi, studied at Scotland’s mystical Findhorn Foundation, volunteered at Mother Teresa’s hospice in Calcutta, helped build the first golf course in Mother Russia and taught Russian premier Mikhail Gobachev how to play golf – hence the golf bag for sale in the gallery.
Gorby even wrote his teacher a warm one-page, handwritten, thank-you note in lovely Cyrillic lettering, to which the recipient added, in English, a cheeky postscript: “By the way, more importantly, thank you for giving me the idea about tearing down the Berlin Wall!”
Almost from the day it opened, however, Old Sport Gallery became Tom Stewart’s personal home of golf, the preferred gathering spot for everyday fans and a Who’s Who of the game who regularly drop by just to see what’s new – or, as it were, old.
“For the right person, this could be a wonderful opportunity to make a great living doing what you love in the Home of American golf. The incredible people you will rub elbows with will be the icing on the cake.” – Tom Stewart
“I’ve been the luckiest guy on earth,” confides the Lord Mayor on this frosty January morning. “It has been such a rewarding journey. I was 50 when we arrived in Pinehurst. I’m now about to turn 73. Bryan has grown up and flown the coop and Ilana and I agree that it is, as they say, time for a new chapter.”
He means this quite literally.
Among other things, Stewart is the author of two delightful golf books including a terrific compilation of traditional golf stories and sporting art called A Tribute to Golf, and a beautiful companion on the aesthetics of course design called The Nature of Golf.
A third project has been underway for years, an unfinished memoir of his exploits and travels through the game that he plans to title What Time is the Noon Shotgun – And Other Wild Tales From the Golf Shop. He’s also at work researching a book on the history of prayer – this from a fellow who has made more than a dozen trips to meditate with the silent monks of Thomas Merton’s Gethsemane Monastery in Kentucky.
This spiritual urging and the timely resurgence of golf’s popularity in the Days of COVID, combined with the success of his recent Pure Golf online auctions, have convinced him that now is the moment to hand off his iconic golf shop to someone who can carry it forth and enjoy a wonderful lifestyle in the process. The shop, he notes, has just finished one of its best years ever and the collectibles market is unquestionably on the rebound.
“For the right person, this could be a wonderful opportunity to make a great living doing what you love in the Home of American golf,” he said. “The incredible people you will rub elbows with will be the icing on the cake.”
Which really leaves only one unanswered question? How much for the Old Curiosity Shop of Golf?
The eyes twinkle again.
“Fair terms can be worked out. See the front desk for details.”
For interested parties, Tom Stewart can be reached at (910) 315-5511 or contacted at Tomstewartpga@gmail.com
Photos: Courtesy Tom Stewart
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