Feature Interview No. 2 with Philip Young
Philip Young is the Historian for the Tillinghast Association and biographer of A.W. Tillinghast. Through his company, Golden Age Research LLC, he provides a variety of historical research services for golf clubs, architects, golf organizations, media outlets and individuals (www.goldenageresearch.com). He’s the author of a number of books including his latest club history, History of San Francisco Golf Club. Among his client clubs are courses that were designed by Alister MacKenzie, Harry Colt, Tom Bendelow, Hugh Alison, Wilfreid Reid, Bill Diddle, Devereaux Emmet and, of course, A.W. Tillinghast. His passion for golf, course architecture and Tillinghast came through his lifelong love for Bethpage and the Black. Since he played his first round at Bethpage in 1967 he has enjoyed more than 1,000 rounds there with 400+ of them on the Black.
How did A.W. Tillinghast become interested in golf?
It appears that both he & his father took it up together in the early 1890s. At the time Tilly was still a rambunctious young man, more into rebellion and running with his friends. Although he was already working for his father’s rubber goods business he would much rather have been anywhere else. So it is my belief that at least part of the reason that Tilly’s father took up the game was to steer Tilly away from his bad associations and to spend needed time with him, and it appeared to work from the very beginning as both became passionate lovers of everything to do with golf. Where they first played and how they got the equipment is unknown. But they both became founding members of the Belfield Country Club in the mid-1890s and Tilly was already showing signs of his manic passion for it. It was this shared passion that would have B.C. Tillinghast treat his son and his young wife to their first trip over in 1895, and they absolutely fell in love with the country, the clubs, courses, and most importantly, the players of fame and history whom they met.
Tell us more about Tillinghast’s trips to the United Kingdom. Who did he meet?
Tilly’s vivacious personality was also maturing and he would befriend many of the great players in the U.K. The person with whom he would write most intimately about was Old Tom Morris. He met him on his first trip over and would spend a good deal of time with him on succeeding trips. He would write about the time that Old Tom showed the Open championship belt that his son, Young Tom, retired. It was a preface to his sharing the details of his untimely death to this young man who I believe must have connected with him in a grandfatherly type fashion as by all accounts Old Tom wasn’t one to allow many into his personal life. They enjoyed an ongoing correspondence until the day Old Tom died.
Please tell us about Tillinghast’s relationship with another influential figure from the United Kingdom, Dr. Alister MacKenzie. Where and when do you suppose they first met?
Although we can’t give a definitive date for when they initially met, undoubtedly a fast friendship quickly developed and it had to have been prior to 1901 and probably as early as 1898. I say this because of several entries from the journals of Dr. David Scott-Taylor. Consider these:
On May 4th, 1901, he wrote: “By the looks of things Tilly will be here on July 1st so lots to catch up on and he wants to see a first class match whilst he’s here. Must remember to ask Mac next week about the next Roses match at Headingly or Old Trafford and if there is one, can we get Tilly there.” This arranging a day together at a “Roses” cricket match with MacKenzie for Tilly seems to be something that one would do for a friend and not a stranger.
Then there is the one from July 20, 1901, in which he wrote, “He also asked if I got the Journal on Heart surgery. I said I did and thanked him for it along with the note. I also informed him of Mac’s (Alister MacKenzie) invitation to Old Trafford on the 25th to see Lancashire and Gloucestershire play cricket and to Leeds to visit Mac before they traveled north to Scotland. Tilly was excited in both, though I think Lillian was not as pleased…”
It’s hard to imagine from those that David Scott-Taylor thought anything other than that Tilly and MacKenzie were already good friends.
They would maintain a close life-long friendship. In 1924, MacKenzie published a depiction of the Old Course at St. Andrews. The legend on it states that it was “Surveyed and Depicted by Alister Mackenzie [with his signature] Golf Course Architect March 1924.” He sent a copy to Tilly and signed it, “To my friend A.W. Tillinghast from A. MacKenzie.”
They spent time together on different occasions through the years including during the U.S. Amateur championship at Pebble Beach in 1929.
Old Tom died in 1908 and yet Tilly didn’t complete his first real course of lasting merit until 1911. So what stayed with him from his numerous trips to the United Kingdom as he began his life as a golf course architect?
If there was anyone who had an influence on his work in America it would have been Old Tom, yet I am of the opinion that no one in the U.K. influenced his rapidly growing love of golf course architecture as much as the courses themselves. From the very beginning he both sketched and photographed the great holes of every course he visited and/or played. The image of Old Tom standing in his shop’s doorway is the iconic image of the grand old man of the game and certainly hints at the quality that may have been seen in the course photographs. That is why the fire that destroyed all of his personal effects including drawings, sketches, documents, writings and yes, photographs when the barn where they were being stored on his son-in-law’s property 10 years after his death in 1952 was a monumental loss to the history of golf architecture and the game itself.
All of that to say that it was the courses and individual holes that he studied and sketched which influenced his growing passion for golf course architecture.
What influenced him in the United States?
Possibly the largest influence on his work in America was how friendly he became with numerous great players, amateurs and professionals alike, because he certainly became convinced that he had the game to compete on the highest levels of competition. Consider: when he came back from a trip to the U.K. in the summer of 1898 he built a rudimentary golf course in a public park in Frankford, a suburb of Philadelphia. There he taught the public how to play. He was obviously passionate about golf architecture at this point, so why did it take until some 10+ years later at Shawnee for him to design his first real golf course? I’m convinced it was because he wanted to compete as a player rather than design courses. He played tournaments of all sizes and importance anywhere that he could get to. He was convinced that he belonged with the very best. In 1904 he was awarded the Silver Cross medal of the Golf Association of Philadelphia which was presented to the year’s outstanding golfer. That year he didn’t lose a single match in GAP play. Probably the highlight of his playing career was when he finished 25th and was 2nd low amateur in the 1910 U.S. Open at his home Philadelphia Cricket Club.
Who were the players he befriended?
They included Andra Kirkaldy, Bob Martin, Sandy Herd, David Honeyman Jr. (who would work as a construction supervisor for 5 years for Tilly after coming over following WW I), Fred Tait and Ben Sayers with whom he established an especially close friendship. Many of the truly great players would make it their practice to play at Shawnee because of Tilly and that is why two months before Ouimet’s victory at Brookline, young J.J. McDermott beat Vardon & Ray in the 1913 Shawnee Open.
How many courses did Tillinghast touch (from original designs to just doing a single hole modification)?
In 1934, Tilly wrote that he had “designed and built several hundred courses.” Today we can positively identify fewer than 100 original designs of his. When you add in those where he did redesigns and/or additions we’re still well short of “several hundred courses.”
Consider the possibilities of just how many courses that may have his hand in them without their even knowing. In the early teens he advertised that he would design greens for any club that sent him course design drawings with elevations. He would send back both the completed designs and plasticene models which he would make himself. He paid for a number of advertisements of this type so it leads one to believe that he probably got a few of these commissions.
He advertised in the Canadian addition of Golf Illustrated throughout the 1920s. Again, we know of very few Canadian designs, but that he spent the time and money to specifically advertise that he worked in Canada again makes one wonder if there are other courses that he designed and/or renovated that we don’t know about.
Then there are the more than 430+ courses that he visited during his PGA Course Consultation Tour from 1935 to 1937, and these are the ones we have information on. There are several months of missing correspondence during which he was visiting other courses. How many of these carried out his recommendations? That is a major unanswered question as well.
Wow! That’s an incredible amount of courses where he was actually on-site. I imagine that Tillinghast’s long reach from coast to coast surprises most people, yes?
In 1916, an article appeared in the Des Moines News in Iowa. It was an interview with Tilly in which, when asked how many golf courses would be built in America that year, he answered, “500 golf courses will be built this season…” and that he has “bid on at least 100 in the East and South…” Now I’m sure these were probably just preliminary letters sent to potential clients announcing his availability to design their new course, but can you imagine any single architect who was that determined to get work other than Tilly? 100 attempts in a year… it boggles the mind. And yet, how many might have actually hired him and do we know them all?
In 1920, in an advertisement for his services, Tilly listed that just “SOME of his work” that year had him in Philadelphia, 4 different locations in New York State, 5 in New Jersey, 3 in Texas, along with Connecticut, Tennessee, Oklahoma, California and even at Shawnee in Pa. With no interstate highways, no rent-a-car centers, gas stations not that common in many areas, phones and even electricity still considered luxuries in many places, not to mention that his computer consisted of a pencil and sketchpad, how was he able to design SFGC, Brook Hollow, Cedar Brook, 36 at Philly Cricket, work on the 36 at Baltusrol, Kingsport, Port Jervis, Suburban and Tulsa Country Clubs as original designs while also redesign Fort Worth, Dallas and Cedar Crest CC in Texas, Mt. Kisco, Quaker Ridge, Norwood, Spring Lake, Upper Montclair, Sound Beach, Glen Ridge and Shawnee? And again, this was just “some” of his work that year!
Of all of Tillinghast’s works that you have seen, which remains the purest to his design beliefs?
This is a very difficult question to answer for several reasons. The first goes back to the philosophy of design that he actually wrote about in an article in which he stated that he believed that the single most important contribution that he made as an architect were his “green entrances.” He believed that despite the improved equipment changes that technology was bringing about during his own time that a skilled player in America needed to have a solid ground game in order to become truly accomplished. And so he made green entrances which would reward a well-struck shot that used the ground to enter the putting surface and punish those that weren’t. Yet by the time the mid-30s came about the ground game for the accomplished player was already becoming a thing of the past.
The second is defining the idea of how a course could remain “pure to his design beliefs” over time? Well, wouldn’t the answer be the course that has had the least changes done to it by the clubs? If that was the case the answer would be simple… Bethpage Red. Other than a lengthening of holes during the last 10-15 years, which was done by the addition of back tees, no major changes were made to the course. Yet the course has dramatically changed away from Tilly’s “design beliefs” in two ways since Tilly designed and built it. The first happened in 1942 when Bethpage scaled back its operations because of greatly reduced play with WW II having broken out. The funds for maintaining the courses almost completely dried up. Both the Black and the original Blue courses were closed from 1942 until in early summer 1945 the Park administration recognized that it was time to re-open the two courses. The problem was that during those three years not a single lawn mower had cut a blade of grass on either course… not one single blade! They restored the greens by getting a center point and simply cutting large circles without any attempt to restore the grandly huge green complexes that had existed. The same maintenance issues that saw Black & Blue courses become shadows of what they had been also greatly affected the Red course. The greens on Red became greatly reduced in size. Ongoing poor maintenance would see the bunkers become shadows of what they had been. And so the poor course condition greatly effected its ability to be played as Tilly designed it to be: as a fun course for the average player and a true challenge for the accomplished player. Once again the second impact is the way technology has enabled even average players to hit longer drives, hence the “medium-length” dogleg par-4s on the Red (e.g.- 2nd & 3rd holes) are now short par-4s for them and absolutely no one would consider playing a running shot landing short of the green and on to it.
How about those clubs which have made concerted efforts to “restore” Tilly back into their courses? Wouldn’t one of these be an answer to it? That brings up an even more interesting question… How does a club know that they are restoring Tilly’s “design intent?” Several examples of what I am talking about. Few Tilly clubs have dedicated themselves to restoring their Tillinghast masterpiece as SFGC. They even brought back holes 13-15 when a considerable number of members questioned the need to do so. They are absolutely committed to bringing the true Tillinghast course back in every possible way. But I ask this question, to what VERSION of the course should it be restored? Let me explain. Tilly designed the current course in March 1924 and remained on site and personally oversaw the laying out and rough-in of the green complexes. So that seems to be the answer, return to his 1924 design. The problem with that is that Tilly returned in 1927 and “tweaked” the course, he redesigned a good portion of the course late in 1929 with the work being overseen by Billy Bell who he recommended the club should hire for the work, he came back in 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936 & 1938 making numerous changes ranging from adding and subtracting bunkers to relocating most of the greens at least once to redesigning the 14th hole alone on 4 different occasions. So I ask, to which version of the course should the course be restored to?
Well then, what if a club not only specifically knows to which year they want it restored, but they hire an unquestioned Tillinghast expert to do so? How could they fail? The answer lay in their not knowing their own history. Brook Hollow Golf Club asked Coore and Crenshaw to restore their Tillinghast course and to bring it back to the post-WW II conditions. They did a fabulous job in doing so. The only problem was that by restoring the 1945 era greens they weren’t restoring Tillinghast greens, they restored Perry Maxwell greens. Unknown at the time was that during his 1936 PGA Course Consultation Tour Tilly recommended that the club redesign a green. As he couldn’t do this himself he recommended that they hire a young and talented local architect, Perry Maxwell. By the time he was finished in the project which took place in 1938-39, he had redesigned 17 of the greens. The club was so impressed with the work that was done they then hired him to now change the putting surfaces from Bermuda to Bent grass greens. So he redid once more what he had just redesigned. These greens were mature and “perfect” according to their Board minutes by 1945.
So the true short answer to your question is that I simply can’t define which one has. There are a number of his clubs which have had truly outstanding “restorations/redesigns” that have restored much of Tilly’s original design intent back to what he meant. Among these, and in no particular order nor is the list complete, are Fenway, Bethpage Black, SFGC, 5 Farms, Brackenridge Park, Baltusrol, Paramount & Sands Point…
What are the three greatest misconceptions about Tillinghast and his work?
1. That he had predictable styles he used in designing individual holes and features. For example, his bunkers ranged from ovoid with little definition to large massive sweepings of sand with fingers and extremely detailed edges.
2. That he was influenced by CB Macdonald’s work and theories. Tilly was friends with “Charlie” as he called him and did use a number of features and hole types found in the U.K. (e.g. the Redan) on a number of his courses, but this came from his own studies of the great courses and holes in the U.K. As I mentioned above, he both photographed and sketched holes and courses constantly both while in the U.K. and throughout his life. He actually took credit for introducing specific design features from the U.K. into American golf course design. An example of this was his early use of “Mid-Surrey mounding” which he wrote about. Currently we can definitively place him overseas in 1895, 1897, 1898, 1899 & 1901. I believe that he also was there in 1896 & possibly 1900. Although we don’t know why he stopped going over, the reasons may range from his father no longer paying for the trips to his immersing himself into as much competitive golf as possible.
3. I’ve visited numerous different Tilly courses at which each had a member who told me that a certain par 3, 4 or 5 on their course was well-known as Tilly’s personal favorite. Hate to burst their bubble, but Tilly never described a single hole as being his favorite above all others. That he singled out specific holes and wrote far more about them than others is true; yet it must only be taken in the context of what he wrote.
Let me mention something else, although this isn’t a true misconception. Today we take for granted that Tilly (and all other architects of the time) got the commissions that he did. Most don’t realize just how hard he worked at getting these commissions and likewise at growing in his craft. He was a consummate salesman who spent as much time cold-calling for work as he did the actual work when he was working on a project. Take what he did in 1916 as an example. He arrived in San Antonio the last week of September to design Brackenridge Park. By the time he left 6 weeks later he talked himself into the commissions for the 36-hole design at Fort Sam Houston (18 holes only built due to WW I with an additional 9 built after) and the redesign of the San Antonio CC. While there he drew the plans for each course, staked them out and oversaw the beginnings of the construction and left them with plasticene models which he made himself for each hole. During this stay he also managed to write a daily column in the San Antonio Light newspaper about the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. That was typical Tilly.
Here’s another example. In early November 1919 he arrived with his wife Lillian in San Diego. They made frequent trips out there to visit her sister. Newspaper accounts record how after his visit was complete that Tilly (with Lillian) spent the next two months working his way up the coast providing design services to clubs primarily in designing new green complexes for courses to replace their sand greens with grass ones. The only course of these that we know by name is Midwick CC and Tilly even got a signed contract from the club to pay George Low to come out from Baltusrol to build them which he did that winter. Tilly ended that trip in late January 1920 with his first new course design for SFGC.
Tillinghast passed away in 1942 in the middle of WWII. For the 13 years prior, the Great Depression made for a horrible climate for practicing golf course architecture. Yet, during that period, Tillinghast remained remarkably busy. What were the highlights of his work during that time frame?
These were quite difficult years for everyone involved in golf including architects. Yet even during those days there were still some wonderful courses being built and existing ones worked on. Among these were Alpine, Brooklawn, Norwood , Sunningdale, Wykagl & Swope Memorial. He would end the decade working on a number of courses with his then partner Billy Bell. These included Brookside GC, CC of Fairfield & Virginia CC. Yet in my opinion, there are three projects that set themselves head and shoulders above all the others.
1. His PGA Course Consultation Tour from August 1935 to September 1937. During this time he visited and offered free advice ranging from minor alterations to complete new course designs for the 452 courses that we can confirm that he visited although there were probably a fair number of others as not all of his course reports to the PGA have been found.
2. To this day there has not been a larger single golf design and redesign project that matches Bethpage. Tilly designed three new courses and redesigned an existing 4th which included a re-routing and major changes to each hole. There are larger projects where as many as 10 courses have been built at a site, but none of these saw 3 new designs and redesign done at the same time and with the construction of each completed within less than 2 years. This was a monumental design and construction project.
3. Beginning with a small “tweaking” in 1927, from late 1929 through 1938 Tilly visited SFGC 8 separate times and would redesign every hole except the 7th. He relocated most of the greens, removed bunkers while adding others and redesigning the rest, he would even make changes to the 14th hole, what he called the course’s “weak sister” on 4 separate occasions. In many ways this was for Tilly what Pinehurst #2 was for Ross.
Please provide a favorite example of a par 3, par 4, and par 5 by Tillinghast that was challenging for the good player yet remained fun for the average player.
This is the most difficult question that you’ve asked me. I believe that so many of the holes that Tilly designed, even those considered most challenging and penal, can still be played by the average golfer and enjoyed. Otherwise how can one explain the desire of the vast majority of those who play the game to want to experience the great courses of the world when they know that they are beyond their ability to score on? When he gets that chance, that his “par” is now a bogey doesn’t bother him; in fact it inspires him because on that rare occasion he’ll make a true par and even a very occasional bird, he’ll be talking about it for weeks. 400+ rounds on the Black taught me that golf is a game of relative planned accomplishment and this is why golf is the most thinking of all sports.
And so I give you a choice of three holes of each type described in Tilly’s own words. Although there are so many other holes on numerous Tilly courses both known and unknown, I chose these because they epitomize the definition of what you asked, a “favorite example” of holes both “challenging for the good player” and “fun for the average player.” It would be a much different list if you asked me to name his specific best holes only two of which, in my opinion, appear among these nine:
“It has been said that no course is any greater than its one-shot holes. These should be stand-outs, all together imposing and inspiring…”
• Winged Foot West 10th hole “Pulpit”
“Let every hole be worthy of a name.”
• San Francisco Golf Club 7th hole “Duel”
“Without a doubt the one-shotter exerts the greatest appeal generally. Now the shot which seems to yield the greatest interest is one played from an elevation considerably higher than the fairway below. It is spectacular to player and gallery alike…”
• Bethpage Black 8th hole “Hill and Tree”
“I believe that a controlled pitch… calls for one of the most skillfully executed of all strokes known to the golfer.”
• Ridgewood Center 6th hole “Five and Dime”
“Golf… is the one game in which the player’s ball is not subject to the interference of the opponent. It is a question of the supremacy of accurate strokes without human interference, nevertheless, and its name is ‘hazard,’ which is golfese for trouble.”
• Philadelphia Cricket Club-Wissahickon 14th hole “Hell’s Quarter Acre”
“Undoubtedly the Home hole, should be one of the most exacting of any. No matter what its character may be, the hole must demand precise judgment and accurate execution… If his round ends happily it is one beautiful course. Such is human nature.”
• Winged Foot West 18th hole “Revelations”
Bobby Jones included this hole in his list of “ideal 18 holes” and as a hole that gave him “a maximum amount of pleasure.”
• Baltusrol Lower 18th hole
“In contemplating the difficulties of Black, I have in mind particularly the long 4th, a par 5 of course. When this is played from the full-length of the teeing-ground it should prove one of the most exacting three-shotters I know of anywhere. In locating and designing the green, which can only be gained by a most precise approach from the right, I must confess I was a trifle scared myself, when I looked back and regarded the hazardous route that must be taken by a stinging second shot to get into position to attack this green.”
• Bethpage Black 4th hole “Tilly’s Terror”
“The ideal three-shot hole is a combination of a long two-shotter and a short one; two long shots so played as to permit the next, an accurate iron to find and hold the green. I believe that only a hole such as this may be regarded as a satisfactory three-shotter.”
• Winged Foot West 12th hole “Cape”
Tell us about Southward Ho Country Club.
Southward Ho CC was designed and staked out by Tilly in 1924. It is actually referred to in one of the letters between Tilly & 5 Farms. Tilly had a tractor delivered to the 5 Farms site and when the Club objected that they might have to pay for it he told them not to worry and that he was going to have it “shipped to Bay Shore” on Long Island where he was building another course. This proves that SoHoCC was also built by the construction side of his business as well. I’m currently providing ongoing historical research to the club which has already produced some wonderful results.
For example, the first day I was on-site a member walked in with a framed picture and told me that it had been on the floor in the back of a closet and he only remembered it when he heard that a “historian was coming to the club.” It was the long-missing original Tillinghast design drawing.
I mention this for several reasons. First, because some of the best historical finds are accidental and quite often already in the possession of a member who simply forgot they had it. Secondly, up to that time the only known copy of the design drawing was a half portion. The entire drawing revealed a Tillinghast golf course design that was unique. First, it is barely ½ mile inland from the Atlantic Ocean, meaning that this is the nearest he ever got to a sea-side design. The course also had three hole types that he used on a variety of locations, but never have all three been used at a single site of which we know.
The individual holes taken from the original design drawing:
The routing is a fascinating one especially because the course was shoe-horned into a narrow and long tract of land only hinted at in the design drawing. It was further confined by having the LIRR on the north boundary and Route 27A on the south with an existing bridle path that runs around 2/3 of the perimeter of the golf course. Tilly, who detested parallel holes, found it impossible to avoid yet once one has played the course, the genius of how he paralleled the holes comes out. It is because of the predominant wind which comes from the south and off the ocean. In fact, wind is a constant feature at the course regardless of the direction and strength. So even though they are basically parallel consider what he did with holes 5 to 12.
The 5th plays directly into the wind and a long 400 yards while 6 comes directly back with a short 370. 7 turns directly back into the wind and an even longer 430 yards followed by a 375-yard par-4 8th that continues into the wind before a 90 degree dogleg right that turns around a corner some 220+ yards from the tee. Now one meets little Tilly, a 120 yard down-wind test carry over water. That delicacy is followed by 2 par-5s, both that play directly down-wind as well with the 10th at 490 yards and the 11th with Hell’s Half-Acre 570 yards. These two long holes are now followed by the relief of a short par-4 of 325 yards except that you’re no turned directly back into the prevailing wind. These holes individually and collectively prove Tilly’s design mantra that “a hole is only as long as it plays.”
Despite the predominance of north to south, up and down wind holes, the 4 par-3s are angled in a way that each plays differently from a wind perspective. The 160 yard 4th is turned almost directly east followed by Little Tilly on the 9th directly north. The Reef hole 14th is played directly back into the south and the wind off the bay and so its 190 yards requires a long and accurate carry. The 215 yard 17th plays north east and is another very challenging hole.
Today the course has endured what nearly every golden age course did, changes made to it via both architects (Alfred Tull & Stephen Kay among others) and by Boards/Green Committees. So Little Tilly is now gone with a new green placed some 40 yards past where the original green site was and the Hell’s Half-Acre is now simply a series of mounds that run from one side of the rough across the fairway to others in the opposite side rough with its sand and rough patches gone. Even without these two amazing features the club can be quite challenging for the better and accomplished players while being immensely playable and a great deal of fun for the average and lesser one. You walk off the 18th and want to play it again.
The club is now considering the prospect of a master plan to recover as much of Tilly’s original work as is feasible and so I have high hopes for the future of the course and its Tillinghast heritage.
A few further historical items about the club. The course was built on the site of the Bossert Estate, a real estate magnate who built and owned the luxury Bossert Hotel in Brooklyn Heights.
From the beginning the club has been a true country club with swimming and even a summer day camp for children of members. One of the really interesting bits of their history that has come out is how from 1929 to 1933, about once a month during the summers the club would hold boxing matches on-site followed by a dinner dance. I just find that quite humorous as well as being such an interesting peek into the cultural differences between then and now.
SoHoCC is also the place where Gil Hanse learned the game and where his grandmother is still a member.
What’s another hidden Tilly gem that you’ve come across in your work?
With all of the play and knowledge of the various courses of Long Island it seems impossible that there is the iconic, true hidden Tillinghast gem on its north shore. What may surprise some is to learn that among its history of notable members is one whose name shines as bright as any other in the history of the game, Herbert Warren Wind. Obviously he could have belonged to any club in the land, so the one that he chose must have been special indeed and even more so when you learn that he also served on its board for a number of years. Let me introduce you to Sands Point Golf Club.
If ever there was a real club of which the mythical Gatsby would have been a member, this is it. When it was founded in 1927, its first board had as its President Averill Harriman who would serve as future governor of New York & U.S. Ambassador to the U.K His Vice-President was sportswriter Walter Camp. Among the early members were Vincent Astor, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Harry Guggenheim, Bernard Baruch, Irving Berlin and Mrs. William Randolph Hearst.
What makes this club’s history nearly unique is that it was founded as a polo club with golf considered as mostly a secondary pursuit along with skeet shooting which is still has a dedicated portion of the membership enjoying it today.
After examining the site, which was made up of two existing 9-hole courses that had failed during the teens, Tilly wrote, “As it is laid out you cannot anticipate a really good course by any development of the present holes without change…” And so he designed a brand new course which used only four of the green sites and some portions of the existing fairways.
In his letter he wrote, “Briefly summing up I answer your queries this way:
“Is the property worthy of a modern course? Most assuredly.
“Is the present plan good? No, it is very bad.
“Can you provide a plan for a distinguished course on this property without encroaching on the polo field? Yes…
“In presenting my suggestions, I have no intention of urging an exceedingly long or difficult course, but rather one which will be interesting and pleasurable to play…” And that he did.
Two years ago Keith Foster accomplished what has become a major part of his trademark, restoring a golden age course by one of the great architects back to the way it was intended. Tilly designed a course that was “pleasurable to play” and Keith brought back a course that you walk off the 18th green wanting to go directly back to the first tee. Not because of the challenge, although there certainly is enough teeth in it to satisfy even the accomplished player, but because it is absolutely fun to play. Standing there with Keith last fall he told me that he would definitely choose this course to play every day, he enjoyed it that much.
On August 16, 1977, Tom Weiskopf would set the course record with a 60 from the 6628 yard championship tees. If you can find your way to play there you will find dynamic greens, wide fairway corridors, large bunkers you can avoid, and if it’s in the later part of the day on a sunny afternoon, upon cresting the small hill that the fairway runs over on the 601-yard 14th hole, a sight that will stop you in your tracks as the incredible green complex stands out against as it is lit up by the sun. It is an incredible sight.
To get a taste of the course, some of the holes and the work that Keith did, visit the club’s website at: www.sandspointgc.org. There you can review the “project manual,” a four-part series titled “Field of Dreams.” Playing the course I understood why of all clubs this is the one at which Herbert Warren Wind wanted to spend his time.
What three Tillinghast holes do you most wish still survived and why?
1. Original Bethpage Blue 5th hole par-4 300 yards. This is the only par-4 “Reef” hole that Tilly designed of which we know. Think about this as it was considered by Tilly in 1934 to be a DRIVABLE par 4! In fact, even though it exists as the 12th hole on the Yellow course with all of the great reef features gone, it played an important role behind the scenes for the 2009 Open on the Black. For quite a while there was a strong debate as to whether or not to turn a hole into a drivable par-4 for the championship. I took a very strong stand against this as it would have bastardized the design intent that Tilly had created for whichever hole they chose. In a conversation with Mike Davis in 2008 when the decision was to be made I stated that Tilly didn’t desire any par-4 on the Black to be drivable. He asked me how I could be so sure and I responded by stating that “Tilly has designed drivable par-4 at Bethpage and it was on the Blue course.” I then explained the Reef hole and that would end up providing Mike with the historical back-up that was needed to make the decision. This is also the true “smoking gun” proof that Tilly designed the courses at Bethpage because not another architect of his day and on down to just recently, ever designed a “REEF” hole.
2. Fresh Meadow 5th hole par-5 578 yards. Visit the Tillinghast Association website at www.tillinghast.net and under the heading for championship brochures, examine the two from the major championships held at Fresh Meadow in 1930 & 1932. In it hole diagrams and photos with comments by Tilly. This is what he wrote about the 5th: “Fresh meadow’s classic. The hole is slightly dog-leg from an elevated tee. A drive must be straight down a long ribbon-like fairway. Out of bounds for the slightest hook. Lines of trees and heavy grass for a slice. Second shot must be a long exact brassie, where a hook is out of bonds and a slice is in the water [there was actually a small pond surrounded by 2 traps on the left but a large water feature to the right of the fairway to which he refered]. A pitch-chot third must be exact, the traps guarding the green on both sides and another pit in front to catch a topped shot.” When you see the hole drawing it looks incredibly challenging yet fun to try.
3. SFGC, these actually being the original three practice holes. While on the Tilly Association website you take a careful look at the original course design drawings, you’ll see that he designed a three-hole practice course [there wasn’t a practice range till later] that sat in the triangle formed by the 18th, 17th and 10th holes. The tee boxes still exist with the underground reservoir where rainwater, etc…, is caught for use on the course covering over what had once been there.
Switching gears away from Tillinghast, how did you determine that Bloomfield Hills was, in fact, designed by Colt in 1913?
Late in the fall of 2012 a copy of an old letter was found. It was written by the first President of BHCC and in it he wrote, “Having a very high regard for the ability of Mr. Colt, who so efficiently enabled us to correct the difficulties which existed in the original congested Bloomfield Hills golf course…” And so the Board asked Keith Foster, who had just completed a master plan for the course, if there was any possibility that Harry Colt had redesigned the golf course. Keith told them that he couldn’t see a single feature that reminded him of Colt’s work, but if they wanted an answer they should have me research it for them. That is how I found myself outside of Detroit at the clubhouse of BHCC on a VERY cold afternoon.
To preface my answer a bit further, a member made a good effort to resolve this question more than a decade earlier leading to a Colt mention on the Club’s website, but nothing definitive was proven at the time.
The “discovery” actually took all of 4 hours once I began. The reason for this seemingly ridiculously quick determination when no one else was able to do so is due to a quality that I bring to the job that all those at the club don’t have. This is actually something I explain to every potential client. I have the gift of “fresh eyes.” In other words, I am looking at everything for the very first time and doing so with a purpose of studying it for answers to specific questions. Those at the club, and I am not singling out BHCC for this as this happens at almost every club I know, see things and look at them with the “facts” that they have learned to be the truth from years of having it repeated to them by other club members. A good example of this is the wonderful framed set of original hole design drawings done by Donald Ross that hang on the wall of BHCC’s 2nd floor in the clubhouse. For years they have believed that Ross redesigned the course in 1922 and these drawings prove it. One of the quite exciting and completely unexpected outcomes of the research was being able to also prove that the Club never made the changes to the course that Ross had designed, but more on that later.
After a tour of the clubhouse by the General Manager, I began my search in the accountant’s office where they have this wonderful old nearly 6-foot tall safe. On the top shelf they showed me that all of the volumes of Board minutes they had which unfortunately only went back to the mid-1940s.
This is where my “fresh eyes” came into play. I began taking several down to begin a careful page-by-page reading to see what or if any possible mentions of the club & course beginnings might be in them when I saw that directly behind this row of minutes books was a second row. In fact, these books began with the first, organizational meeting in 1909 and continued on in an unbroken chain to connect by date to the ones in front of them on the shelf. In other words, they had every page of board minutes from every board meeting held in their history. A careful reading from the beginning answered numerous questions that the club had about their early years, including the Colt question, the Bendelow question of what he had actually designed, the Ross surprise and on through all of the architects and club’s green committee changes down to the day they brought Keith Foster in. This is the information that the board minutes contain which prove that Colt designed a new course and that it was built:
1. May 26, 1913: After Colt had visited the Club he sent a report with recommendations. At the meeting the report on the conditions of the course was read and the various points were discussed. Among these was the suggestion that an adjacent 50-acre tract of land be purchased so that the proposed new course could be extended onto it.
2. June 30, 1913: On this date the Board approved the purchase of the 50-acre tract of land recommended by Colt.
3. October 11, 1913: Between June and this date the club corresponded with Colt in England sending him property maps on which he could place a course design. On this date they approved the building of the course, with a few “suggested changes” (none of significance) made by the Green Committee, from the plans as prepared by Harry Colt. ”
4. January 1914: The year-end financial statement shows that the construction is definitely underway as there is a separate set of accounts for the project.
5. December 16, 1914: The Detroit Free Press reports that BHCC’s clubhouse is to be expanded. At the end of the article it also states, “The new golf course, laid out by Harry Colt, English expert, is completed and will rank with the finest in the middle west.”
In addition to the above, authenticating a golf course as having been designed by harry Colt and as such would mean that it would be the only solo Colt design in the U.S. is not something to be taken lightly. So we had two outstanding Colt experts perform a “peer review” of my findings, Paul Turner & Dr. Michael Hurdzan. Both were in agreement with the conclusions. In fact it was Paul who was able to define the window in which Colt would have been at BHCC during his 1913 visit to the U.S.
What follows are a series of photographs that we were able to definitively date to the spring of 1925. They show the relatively unchanged Harry Colt course.
Ca. 1925 Photographs of various holes all of the Harry Colt design:
Your research also showed that Tom Bendelow built the initial 6,300 course there in 1909.
Finding the Club’s early board minutes allowed for answers to several questions regarding the original course designed and built by Bendelow, one of which is the very one you ask. The first question the club had was a different one for they believed that Bendelow had designed a course of only 12 holes. We were able to prove that Bendelow designed an 18-hole course and that it was both built and even had a tournament played on prior to Colt designing the new course for the club.
This is the history of the Bendelow course at BHCC:
1. August 4, 1909: That the newly formed “Grounds Committee” of the Club was given the authority to prepare the grounds according to the plans and suggestions as submitted by “Mr. Bendelow.”
2. September 12, 1909: The Detroit Free Press records that construction of the golf course as designed by Bendelow was now underway, that work on it “is progressing nicely,” that it has been “inspected by several professional and amateur golfists” and that it should be ready for play by the spring.
3. January 21, 1910: Once again, the Detroit Free Press reports that the new course of the BHCC will be ready “in the spring.” It also mentions that the course will be “about 6,300 yards long” which would make it among the longest golf courses in America at the time. This also proves that the original Bendelow course was designed to have 18 holes from the very beginning.
4. December 4, 1911: The Board minutes report that “so far twelve holes, east of the woods, are in condition for use and the remaining six holes, lying to the west, have been rolled and seeded and will be ready for play sometime during the coming summer.” This definitively proves that the original Bendelow course design was for 18-holes and that all were built. It is also the probable source for the mistaken belief that he only designed 12 holes.
5. May 1912: The American Golfer reports that the Detroit City Golf Association will be holding a 3-day tournament on the new BHCC course August 22-24. This tournament, played on the now completed 18-hole course was played a year before Colt designed his course.
Did Colt use many of Bendelow’s playing corridors?
Unfortunately, despite a thorough search of the clubhouse and grounds at BHCC, not a single plan or sketch of any of the Bendelow course or any of the holes were found. So unless some in the future are I can only speculate. I do believe that some features, including several green sites, may have been used by Colt, although when examining the accounting ledgers for the project they strongly suggest that each would have been redesigned. But the proof that a new course design rather than a redesign of an existing course can be seen by the club following through on a major Colt recommendation, that is, the purchase of an adjacent 50-acre plot of land. For those familiar with BHCC, this plot included the extension on which the original Colt back-to-back par-3s were built.
The reason this proves it is because the Bendelow course was “approximately 6,300 yards” in length whereas the Colt course was 6264 yards. Imagine then how Bendelow must have shoe-horned that course onto a piece of property that was 50 acres smaller? Look at the course design as shown on this 1924 sprinkler drawing. Now imagine a different course of similar length and vastly different routing being designed and built on 50 fewer acres! They simply must have been strikingly different.
This drawing was another unexpected discovery which resulted from the research. As stated earlier, it had been long assumed that the 1922 Ross design was built. With the newly discovered board minutes proving that never happened that means that this course design used by the sprinkler contractor for a proposed sprinkler system (it is a pencil sprinkler drawing over-laid on an original design drawing) is a copy of the ORIGINAL Colt design drawing! One really neat feature which you might be able to make out is how the 1st, 10th & 18th fairways are all connected across the hillside leading up to the tees and green in front of the clubhouse.
Any idea why Bendelow’s course lasted only last 4 years?
The reality of seeing how small a piece of land Bendelow designed an 18-hole 6,300 yard course on provides enough of an explanation as to why the club believed from the very beginning that the course had serious flaws and so, when Harry Colt became available for a look at the course, they quickly followed his recommendations and built what we now know is the site of the only existing solo Harry Colt design left in the United States.
Currently the club is giving strong consideration to a new master plan created for them by Keith Foster with the sole goal of “bringing Colt back to America.” What an incredibly exciting idea and all who love great course architecture would surely encourage them to follow through on it.
That is exciting to contemplate – we wish Bloomfield Hills well! In that same part of the world, you presented a club history to Orchard Lake in 2013. What are your thoughts on the recent restoration work there carried out by Keith Foster?
First, by way of full disclosure, I’ve enjoyed a long relationship with Keith and have been involved in doing the research for several of his projects. That aside, I first became enamored with Keith’s work and thought process after seeing his work at 5 Farms. It was and remains insightful, well-conceived and carried out as well as true to both Tilly’s original design and principles of design. It comes as close to playing as originally designed and built as any golden age course that has been extended and restored to meet the standards of the modern game, both by club members and the best players in the world. I followed that visit up with a phone call and we’ve been friends ever since.
All that being said, from a professional perspective, Keith’s work at Orchard Lake CC matches what he has done at so many other wonderful golden age restorations/redesigns. Just as an amazing course that was covered over by nearly 80 years of use and changes to become something that is once again spectacular just as he did at Philly Cricket, he has brought back Hugh Alison’s genius to Orchard Lake equally as well.
Shot angles and choices of play greet the player regardless of skill. Challenges to avoid the now wonderful greenside bunkering are equaled by the putting surfaces. Yet once again, despite its tests for the accomplished player, the average member greatly enjoys the play through this wonderful layout by the lake.
For those who may have missed it, Ran, your own review of the course project is spot on and will give the reader a true understanding of what they will find at Orchard Lake.
An interesting find during the research was a combination of finding long-missing board minutes that detailed that no changes of substance occurred to the course between opening day and the late 1930s and therefor what a wonderful painting that hangs in the hallway opposite the clubhouse entrance into the pro shop actually represents.
The date of this work of art is 1933. It is actually an exact copy made from the original Alison design drawing and shows every feature from the original plans.
The motto on your Golden Age Research stationery is ‘Knowledge is 90% of the job.’ Please expound on that and how clubs benefit by gaining a clear understanding of their past.
Thanks for noticing the motto which I really believe is the key to both appreciating the history of golf course architecture and also a pre-requisite for any work that a club is considering to do on its golf course especially when a restoration is being considered. There was a relatively little known Tillinghast club that approached me a few years back about an architect, “A real Tillinghast expert” is how they described him, whom they had hired to restore the Tillinghast course back to its original design.
They explained how impressed a number of those on the board and green committee were as they walked the course with him and he pointed out how “Tilly definitely placed a bunker there” and “his original green was over here” and other amazing recognitions. There was just one small problem… Unknown to this generation of members, the actual Tillinghast course had been sold in the 1930s when the club moved from one side of town to the other. Needless to say that was a very tough conversation that followed.
It goes without saying that a club must carefully examine their accepted facts prior to publishing a club history book. Nearly 10 years ago now I did research for a club that needed answers to questions regarding their original course so that a restoration project could be done properly. During the course of the project my research led me to discover that a long-held story of how the club got its name was quite incorrect, as it supposedly involved something that occurred during its construction. The only problem was that a corporation in the name of the club was applied for before the architect ever actually set foot on the property. It would later turn out that the club was named after the first small property which they purchased .
Misinformation such as that can also have serious consequences for the worse when a club decides to restore back to original or update their course to meet the demands of today’s game with modern equipment. A good example of this is the Philly Cricket Club project.
Before it began there was a question as to what was the bunker style that Tilly had actually used in designing the original course and the future changes that he made. In some ways it was felt that the large ovoid bunkers were decidedly un-Tilly like as there weren’t big capes and fingers and sand-faces throughout. The research revealed a number of interesting things. First, never before seen aerial photographs from 1930 which clearly showed shapes and locations. Also, an appreciation in the variety and similarity of Tillinghast bunker designs at other courses by comparing the Wissahickon course to two other contemporaneous Tillinghast gems, 5 Farms and Fresh Meadows. If you visit the Tillinghast Association website (www.Tillinghast.net) you can examine the programs from the major championships held at both courses in both 1928 & 1932. In each one there are original hole designs done by Tilly for the tournaments showing the greens and bunker surrounds as they existed. These match the aerial photographs of the actual 1930 course.
Another example of the importance of accurate and correct knowledge and understanding when it comes to the restoration/renovation project especially of a golden age course is appreciating exactly how the course looked when the architect last worked on it as opposed to its original design. Did he make significant and/or subtle changes? Was there a style change to major features such as bunkers or putting surfaces. If the goal of the project is to restore what the architect wanted for his design both philosophically and in actuality then as complete a knowledge and understanding of both are required.
Hence my belief and motto that “Knowledge is 90% of the job.”
As a researcher, you discover things that sometimes makes clubs very happy and sometimes makes them very uncomfortable. What has that range of experience been like? Conceivably, I suppose certain club historians could view you as a potential threat. How do you handle that prickly situation of setting history straight?
I’ve been extremely fortunate in working for the clients that I have. Every single one of them approached me to help them. That is actually why I founded Golden Age Research as a company because it became fairly obvious that a real need existed that was going unfulfilled was out there. Each client also approached me with requests for help in recovering specific missing portions or even as much missing history as could possibly be located. And so most club historians have been a delight to work with from the beginning.
On the rare occasions when ticklish situations presented themselves, in every case it was because the information uncovered directly challenged known and strongly-held beliefs. Yet in every one of these situations, once I presented the facts uncovered and the proofs that were behind them, those who raised the largest objections became my biggest supporters as well as developed lasting friendships with me. Let me give you an example.
I was hired by a club to create an exhaustive course evolution history from opening day until today. On my second trip to the club I was asked by the Board to meet with the newly-formed “History Committee” which had 17 members on it. I printed out several binders with preliminary findings that included copies of board minutes, documents, drawings, newspaper articles, etc… which backed up each conclusion.
In reviewing what had been found I mentioned a specific person who did something in a specific year when a hand went up to ask a question. It was the 80+ year-old official club historian who immediately told me that “I had gotten my facts wrong on that.” He said that “we all know that the year it took place was in a different year and not the one you say. In fact, he himself wrote so in an early booklet which detailed the club’s history.”
All of a sudden I had 17 pairs of eyes boring into me, so I had no choice other than to immediately correct him, but did so in the proper way. I opened up one of the binders I had passed out, and which most had not yet opened, and read a newspaper account from the year to which I referred in which it mentioned both the very person and the account having taken place the night before.
Rather than simply “putting him in his place” I now also said that before I found that article I would have said the same thing as he just did. I then went through the passage from the history booklet which was in question. It comprised three sentences and, at first glance, one would take away from it what all had done for many years. When one looked at them carefully in light of the article which I had just read and several other documents not known to the club before, it became absolutely clear that these 3 sentences referred to several different events that occurred over a 5-year period. This gentleman and I have a very close friendship to this day because as important as it was to find the true historical facts, it was far more important that this long-time member who passionately loved his club be shown that I greatly respected him and the work that he had done through the years.
One other point, 9 out of every 10 clubs that I have worked for has told me that at some time or other they had either a “catastrophic fire” that destroyed the clubhouse or all their “old documents” had been cleaned out and thrown away years ago or both. Yet in every single case except one, and even in that case I was able to find the answers for which they were looking, I located most, and in the majority of cases, all of their “missing board minutes.” These have shown up in dark attic areas, local historical societies, libraries, member’s closets and even in club manager’s offices. That is why I tell every new potential client that they can do exactly what I do but for that very reason won’t. It’s because I, and by this I’m not ascribing a special talent that I have that others don’t, bring to the job a quality that they don’t have. I have “fresh eyes.” I’m looking at everything for the first time whereas they are looking at everything through the eyes of ones who only see or don’t what they’ve been told is or isn’t there.
Here’s an example of what I mean. A club hired me to locate the original course design drawing if possible. It took me 90 seconds from the moment I walked through the front door. Despite the club’s manager telling me that the clubhouse had a terrible fire back in the early 1970s with all things having been lost to it, there hanging on the wall about 30 feet inside their front entrance was a framed and quite faded blueprint opposite a floor-to-ceiling window. From the many years hanging there it was quite faded and no one even bothered looking at it in any detail for many years until I did because it was brand new to me. There in the middle of this site plan date 1926 was the golf course as clear as day. Of course because it was an extremely faded drawing one had to look quite hard at it to see it, but this is what I did because I wondered what was so important about this blueprint that it hung in such a prominent position. I showed it to the club manager and said, “There’s your drawing” to which he replied, “There’s nothing on that drawing.” I then took the forefinger of his right hand and put it on the 18th green and all of a sudden he said, “I don’t believe it…”
There is so much out there if one actually takes the time to look…