Feature Interview with Rick Wolffe
Richard C. (‘Rick’) Wolffe is Senior Vice President of Business Operations for the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, where his responsibilities include the $90 million renovation and modernization of the Historic Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City and construction of the new $68 million Wildwoods Convention Center. Rick is a Chartered Financial Analyst, graduated with distinction with a BA in economics from Virginia Military Institute, and earned an MBA from Virginia Tech. He retired from the United States Army Reserve as a Captain in the field artillery. In addition, Rick is a Past Green Chairman and current Co-Historian at Baltusrol Golf Club; Co-author, Baltusrol 100 Years, The Centennial History of Baltusrol Golf Club; Founder, The Tillinghast Association; Co-editor of a trilogy of books on A. W. Tillinghast: The Course Beautiful, Reminiscences of the Links and the newly published Gleanings from the Wayside.
1. Gleanings from the Wayside is the third book in your Tillinghast trilogy and follows The Course Beautiful in 1995 and Reminiscences of the Links in 1998. How is it different from the first two?
The Course Beautiful is a collection of Tillinghast essay’s on his golf course design principals; the Tillinghast essays in Reminiscences are themed around golf history as seen and lived by Tillinghast. In Gleanings from the Wayside, we have compiled Tillie’s recollections and humorous tales as a traveling golf course architect. From Jacksonville to San Antonio, from Way out West in California to Way down South in Old Mexico, and from out Tulsa Way and back to his stomping grounds in the East, these Tillinghast essays provide his unique insights and fine points of good golf course design. As he notes in the book, ‘During forty years I have probably trod as many golf holes as any man in the world, many of my own creation and many, many more designed by others. I know a good hole when I see one and I think I know a bad one, too.’
2. What proved to be the most valuable source(s) for information regarding your new book?
The most valuable repository of information was the Library of Congress. My brother Stuart researched most of the essays and photographs for Gleanings at the Library of Congress. That being said, an equally valuable resource was the network we have developed with other golf libraries and golf historians. These contributors included Karen Bednarski at the World Golf Hall of Fame, Rand Jerris at the USGA Library and Museum, Sandra Scheffer and Marge Dewey at the former Ralph Miller Golf Library and a host of other contributers from Tillinghast courses and the golf world.
3. What are your thoughts on the Boomerang (shaped like an upside down ‘V’) hole that is detailed in your new book? Did Tillinghast ever actually build one?
I have hit many a boomerang tee shot (!) but can only recall playing one boomerang hole. That is a short par-4 at Hollywood, which I believe is a Travis design. Personally, I like the concept as outlined by Tillie, as I like the hole I have played at Hollywood â€œ it can be a ground saver on a tight piece of property. I am not aware of any Tillinghast boomerang holes, but I suspect he probably built or designed one someplace.
4. The chapter on Donald Ross’s guided tour of Pinehurst No. 2 with Tillinghast is fascinating and comes as a surprise. How much time did Donald Ross and Tillinghast spend together throughout their careers?
From what we have pieced together they were clearly friendly competitors whose paths crossed on many occasions.
In this chapter, Tillie recounts his stay with Donald Ross in Pinehurst in December of 1936. At the time, the PGA of America had retained Tillie as its consulting golf course architect; Tillie was touring the country providing consulting advice to golf courses and clubs that had resident PGA professionals. Tillie’s services were provided at no charge. During his stay, Donald gave Tillie a complete tour of Pinehurst #2, which Donald had been preparing to host the 1937 PGA. Tillie was duly impressed with #2 and hailed it as Donald Ross’s Masterpiece. In Tillie’s letter report back to PGA President George Jacobus, he noted, ‘Donald is certain that this is his greatest piece of work and he is tremendously proud of it, as he may well be for it is a truly great course, without a single weak hole â€œ without a doubt one of the greatest of all American courses.’
An interesting point not mentioned in the Chapter is the original purpose of Tillie’s call on Donald. Tillie was concerned that Donald was not in favor of his PGA service. But after Tillie had fully explained the service and its motives Donald expressed his entire approval and told Tillie, ‘If you can encourage worthy young golf course architects and builders to carry on the work properly after you and I are gone, it will be very worth while.’
Of all his competitors, I think Tillie had the most respect for Donald Ross and his designs. In fact when called to do redesign work at Donald Ross courses, Tillie treated Ross’s work with the highest respect. As an example, at the Beresford CC course (now known as Peninsula CC) a Donald Ross design, Tillie wrote that the course builder had poorly constructed several of the holes, which did not resemble the original Ross conceptions. Consequently, Tillie advised on the construction of new sites for the 10th, 12th, and 13th greens. Tillie would note that his plans were in no sense a reflection of the original Ross plans, but were only ‘made necessary because those original plans had been sinfully juggled.’
We have a letter that Brad Klein found from Tillie to Donald written late in Tillie’s life. The letter would lead one to believe that Donald’s Scottish roots and the shared friends among the ranks of the Scottish professionals were the affinity that Tillie had for this master architect. In closing this letter Tillie wrote, ‘And your good brother, Alec. He did not look like himself in the old days, when I saw him last. I think that one of the real joys of the P.G.A. tour was meeting up with so many of my old friends of the ‘Guttie’ ball days. I am sure that this feeling will rather explain my lines to you. May you live long and prosper!’
5. Both courses at Baltusrol hosted the U.S. Open prior to Tillinghast’s death in 1942. Did he ever distinguish or compare his two designs at Baltusrol?
Actually Tillie only saw one Open on one of his designs at Baltusrol â€œ the 1936 U.S. Open on the Upper. The first U.S. Open on the Lower was in 1954. Although, the Lower did host the 1926 U.S. Amateur at which Tillie was present and for which he received tremendous accolades for his new course. Tillie was also present for some more accolades on the Upper for the Open in 1936. We know that Tillie was quite proud of his work at Baltusrol and in fact in his advertisements and qualifications statements he boldly billed himself as the ‘Creator of Baltusrol.’ In 1919, when he had started the Baltusrol project his design goal was to make each course ‘equally attractive, so that they will be equally sought after as a matter of preference.’ This certainly would explain the uniqueness of each course as compared to the other.
6. What role did his overseas journeys play in shaping his overall design philosophy?
Tillie became enchanted with golf in St Andrews Scotland on family trips made with his wife and parents. Tillie was in his early twenties at the time of his first trip in 1895 and made five or six subsequent summer trips each year. Tillie became quite friendly with ‘Old Tom’ Morris â€œ playing many rounds of golf and spending many hours in his shop ‘chewing the fat,’ so to speak. How could the Master himself, ‘Old Tom,’ not be a tremendous influence on one future golf course architect?7
7. What kind of a life did ‘Tillie the Terror’ lead?
A full, well traveled and pretty interesting one. Tillie seemed to be on hand for every major tournament and event in the early days of golf in America. Much has already been written about the personality traits or flaws of this genius â€œ his fits of rage, flamboyant lifestyle, lavish spending and drinking binges. Much more noble personality traits can be gleaned from the hundreds of letters Tillie wrote to the President of the PGA, George Jacobus, when Tillie was the traveling consulting course architect for the PGA:
Tireless work ethic â€œ Tillie reported in writing to George Jacobus almost every day on his two-year tour and rarely took a day off, with the exception of Christmas, New Years and visits to his daughters, Marion in Toledo, Ohio and Elsie in Rochester, Minnesota.
Faithful Husband â€œ Tillie’s wife, Lillian, accompanied him on his cross-country travels. Conversely, Lillian would remain by Tillie’s side until his death in 1942.
Protector of the Game â€œ Tillie had strong beliefs on what was right for the game. For example, on an earlier swing of the West Coast in the winter of 1935, Tillie expressed strong disapproval of a plan to introduce pari-mutuel betting at the Agua Caliente tournament in Mexico. He would later write, ‘Out here the level heads of golf express regret that the idea has received any encouragement for certainly it is not in keeping with the traditions of the game and should be regarded as a menace.’
Modesty â€œ which is still considered a virtue, can also be seen throughout his writings. When asked to rank the best golf courses in California, Tillie replied, ‘With thanks I must regretfully decline this opportunity to lead with my chin. Although I have formed conclusions I would consider it extremely bad taste for one, so long associated with course designing and construction in the East, to make any comparisons. As I grow older I appreciate the fact that for general publication there are some questions that need a whole lot of letting alone.’
Accepting Fate â€œ Tillie would lose most of his fortune to the depression and eventually was forced into personal bankruptcy. Despite this, Tillie never railed his fate in life and always looked forward. As an example, when Tillie finally lost his house in Harrington Park due to his financial troubles, there was not a hint of regret when he wrote Jacobus, ‘Today will see the permanent closing of my old home here and tomorrow I start the drive to the Michigan section.’
8. What were Tillinghast’s contributions to Pine Valley?
From what we have researched there is no question that Tillie deserves some collaboration credit. Tillie visited the site with George Crump dozens of times and reported on the construction progress in several golf publications of the time. We have summarized many of Tillie’s reports on the progress of construction on the Tillinghast Association web site at http://www.tillinghast.net. As is also told and pictured in Gleanings, Tillie played in the first foursome with George Crump for the opening of the first 14 holes.
From wealth of evidence, it is clear that George Crump accepted and built Tillie’s design recommendation for the long seventh and the difficult par-4 thirteenth. The Sahara cross-bunker on the seventh would become one of Tillie’s par-5 trademarks on many of his courses. The approach into the green on the thirteenth is another common Tillie feature with the diagonal risk reward approach shot into the green.
We recently came across another Tillinghast article that describes how he subsequently designed the alternative second tee on the seventh hole. This tee has an angled approach to the fairway from the right side of the hole.
Incidentally, I just saw an article on Colt’s contribution to Pine Valley as the overall design architect. It is another well-researched piece by James Finnegan and is in a new magazine edited by Bob Labbance called ‘New Jersey Golf.’
9. How did Tillinghast come to do so much work in Texas?
I wish I could answer that one more definitely than this. From what we have pieced together in 1915 Mayor Brown of San Antonio first called Tillie to that City to design the Brackenridge Park municipal course. At that time Tillie was just making a name for himself in the Philadelphia District. I would therefore guess that a Philadelphia connection led to a referral of Tillie to Mayor Brown. Subsequent trips to Texas were made by referral or perhaps simply good salesmanship on Tillie’s part. In the early 1920’s Tillie was called back to San Antonio to design the Alamo CC course, which is now called Oak Hills CC. One of Tillie’s Philadelphia golfing friends, Cameron Buxton, introduced Tillie to his Brook Hollow CC commission.
Another interesting note is that when Tillie was on the ground in town working on a commission, he would seek out and take on other assignments. In San Antonio the design of the Fort Sam Houston course fell on his lap while he was staying at the Menger Hotel. He also did some reconstruction work for the San Antonio CC, the Dallas CC and many other Texas courses.
10. How should credit be divided between Tillinghast and Robert Trent Jones Sr. for the 4th hole at Baltusrol Lower?
I would call it an R.T Jones/Tillinghast amalgamation. Tillie’s fourth hole at Baltusrol can still be played today â€œ it originally played as a 125-yard flip wedge over the pond to the current green. Tillie’s original horseshoe tee fronting the pond is still in play. The beauty of R.T Jones’s redesign is that he created a second hole out of the original. He added a runway tee to the horseshoe tee stretching the hole to 165 yards. The addition of a subsequent pro tee stretched the hole further to 195 yards. With this second hole now requiring a long iron instead of a flip wedge, R.T. Jones expanded the original green to the left by filling and converting the left green-side bunker, which expanded the second tier of the original green to the left.
Incidentally, I was watching the Palmer Cup over the last two days and witnessed some of the best Amateurs in the U.S. and G.B.I. humbly playing both the Jones hole and the Tillinghast hole in the same round. After they dunked their long-iron drives into the pond they would play their flip wedge thirds from the original horseshoe tee.
11. What was his exact involvement in the Black Course at Bethpage State Park?
The Bethpage track, comprising 1,368 acres of rolling fields and woodlands, was originally acquired as residential estate of the late Benjamin F. Yoakum, and here he constructed a golf course, which I understand was designed by Devereux Emmet. This course, known as ‘Lenox Hills,’ was operated for a number of years as a private membership club. In 1932, the property was leased by the Long Island State Park Commission and since has been operated as a public golf links called ‘Bethpage Park.’
The Long Island State Park Commission, the members of which comprise the Bethpage Park Authority, acquired title to the property and developed this park with the labor and materials supplied by the Civil Works Administration of Long Island State Parks. The development plan for the golf program called for the construction of three new 18-hole courses, as well as material improvements to the existing 18-hole course. The courses were laid out and constructed under the direct control of the Long Island State Park Commission. A.W. Tillinghast served as the consulting architect in the planning and development of the golf courses. The on site engineer that constructed the courses was Joe Burdeck, who Tillie would later write did an admirable job following his plans from start to finish.
Upon completion of the Bethpage project, Tillie wrote, ‘It is quite possible that the Bethpage collection of seventy-two holes will take rank among the great Meccas of the golfing world. This will take a little time, of course, although the work there was pursued most vigorously under the most disheartening conditions of winter weather. Certainly it represents a terrific endeavor to provide great golf for the public.’
How right Tillie was!
12. What do you think of Rees Jones work on the Black Course?
A job very well done â€œ a thoroughly researched restoration with a lengthening for modern championship play.
13. If pressed to name one, what was his single greatest strength as a designer?
Design variety. Frank Hannigan probably summed it up the best when he wrote, ‘He refused to get in a rut. Thus, the complexes at Winged Foot and Baltusrol, both in the New York metropolitan zone are not at all alike â€œ except that they are a joy to play and to observe. Variety was the name of his game. He seldom presented the same look into a green on the same course twice. What a contrast to the egocentric trademark hooks of so much of contemporary architecture â€œ where the design message seems to be, ‘Hey, this is about ME.’
14. Which Tillinghast course that has been lost through time do you most wish still existed? What made it so special?
Daniel Wexler’s book Missing Links has aroused my interest in more than just one.
First, there is always a desire to play the courses that have hosted the Majors and Fresh Meadows CC hosted a PGA and a U.S. Open. Unfortunately the membership succumbed to the pressures of development and sold the course and moved elsewhere. Nothing remains.
My second is Poxono CC in the Delaware Water Gap Federal Recreation Area. This course was to be Tillie’s ultimate design. Unfortunately, this dream project never came true. Evidently, shortly after its initial completion, it was lost to the Great Depression. Today, half of the course is a cornfield and the other half has returned to pristine wilderness.
15. Tillinghast has been wrongly stereotyped as being a weak designer of par five holes. What are your ten favorite three shotters that he ever designed?
This is purely a personal preference based on courses that I have seen or played. I would agree that Tillie has a lot of great par-5 holes. The following ten favorites come to the top of mind in no particular order:
- Five Farms Number 6
- Five Farms Number 14
- Quaker Ridge Number 14
- Bethpage Black Number 4
- Bethpage Red Number 5
- Winged Foot West Number 12
- Winged Foot East Number 4 (have not played; have only seen)
- Somerset Hills Number 9
- Pine Valley Number 7
In regards to the 7th at Pine Valley, Tillinghast wrote,
Not long since, someone at Pine Valley asked George A. Crump when the course would be finished. ‘Never,’ he replied. By this he meant that after the four undeveloped holes were thrown open, work, aside from up-keep would continue indefinitely. New features will be introduced after careful consideration and many minor changes are certain to be made. To illustrate this I have roughly sketched from the memory the long hole at Pine Valley, the Seventh.
As it was planned originally is shown by Fig. 1. It is being played so at present and a mighty fine hole it is, too. None but the long hitter can hope to get within striking distance of the green after his second shot, and both the drive and the second must be hit. An enormous area of sand extends quite across the course, beginning, I should say, about 325 yards from the teeing ground. The hazard must be close to 100 yards across. If it is not carried, the green is beyond range. But good as it is, some variations from present lines will make it a far greater problem, and the change is to be made.
Along the right side of the fairway extends a wood, and cuts will be made into this for a new teeing ground and for the second shot. After the change the tee-shot must be played more to the left than at present, the second shot will be forced to the right, and naturally the green will open up to an approach from that side. A comparison of the two sketches reveals a marked improvement with not an alarming amount of work in sight. Already the new green has been constructed.It would be well for those green committees, who are prone to regard withcomplacency holes which are satisfying, to bear in mind that no hole is absolutely perfect. A twist here and there may work wonders.
As for number 10, there are some pretty good three-shotters at many other Tillie courses that I have not yet had an opportunity to see or play. I should therefore reserve that spot for any one of them. Now there are four other candidates that I would mention, but have not included only because I play them regularly on my home course. They are Baltusrol Upper Numbers 8 and 11, and Baltusrol Lower Numbers 17 and 18.
16. What three Tillinghast courses do you most wish would be fully restored and why.
Poxono â€œ The rising of this Phoenix from its ashes would be fantastic. All that would be required is a tremendous amount of financial and political capital through the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Shawnee-on-the-Delaware â€œ This was Tillie’s first course in which he also did several subsequent redesigns. When Fred Waring bought the property he added nine holes and bulldozed many of the originals in the process. Fortunately there are still around six Tillie holes intact and several more green sites. In such an Idyllic setting in the Delaware Water Gap it would be grand to see more of the original Tillie holes brought back to life.
Suneagles CC at Fort Monmouth â€œ This course began as the Monmouth Country Club and had high ambitions of being the premier tennis, polo, golf and country club for New Jersey’s privileged class. With a big budget, Tillie constructed an intricate and expensive design. The club fell on hard times and the course was subsequently purchased by the U.S. Army and incorporated into Fort Monmouth. Fortunately the layout is fairly intact. It just is in badly need of restoration to bring back the fairway and greenside bunkers. It could also use some tee lengthening to maintain the design intent of the abandoned fairway bunkers. There may be some hope here, as the U.S. Army has renovated the clubhouse and has started to put some money back into the course.
17. What three Tillinghast courses play the most today as he intended them to?
I am sure Tillie would not be happy with the technological advances in golf implements. Many of his courses are now considered on the short side. Fortunately, Tillie had the genius to build flexibility into most of his original designs, which has provided for fairly inexpensive tee lengthening rather than the expensive alternative of rebuilding green sites and moving bunkers. Now this still does not answer the question, but it leads me to my analytical answer. If a green to a hole is designed to receive long-irons and mid-irons and today this same green is taking 9-irons and wedges, than the design intent of the hole has been compromised. Many other situations can be described such as the hitting of irons off of the tee rather than drivers and three woods â€œ for fear of driving through the fairway on a dogleg or driving into a crossing hazard, etc.etc.
Then how is that that many of his courses still can hold the big shows? Courses like Baltusrol Upper and Lower, Bethpage Black, Winged Foot West. Well these courses have all been lengthened and the beauty of their designs are such that the so-called modernization could be done with minimal architectural change thus restoring Tillie’s design intent.
18. What are the plans for the Tillinghast Association over the next 12 months?
We are co-sponsoring with the Golf Collectors Society our second annual meeting at Shawnee-On-the-Delaware October 19-21. At the meeting we hope to preview a pilot for a film on Tillinghast that we hope to produce before the U.S. Open at Bethpage. We are currently looking for sponsors for the film.