Over the next few years Willie continued to lay out courses throughout the region including Oakley, Wannamoisett (RI), Winchester, Worcester, New Bedford, Beaver Meadow (NH) and Franklin Park. Although not as prolific as some he was without doubt one of the most important early golf architects, especially in America. Unfortunately his place in American golf architecture history has been largely ignored. Willie Campbell’s life was cut short when he succumbed to cancer in 1900. He was only 38 years old.
Willie Park-Jr. â€œ The son of Old Willie Park, Willie Park-Jr. was born in 1864 at Musselburgh. ËœAuld Wullie’ was a rival of Old Tom Morris, and one of the greatest golfers of his day. The elder Park won the first Open Championship in 1860, and then again in 1863, 1866 and 1875. Mungo Park, Old Willie’s brother, won the belt in 1874. Young Willie followed in their footsteps and began competing at an early age.
In 1880, at the age of 16, Willie Park-Jr. was appointed greenkeeper and professional at the Ryton Golf Club in northeast England, his uncle Mungo was the pro at nearby Alnmouth. Willie later admitted he spent as much time at Alnmouth as he did at Ryton. One gets the impression he leaned heavily upon his uncle. Willie returned in Musselburgh in 1884 to assist in his father’s club-making business. Old Willie’s health was on the decline.
Willie Park-Jr. won his first Open Championship in 1887 at Prestwick and repeated the feat in 1889 at Musselburgh. Like his father before him he never refused a big money match. In 1888 he issued his famous Ã‚£100 challenge to the world, and over the next decade met every great player of his era with mixed results although on balance he won more than he lost. As a golfer Park was known for two main attributes: a very cool demeanor and a wonderful putting stroke. Even in adversity he always kept the same placid exterior. Horace Hutchinson suggested he would have been better served letting off a little steam now and again, especially in the heat of a match. Ironically the man best known for high stakes matches was considered more dangerous in medal play.
On the business side Park established a successful golf equipment operation with shops in London, Edinburgh, and Manchester in addition to the original Musselburgh shop. In 1895 he made a tour of America, playing in number of arranged matches although his primary objective was to promote his business and open a shop in New York (which he did although it ultimately failed due to heavy tariffs). On this visit he agreed to become the professional at Shinnecock Hills, commencing in the spring of 1896. The following year his return was delayed so Shinnecock was forced to go another direction. One has to wonder how history would have been altered had he taken the position.
Near the end of the 1890s Park was so busy with business he had little time for playing the game. Despite his inactivity he nearly won his third Open Championship in 1898. Willie played brilliantly and led throughout but missed a three-foot putt on the final green to tie Harry Vardon. Following a heated debate over who was the better player the famous Vardon-Park challenge match was arranged – thirty-six holes at Ganton and thirty-six holes at North Berwick. It was dubbed the match of the century and drew enormous interest â€10,000 spectators were on hand at North Berwick, thought to be the largest golf gallery to that point. In the end Vardon won 11 and 10 but the loss did nothing to diminish Willie’s reputation, if anything it was enhanced.
Park’s first design effort came at Innerleithen in 1886, where he was sent as a substitute for his father, but his architectural career didn’t start in earnest until the boom of the 90s. There has been an assertion that father and son collaborated during these years but I’ve yet to find evidence the two ever worked together. In fact Old Willie was more or less inactive after 1886 due to failing health. He passed away in 1902.
Willie Park-Jr. is recognized today as one of the great golf architects in history, however that reputation was not made based on his work in the 1890s. The following is a chronological list of courses Willie Park designed or redesigned in the nineties:
1892: Bathgate, Bo’ness, Jedburgh
1894: Bridge of Weir, Muswell Hill, Glencorse
1895: Torwoodee, Misquamicut (USA), Shelburne Farms (USA)
1896: Dalkeith, Wembley, Lauder
1897: Dieppe, Dunnington, Turnhouse
1898: Gullane #2, Bruntsfield
1899: St. Boswells, Burntisland, Sunningdale
Make note there are two high-profile courses normally associated with Park missing from the list – Silloth and Western Gailles. Silloth-on-Solway was laid out by his friend David Grant and constructed by his uncle Mungo Park. Willie did inspect the course near the end of construction, and was said to be very impressed, but credit should not be assigned based upon an inspection or last minute advice. The confusion surrounding Western Gailes was due to the fact Willie listed Gailes, Ayshire as a golf course he designed, but that course was Glasgow Gailes, designed in 1912. Western Gailes was designed and built in 1897 by the greenkeeper F. Morris. A third course deserves mention as well, that would be Burntisland. The club claims Park designed their new course at Dodhead in 1896. The club did acquire the Dodhead property in 1896 however they were not playing golf at that site until 1899, and it is unclear if Willie is responsible for the 1899 layout or was involved in a later redesign. We do know the greenkeeper John Drurie carried out a number of changes in the early 1900s.
During the nineties to say Willie Park distinguished himself would be a mischaracterization. His golf courses were no better or worse than most of his contemporaries, and he followed many of the common practices of the period â€œ the cop bunker, the straight out and straight back approach to routing, the crossing hazard often placed at regular intervals and a generally penal approach to hazard placement. Much of this is documented in his 1896 book The Game of Golf in which Willie dedicated a chapter to golf course design. But there were also advancements evident in that book. Park was developing some progressive ideas beyond the old stereotypical ones, for example promoting the use of natural hazards and the importance of variety.
Like most of his fellow architects at that time Park’s success (or lack of success) could easily be predicted. When given good material near the sea he produced good results, when given an ordinary inland site he did nothing of consequence â€that is until 1899. That year he began Sunningdale, and it was a major advancement. It was considered revolutionary for two primary reasons: first its scale was enormous for that time, and secondly the severity of the site, not only topographically but also in the nature of the ground. At that time it was considered unadvisable to make a course over sandy ground overgrown with heather. Sunningdale was the first course to be wholly sown from seed, at a considerable cost I might add.
Soon after being engaged at Sunningdale Willie began Huntercombe, and it was another breakthrough design. Huntercombe was unusual for its use of hazards â€œ man-made and natural â€œ strategically placed in central and flanking locations. These two courses were constructed simultaneously, and Willie reportedly made frequent trips back to Musselbourgh seeking inspiration. That was a novel approach as well. Both Sunningdale and Huntercombe opened to positive reviews in 1901, and were tremendous improvements over the dreaded Victorian courses, but one should not get the impression they were polished gems. Golf architecture improved incrementally not overnight.
Willie Park’s history is a microcosm of golf architecture history. Producing inconsistent quality in the ninties followed by very good to excellent work in the decades that followed. After suffering from a Ëœnervous breakdown’ Willie Park died in 1925 at an Edinburgh nursing home.
Other professionals â€œ There are other professionals from this era who deserve mention. Below you will find a brief profile along with a list of their most prominent designs:
Peter Paxton of Musselburgh was born in 1857. Runner-up in the 1880 Open, Paxon was the professional of several high-profile clubs, including Malvern, Tooting Bec and Hanger Hill. He was also one of the premier club-makers of his time, an art he learned from David Park, Old Willie’s brother. Peter Paxton was a very active designer in the 1890s. His designs include Wimbledon Park, Limpsfield Chart, Rochford Hundred, Romney Sands and East Berkshire.
James McKenna was born in 1874 at Clontarf, just outside Dublin. Very little is known about this Irishman. McKenna seems he have been associated with railroad in his early years, which led to some early designs, including Ballybunion and Lahinch. He was the professional at Lahinch, Carickmines, Portmarnock and Rossmore. His designs include Lahinch (with the help of Alexander Shaw), Ballybunion, Waterville, Hermitage and Killiney.
Jack Morris was born at St. Andrews in 1847, the son of George Morris, brother of Old Tom. George Morris laid out the first nine at Hoylake assisted by Robert Chambers,Jr. Jack Morris became professional at Royal Liverpool in 1869, and remained at the club for sixty years. During his tenure he was responsible for expanding and perfecting that famous golf course. It was his unconventional but charming version of Hoylake, featuring the old Rushes hole, the old Hilbre, and the Dun Bunker, which was beloved by so many old-timers, including Darwin. In addition to Hoylake Morris was quite active laying out courses throughout the region. His designs include Hoylake, Conwy (Caeenarvonshire), Grange Park, Rhyl, and Pwllheli.
Douglas Rolland was born at Earlsferry in 1860. Starting at the age of 13 he worked for several years as a stonemason. Not surprising Rolland was known for his powerful build and prodigious driving. During his prime he was considered the best player never to have won the Open Championship. Although his architectural portfolio is somewhat sparse he was a major influence upon the great HS Colt. Rolland’s designs include Malvern, Hastings-St. Leonard and Rye, the latter two assisted by Colt.
Charles Hunter was born in 1836 at Prestwick. Charlie Hunter was a caddie and a clubmaker under Old Tom Morris, and succeeded him at Prestwick in 1864 where he remained until his death in 1929. Charlie Hunter operated an extensive club-making business from his shop at Prestwick. His designs include Machrihanish, Prestwick St. Nicholas and revising Prestwick.
Jack Rowe was born at Westward Ho! in 1870. He was a protÃƒ©gÃƒ© of Horace Hutchinson who convinced him to make a career in golf rather than attending Art school. He was the professional at Royal Ashdown Forest for over fifty years. His designs include Lewes, Piltdown, Ifield Lodge (w/Ernest Lehman), Morecambe, Folkstone and Shernfold Park.
Ramsey Hunter was born in 1854 at Edinburgh. He learned the trade of carpentry from his father who was a cabinetmaker. He played his early golf over the historic Bruntsfield Links. In 1888 Hunter was hired as professional/greenkeeper of St. Georges, Sandwich, and did much to improve that course during his stay. In 1900 he was dismissed for being Ëœworse with drink.’ In addition to his work at Sandwich he designed Porthcawl and expanded Deal. Ramsey Hunter died in 1909 while collaborating with Willie Park-Jr at the aptly named Gravesend (Mid-Kent GC).
Now that we have examined this period by way of its leading practitioners there are several observations to be made. The first point relates to the title of this essay, and the number of golf courses erroneously attributed to Old Tom Morris. Old Tom is one of the most important figures in the history of the game, and one of the most significant course designers of this early period. Not only did he lay out a large number of golf courses, he was instrumental in spreading the game at a most crucial time. That being said there are scores of courses (some of them very prominent courses) that Morris biographer Robert Kroeger and others have given to Old Tom that are actually the work of others. In fairness to these Morris biographers it is not entirely their fault. In Old Tom’s day clubs were eager to have his name associated with their golf courses. A site inspection, a grand opening appearance, a minor redesign, advise on greenkeeping matters or the use of the clubhouse restroom might result in Old Tom being given design credit. Lahinch and Rosapenna are two glaring examples. It should also be noted this practice is not unique to OTM – there has been tendency for some clubs to overplay the involvement of James Braid, Donald Ross and other favored architects. Whatever the motivation of these clubs and authors, there is no need to exaggerate Old Tom’s already outstanding record, especially when it is done at the expense of these men.
The second observation involves the influence of St. Andrews and other historic courses. It has often been stated that the Old Course was the primary influence on the development of golf architecture. And while there is some truth to that claim it is interesting to note how many of these early architects came from Edinburgh and were likely influenced by the courses of that metropolis: Bruntsfield, North Berwick and especially Musselburgh. In fact if we were to compare the production of these architects by their native course undoubtedly the by-product of Musselburgh would out number St.Andrews. Perhaps it is time we gave more attention to Musselburgh and its architecture.
Another observation surrounds the phenomenon of the amateur architect. This was a time when amateurs were making significant contributions throughout society â€in the sciences and in the arts and elsewhere. The factors contributing to amateurism included superior education, the unprecedented dissemination of information (through books, magazines, newspapers, libraries, museums, etc,) and increased leisure, allowing time to follow other pursuits. John Ruskin, Robert Chambers, Nathaniel Lloyd, and Gertrude Jekyll are individuals who made major contributions in fields outside their formal training. Based on the societal trend it is no surprise golf produced its own group of amateur architects. It should also be noted that professionals, or more seasoned amateurs, often assisted these amateur architects. There has been a tendency to ignore that fact and give these amateurs a mythical persona. I hope we have avoided this pitfall.
We have already emphasized the importance of good land but there was another important factor contributing to success â€time. There was a direct correlation between time spent and the ultimate quality of the design. In this respect the amateur may have had an advantage – being dedicated to a single golf course over a long period. The professionals had a tendency to be more transient, and were more likely to be laying out courses here and there, and not spending much time doing so. But they weren’t all hit and run. There are examples of time well spent with the professionals as well, when they remained at a single club for an extended period: Willie Fernie at Troon, Jack Morris at Hoylake, Tom Williamson at Notts and let us not forget Allan Robertson and Tom Morris at St. Andrews.
Finally, the question remains how should we view this era, was it the Dark Ages, as many respected commentators suggested, or a Golden Age, as some recent proponents have written â€diametrically opposed positions. The latter position is the easiest to address. While I have argued there were important contributions made during this period, it was not the high point of the art. All the commentators analyzing this period were in agreement, it was a time when a good deal of mediocre architecture was produced. Had there been only one or two critical voices perhaps it would be open to debate but the commentators were unanimous in their disapproval. These were the formative years and as a consequence there were many mistakes made along the way, and some pretty strange practices.
Now that we have concluded it wasn’t the high point can we then say it was an historic low point? I don’t believe so, and there are several reasons. To begin it was an extremely important period for the growth of the game, when golf went from obscure Scottish game to mainstream sport. The architects of this period were forced to make courses where the new golfers resided, places often poorly suited for the game. That combined with their inability to alter what nature provided obviously made their task very difficult. Nonetheless these men were providing an important service, and learning as they went through trial and error. Golf architecture did not improve overnight, it was an incremental improvement and these men were responsible for getting it started. And even under these less than ideal circumstances when given good sites the most talented architects produced good results. This period can claim its share of historic designs, courses like Prestwick, Hoylake, Machrihanish, Sandwich, Portmarnock, Dornoch, Cruden Bay, Lahinch, Rye, Ganton, Myopia Hunt, New Zealand, and Worlington, and for that reason alone it cannot be considered a Dark Age.
We have touched on Old Tom, Musselburgh, amateurism, the advantage of time and lastly how history should judge this complicated era, let us conclude with the thoughts of Sir Guy Campbell from the History of Golf in Britain, one of the best histories written on the subject. Campbell separated golf architecture into three periods, the Primitive, the Orthodox, and the Mechanical. This is what he had to say about the Orthodox age, the period in question:
“By that time, however, the game had become so popular here, there, and in a manner of speaking, everywhere, as to create an undeniable demand for Ëœhandly’ golf, regardless of whether nature had already prepared the way, or the ground available suitable. Where nature and the ground were kind and such ventures in landscaping were undertaken by players of experience and some artistic sensibility, the results, especially on links land, met with a measure of success. Elsewhere, and with the undertaking at the mercy of unprenticed hands, the results were not always happy. But â€and this was an innovation â€man starting as it were from scratch, and with recollections, too often uncertain, of established links and courses, set out to lay down fairways, hazards and greens, at dimensions, shapes and positions of his own choosing.”
Of all the observers of this period Campbell had the most balanced analysis in my opinion. He emphasized the pressures and challenges but also acknowledged the possibility for good results, in contrast to most of the critics. There are no absolutes in history, one period is not all bad and another all good. Sunningdale and Huntercombe were a turning point, but not everything prior was crude, and everything after brilliant. Golf architecture advanced through measured gains not overnight. The period we have just reviewed was not a Golden Age or a Dark Age, it was a developing age, one in which mistakes were made but also many lessons were learned. This period set the stage for the improvements that followed, and for that reason it should not be ignored or written off. We have covered considerable ground with this report but it is by no means the last word on the subject. If we have accomplished anything hopefully we have demonstrated this period deserves further study.
Acknowledgements: The Author would like to thank Michael Hurdzan. This essay would not have been possible without his generosity. Cornish & Whitten’s research is often taken for granted but this essay is only an extension of their heroic effort. Robert Kroeger’s The Golf Course of Old Tom Morris and Melvyn Morrow’s fine essay were invaluable, as was John Adam’s The Parks of Musselburgh. Allan Jackson, John Scarth and Neil Crafter’s article on George Lowe which appears in the magazine Golf Architecure (Volume 9). Stewart Macartney of Blyth+Blyth for his information on B. Hall Blyth. Rich Goodale’s articles on Tom Morris and Archie Simpson. Forrest Richardson’s Routing the Golf Course. Patty Moran of the USGA, Brian Silva, Ran Morrissett, David Moriarty, Tommy Naccarato, Ralph Livingston, Paul Turner, Bob Labbance, Richard Latham and Alfie Ward for their kind assistance.