Feature Interview
Mark Chalfant
December, 2017

Does the title Devereux Emmet – The Forgotten American Master make it self-explanatory as to what compelled you to write the 135 page book? You liken his work to being underappreciated like that of the work of William Langford, Vernon Macan, and Walter Travis.

From thirty years of playing, caddying and evaluating architecture for Golfweek Magazine and the Metropolitan Golf Association in the greater New York area, I knew that Emmet was an unsung talent. Daniel Wexler’s book Lost Links was an eye opener because he stressed the exceptional variety of holes and idiosyncratic sequence so prevalent in Emmet’s layouts. Wexler also highlighted the architect’s fondness for short par fours.

Even though Women’s National (now known as Glen Head Country Club) was cramped with trees when I caddied there two decades ago, I could tell it was a superb layout with nicely paced elevation changes.

When I read Geoff Shackelford’s February 2001 article in Golfdom outlining Huntington Country Club’s restoration, I became even more intrigued with Emmet.

What sources provided you the best research material?

The most important source for me over the past five years has been visiting twenty-six of Emmet’s existing courses. Also poring over aerial photos usually dated between 1924 to 1959. While working on the book I made ninety pilgrimages to these Golden Age layouts.

Two trips stood out, first to Huntington, Long Island on a raw November morning and a few months later to Bonnie Briar up in Larchmont. Each made an unforgettable impression and compelled me to write about this imaginative pioneer. At both Huntington and Bonnie Briar, Emmet built rugged works of art that play just over 6,300 yards and that possess a spellbinding assortment of par fours.

Bonnie Briar’s Undulating Eighth

Old magazine articles were of course essential tools. The Los Angeles Athletic Club website LA84 had several articles that provided critical historical context. Some articles by Marion Hollins were especially helpful.

Glen Head’s Third: many fine greens exist at Marion Hollins’ retreat.

I am grateful to dozens of Emmet fans including Joe Bausch, Jim Kennedy, Tim Martin and Ian Andrew. Professor Bausch sent me scores of articles from the Brooklyn Eagle and course diagrams in New York World Telegram that were beneficial. Joe’s faithfulness kept me focused when my body and soul were yearning for a binge of rounds at Seth Raynor and Donald Ross courses far afield.

Please discuss how Rockville Links showcases Emmet’s talents as a designer.

When Emmet first laid eyes on the potential site, it was a compact and slender 97 acre meadow that had virtually no ground movement. Emmet countered with a scintillating bunkering program overflowing with tactical puzzles. The hazards have stunning variety in shape, size and orientation.

Additionally, the fill pads and interior contours of the greens are constructed with exceptional nuance. Architect Jim Urbina, Jeff Stein and greens keeper Luke Knutson have done a superb job of recapturing Emmet’s original intent.

Emmet’s architecture at Rockville passes a key litmus test: what can be created from a featureless site. Great architects are able to elevate mundane sites. For a student of the game or a prospective golf architect, Rockville is an essential destination.

Hungry bunkers patrol Rockville’s second and third holes.

Rockville’s fifteenth: seamless inter play between fairway and hazard shaped by George Waters.

Rockville’s Third: Beautiful textures and low profile shaping.

Garden City GC is a huge personal favorite. On the one hand, Emmet routed the course and built it, presumably to his own satisfaction. On the other, Walter Travis was quick to both praise the design and re-bunker it. Given how talented Emmet was with cross and strategic bunkering patterns, why was Travis’s work even required? I have never felt like I understood the full story on why Travis went on a bunkering binge at Garden City Golf Club.

From its 1897 nine hole beginning as Island Golf Links, Garden City had a solid routing. After the 1902 Open and some other tournaments, Walter Travis felt the course played too easy. He rallied members to invest in a bold bunkering plan. In the subsequent twenty years, there was a lot of back and forth between Travis and Emmet.

Emmet outlived Travis by seven years so he enjoyed the last word. I like much of the Travis bunkering. It is certainly high in quality, but perhaps a bit overdone in quantity. The brilliant angles via echelons that edify Garden City’s brilliant sixteenth are Emmet’s handiwork.

‘Natural contours rule the day’ seems to sum up Emmet’s approach to placing fairways, and occasional blind shots were even a consequence. What are three of your very favorite Emmet fairways?

Pelham’s Ninth

Pelham’s ninth and McGregor’s long sixth spring to mind as they have a powerful wave like quality.

Emmet captured these wonderful landforms within the sixth fairway at MacGregor.

Willow Ridge: climbing home

Willow Ridge in Harrison lies only six miles east of Winged Foot, has several holes rising and descending near the clubhouse that are blessed with a combination of elevation change and robust ground movement. One, nine and eighteen are especially strong, even though their fairway corridors are parallel.

In general, Emmet’s routings demonstrate an inspired integration of native topography and sensitivity to scale which creates procession of unpredictable challenges. This skill holds true whether it was intimate or monumental. The Rockville Links and Bonnie Briar are perfect example of intimate while McGregor, Wee Burn, and Glen Head are all striking for their broad-shouldered monumentality.

Finally Garden City’s ground movement, not bold in the least, has some of my favorite quiet fairways that melt into many greens seamlessly at fairway grade. The tenth and fifteenth, both low profile, are especially well-conceived. Their putting surfaces are expansive tilting ground, front to back or side to side for their character.

Please talk about one your favorite bunkering schemes at Huntington Country Club.

Several of the hazards are breathtaking, starting with number ten, eleven, fifteen, and sixteen. Golf Architect Ian Andrew considers the bunkering here exemplary.

Eleven is a short par four that has mine field protecting the fairway’s right side while ahead, punishing traps protect the green. The exuberant plan on sixteen includes eccentric shapes that invade the gently rising fairway. The otherworldly/alien bunker can snare wayward shots on number eleven which borders the sixteenth.

Huntington 16: Because of Emmet’s fertile imagination he rarely embraced templates.