Feature Interview with Tom Paul
Part One – April 2012
You became interested in golf course architecture relatively late in your amateur playing career. How did the interest develop?
I think it was around 1995 I became interested in golf course architecture. It happened completely by chance—-one of those unexpected occurrences that sometimes turn out to be the best life has to offer.
I’d just finished qualifying for the Pennsylvania State Open at Manufacturers GC, a Toomey and Flynn design. After the round we were having drinks on the clubhouse patio and a guy I’d not met before just came up and started talking to me about Manufacturers’ architecture. After about forty five minutes, that included him showing me some old aerials in the clubhouse, we’d had a very comprehensive conversation about the course’s architecture which was something I do not remember ever having before that time. I recall my surprise with the look of the course in those old aerials compared to the look of what I’d just played in that Pa Open qualifier. Obviously the most striking difference was the relative scarcity of trees but I also remember how much bigger the fairways, the hole-corridors, the bunkers and greens seemed to be in those old aerials of Manufacturers.
Back then I was just a tournament golfer. I’d gotten into playing a regular schedule of over forty tournaments annually since about 1980 when I virtually gave up playing recreational golf. In those days I practiced daily on the range and played 5-9 holes with two balls at the end of most every day, rain or shine, and almost always alone. I’d become very confident in what I could do with my swing, my shots and particularly with my short recovery game and putting. My interest in golf in those days was only with my tournament results, not with the architecture of the courses I played; after all I felt tournament results was all I was out there for.
My parents lived half the year in Long Island New York and the other half in Florida since before I was born. I went to school in Daytona Beach Florida until I was twelve and then to St Marks School, a boarding school in Massachusetts. I graduated in 1963 and went to the University of Pennsylvania. In my first year due to the fiasco surrounding the infamous Fernanda Wanamaker Wetherill deb party in Southampton L.I in August 1963 I was asked to take a leave of absence and I was banished from the country by my father and I worked in Mexico City for a family publishing company for a year. I returned to Penn and flunked out, at which point I volunteered into the Marine Corps. When I came out I went to Columbia briefly and then worked for a shipping agency in New York City and then for Smith Barney and for various political campaigns in NYC at the same that time.
In late 1969 my long-time girlfriend and I were struggling with our relationship and I told her I probably needed to go. We went to the Stork Club and over a long, emotional and fairly drunken dinner we decided that the best solution was to just pay the bill and drive to Elkton, Maryland which in those days was the nearest place to get married instantly. We pulled into Elkton about four in the morning, looked around for a Justice of the Peace, couldn’t find one so we found a cheap motel and went to sleep. The next morning we looked at each other and decided perhaps that wasn’t exactly the best plan for the future so we drove back to NYC. Not long afterwards I drove to California and worked on a US senate campaign (Sen. J.V. Tunney). I’d been there for about a month working on the campaign when my girlfriend just showed up unexpectedly. She was the best—beautiful, smart, funny, imaginative, lyrical etc, the daughter of a well known New York Federal judge. She just walked into that San Francisco campaign office unannounced. They asked if they could help her and she said: “Yeah, see that guy sitting over there, he’s my boyfriend and I just flew out here from New York to get him back.” They said they were just a political campaign office and might not be able to help out in that vein. So she said: “Then just give me something to do because I’m not leaving.” So they gave her (Maggie T) a car-load of campaign material and told her to take it over to a Longshoreman’s union meeting and hand it out. At the end of the day she came back and handed them about $2,000 in cash. When they asked her what that was for she said that was the best she could do selling all their bumper stickers and campaign material. Of course they were shocked and told her it was campaign material to be given away. She said: “Look Mister, I just flew out here from New York to get my boyfriend back but we’re pretty commercial in New York and if you people out here just give stuff away you should’ve told me that before you sent me to that union meeting.”
That story about Maggie T is an odd-ball diversion, but I include it because a lot of my life was an odd-ball diversion in those days, and it would continue. I went out with Maggie for about seven year and I don’t remember ever seeing a golf club in her hands. If I had I suspect I would have taken cover. Despite the fact my father was such a good player and golf was his life it just didn’t interest me. I played no more than 2-3 times a year and that would continue.
The first half of 1970 I was all over Northern California every week and the second half I was all over the state every week but I never played golf or even saw a golf course in California that year. In 1972 I moved to Washington D.C. and lived there for the next five years with the ex-wife of a US senator. I never played golf there either other than Rock Creek Park which I think I played twice. During our years in Washington D.C. golf was just not something we ever did or talked about. Our relationship ended in the late 1970s and I moved to Pennsylvania to a farm that had been owned by my mother’s family since 1911 but no one from the family had lived on it. I was certainly feeling down at the end of that relationship and I suppose that was one of the reasons I took up golf as I did. I think I was thirty three.
In March of my first year in Philadelphia I went to Florida to see my father and he took me up to play Seminole with Ogden Phipps who was one of his regular games. Ogden was a pretty strange one—-perhaps one of the richest men in America, he basically ran American thoroughbred horse racing and he was fiercely competitive and could definitely get a bit overbearing because of it. Dad and I played together against Ogden and his partner. I did not have an official handicap at that point because I did not belong to a golf club. Dad told Ogden that but he said he knew my game and that I should be an 11. The problem that day was Dad and I beat Ogden and his partner every which way to Sunday and Ogden was furious about it. That we were only playing for about a dollar or two a unit didn’t seem to occur to anyone. In those days I had no idea what the betting procedure was and even less interest in finding out (and throwing those five dice out of a cup around in the locker-room for drinks was definitely weird). I mean, come on, nassaus and presses? They just sounded to me like islands in the Bahamas or something a dry cleaner used. Apparently the real problem was I did not have an official handicap, and Ogden let Dad know it in no uncertain terms. He just said it was completely unacceptable to play in any kind of competition, even with your son, with an arbitrary and unofficial handicap.
On the way home to Delray my father told me I should join a club and get a handicap. I told him I didn’t know any golf clubs in Philadelphia. Dad told me to call his brother, my uncle, A.J. Drexel Paul III, and ask him if he could get me into Gulph Mills G.C. (my father and his siblings were all what was called “Life Members” of GMGC—-that meant a life time membership with no annual dues). My uncle was a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, a very reserved man of few words. I called him in March and as soon as I returned from Florida and asked about joining Gulph Mills G.C. and he said he would take care of it. I asked him if I should call him back about the process and he said no. So I waited—April, May, June, July, August—-I heard nothing from anyone about the process; I didn’t meet or see anyone from the club, and I didn’t dare call my uncle back. Then in September I got this rather irate letter from GMGC asking me if I could explain why I hadn’t paid my initiation fee that they billed me in March (and literally about two days after my one and only telephone call with my uncle). For some reason I never got that letter. That’s how I came to be a member of GMGC about thirty five years ago; a strange story indeed, but that’s just the way it worked back then at a club like GMGC if your sponsor was someone like A.J. Drexel Paul III.
That’s when I really found golf or maybe it found me. Ironically I was the same age my father was when he found golf or it found him. My father was a very good all around athlete, good at a number of diverse sports in his teens and twenties, but oddly he didn’t really play golf until the war (WW2) and his early thirties. He crossed the north Atlantic about twenty times on Destroyer Escorts (DE) in massive convoys. He was on at least three D.E.s, his first being a “reverse lend-lease” D.E. (it was one of just a few lent by the British to the Americans apparently to make the famous “Lend-Lease” program look like it might be a two way deal). On all of them he was the gunnery officer. His home ports were Norfolk/Newport News, Virginia over here and Londonderry Northern Ireland over there. When he realized he usually had a month or so in Ireland waiting for another convoy to form and head west he brought golf clubs with him on the ship and just played golf every day in Ireland. After three years of that he came out of the war as a scratch player and decided to take his game on the road and with that it became his life. He played in forty plus tournaments a year for the next few decades, just as I would some decades later.
I thought the tournament circuit was wonderful. In those years I got to know hundreds of good golfers from all over the place. In stroke play events it was rare if I was in a pairing with no one I knew. We all had a great time together on the course and off the course but I’d become very good at keeping my focus while competing (I also stopped drinking liquor for most all of my twenty five year tournament career).
My approach during competitive rounds was to concentrate on only one swing key I felt comfortable with on the range and to hit fairways. That was about the extent of my thinking on the course. I felt if I did that successfully the rest would just take care of itself. Back then I didn’t even worry much about missing greens because I felt the chances were pretty good I could get up and down anyway. The idea was if something went a little wrong I could easily make bogey and probably a par and if something went more than a little wrong to never make worse than double bogey. In retroflection I suppose that kind of approach and attitude probably almost required that I did not look around and look at architecture except whatever of it I needed to know to score; I probably didn’t want to think of things like that as it might get distracting. For about the first fifteen or twenty years I guess I played golf in something of a cocoon.
So when I met that man on that patio at Manufacturers after a Pa. State Open qualifier in perhaps 1995, who I found out later was the superintendent, it was a new thing for me to have a comprehensive conversation on the details of the architecture of a golf course. When I told him I came from Gulph Mills Golf Club, an old Donald Ross course, he mentioned there was a very large inventory of old aerial photographs of most all the old courses in the Delaware Valley in a museum in Wilmington, Delaware known as the Hagley (one of the original estates of the DuPont family).
Down to Wilmington I went to ask the Hagley if they had any aerials of my course. They produced 6-8 aerials of GMGC from 1924-1939 which were shot by a prominent aerial photographer of the early years by the name of Victor Dallin. I bought them all and began carefully analyzing their details. Just as with the aerials I’d seen of Manufacturers, the vast differences in the course back then compared to 1995, particularly the openness of the course back then compared to how I had known GMGC for the last fifteen years or so, immediately piqued my interest in the course’s architectural evolution over 75-80 years.
I began analyzing all the changes in conjunction with the only history book the club had. I wanted to determine not just what was done but why the various changes were made. To supplement information in that history book about architectural changes to GMGC, and the reasons for them, luckily I found the complete committee and board meeting minutes for close to eighty years. And then, merely for my own interest, I wrote what I called a design evolution report of all the architectural changes and the architects who did them over those nine decades.
Nothing was done with that report until a year or two later, and after another chance meeting, this time with the president of the club who was hitting balls next to me on the range. For one reason or another that I cannot now remember, he mentioned about a year previous a substantial family in this area, the Montgomery Scott family, had made the club an offer to swap our club for a course at their expense on a commensurate amount of land on their impressive estate of many hundreds of acres known as Ardrossan Farm* in Villanova. When I asked him if he had done anything about that offer from Ardrossan, he said since he felt the club had no interest in moving he had done nothing. We discussed the significance of Ardrossan Farm and its potential as a truly remarkable site for a golf course and club.
At that time, Ardrossan Farm included about three or four hundred acres, an architecturally significant mansion, a number of beautiful historic residential buildings, a glorious historic horse and cattle barn, and a landscape architecture design throughout by the Olmsted Bros (from around the turn of the 20th century). The president of GMGC (Harrison “Goose” Clement) told me if I felt Ardrossan had real potential for us to consider a move that I should look into it myself for the club and make a report on it at some point.
At that same chance meeting I told him about my design evolution report and when I showed it to him he had about 500 copies printed up to be given out to all our members (GMGC has app. 300 members). At that time, I thought my GMGC Design Evolution Report was the first one ever done for a golf club specifically dedicated solely to the architectural evolution of a golf course. With the offer from Ardrossan and my design evolution report, a long range plan for the club began to develop. The idea was if the offer from Ardrossan did not work out the club would consider restoring the golf course essentially in accordance with some of the historical architectural realities from my design evolution report.**
So, around 1998, I had an architectural project on my hands with no experience in what that required. Other than the inherent beauty of Ardrossan Farm, I had very little idea what it took to analyze a site for a potential golf course. As a first step, I did two things; (a) I called the only architect I knew at that time, Rees Jones, and asked him if he would come down to look at Ardrossan, and (b) I went to Barnes and Noble and bought a book on golf architecture called The Golden Age of Golf Architecture by Californian Geoff Shackelford.
Rees sent his associate down and we looked at the southern side of Ardrossan that is contiguous to Overbrook GC. Effectively, I was asked by the family member representing the Montgomery Scotts that the southern half, not the northern half, was the only part of the property we should look at. Fortunately, Shackelford had his email address on the back jacket of his book and we began emailing about the Ardrossan project. He recommended Coore and Crenshaw and I contacted them in Austin, Texas through Ben’s long time agent Scotty Sayers. It took a number of months to get them to come to Philadelphia primarily because the corn was up all over Ardrossan. In the meantime I walked and walked all over Ardrossan Farm for weeks and months and not just on the southern side but on the northern side that had most of the historic buildings and where I felt there were more interesting features and more interesting topography.
Eventually in the late fall when the corn was harvested Bill Coore called and said he could come up for a few days. I knew who Ben Crenshaw was and what he looked like but I had never laid eyes on Bill Coore. I told him I would pick him up at the airport and he could stay with me. I remember asking him how I would find him at the airport because I had no idea what he looked like. He said he would be standing on the curb next to baggage claim and he would have a red golf cap and a shiny black jacket on.
When I arrived at baggage claim there he was with a red golf cap and black jacket and so began the most interesting and educational collaborative relationship on golf architecture I’ve ever had. Even though the family representative told me I should only look at the south side of Ardrossan, I’d been told by my club that if we could not get the best for the club in the move GMGC would not consider the offer. Fortunately I did not tell Bill where to look, and, as I had done, he gravitated to the north side as well.
*The Lady of Ardrossan Farm, Hope Montgomery Scott, was the person about whom the play and later the movie, “The Philadelphia Story” was made. Katherine Hepburn played Hope Montgomery Scott and subsequently they became life-long friends. In my opinion, those two ladies were remarkably similar in look, style and personality, even though I have later learned the similarity was with Hepburn’s stage persona, not necessarily her actual persona or personality.
** Ultimately the Ardrossan project fell through around 1999 or 2000, and at that point we brought in Gil Hanse who did our GMGC restoration project.