Wilson’s 1958 layout, top and the 1962 plan with partial rerouting, below resulting from the club’s purchase of additional land including the current clubhouse.

Twelth hole at Meadow Brook, left and the #15 runway tee, 79 yards long, at right. Top, the original 8th green with intact bnukers, now a practice area.

Numerous additional courses in the northeast included The Deepdale GC near Meadow Brook, The Garrison Golf Club on elevated and rocky terrain opposite West Point, the Cavalry Club near Syracuse, NY and Beden’s Brook CC near Princeton, NJ.

At Bedens Brook, the club’s 1975 history notes that Wilson “was chosen over Robert Trent Jones, who was also considered but whose initial submissions were inferior to those of Dick Wilson. It is a tribute to his talent that only four changes have been made in the course since it was originally constructed” in 1965.62 Since then a number of changes have been made, but the look and feel of Wilson is apparent right from the first tee with a view to the fairway bunkers and their ubiquitous islands within. The club retains a full set of copies of the “Original Greens Drawings” so it is relatively simple to identify exactly what changes have occurred and when. Although there are few runway tees, the routing remains intact with the exception of alternating 9 and 18. Ron Forse did a number of bunker and other renovations in recent years, and the club is focused on restoring as much of Wilson’s features as possible.

Bunkering at Bedens Brook #5 left and #8 right.

These courses illustrate Wilson’s versatility in working on varying environments, from the flat terrain ubiquitous to Florida, to the rolling parkland settings on Long Island to the rugged rocky terrain at Garrison. Wilson also knew how to handle the complex engineering aspects of drainage in both warm and cold climates.63 Wilson insisted that the greens at Royal Montreal be elevated, not only to give golfers an elevated target as per his usual designs, but to ensure an “effective means of surface drainage in the deadly ‘January thaws’ of a Quebec winter.”64
Below, Bedens Brook #5 Original Drawing, courtesy the Bedens Brook Club.

His list of original design credits (solo or with Joe Lee) in the U.S. runs to 58. This is a difficult number to pin down with complete accuracy. The list contained at http://www.worldgolf.com/golf-architects/dick-wilson.html  totals 57, but includes some of his renovations as well as original designs. A likely more accurate source is the list found in Cornish and Whitten (1993) at pages 435-36, from which the associated text is derived. The Jackson Kahn Research Document lists 59, including original designs and remodeling. No sources currently list his early work at Lumberton. A further illustration of this type of  uncertainty is at The Cavalry Club near Syracuse, NY where  groundbreaking occurred on June 3, 1964. The course opened the following June and is generally considered a Lee design, but was built by Lee from Wilson’s plans.65

His U.S. renovations number 20. He designed the 3 courses at Royal Montreal in 1959, 8 courses during the early 1960’s in the Bahamas, Villa Real in Cuba in 1957 and traveled to Venezuela in 1958 to design Lagunita. He did renovation work in 1959 in Australia at Royal Melbourne’s East and West Courses, and returned to Australia in 1961 to renovate and add 8 holes at the Metropolitan GC.

The #4 greenside bunkering and #11’s runway tee at Deepdale. The bottom photo is the 18th green from #10 tee.

Original color plan of the course at Deepdale. Dick Wilson, Inc.


#9, left and #17, right at Garrison.

Dick Wilson’s Design Philosophy
Wilson’s primary style involved letting the land dictate how the course would lay out. He noted that “you can put a beautiful woman in an expensive dress, but if the dress doesn’t fit, neither the woman nor the dress is going to look any good at all. It’s the same with building a golf course. You got to cut the course to fit the property.”66 He was heavily involved in not only designing a golf course, but in the physical work to lay it out. According to Wilson, “It takes a better man to build a course than to lay one out.”67 Wilson was of the opinion that a good golf course should require the full range of a player’s shots, instead of relying too much on elements such as putting or driving. His design theory was likely strongly influenced by his time at Merion, which he regarded as one of the finest golf courses in the U.S. because of its visually intimidating aspect, which requires considerable thought and the need for using many different shots, instead of focusing on length. “A golf course should appear more vicious to a player than it actually is, it should inspire you, keep you alert. If you’re playing a sleepy-looking course, you’re naturally going to fall asleep.”68 Roughly one third of his courses were designed on the flat land of Florida, which requires considerably more imagination for a golf architect to make a course interesting than is necessary on varied terrain.

He disliked blind shots or unseen hazards; when one plays a Wilson course, everything is laid out for the golfer to see, from fairway hazards to greenside bunkers. He moved away from standard round bunkers to a more feathered edge, which not only enhanced their appearance, but offered more challenging play to escape. Jones was fond of using round bunkers, so that was for Wilson, a good reason do design something different. Wilson tended to design large, rolling greens and incorporated mounding and raised putting surfaces throughout his courses, thus enhancing the generally flat Florida terrain with what is known today as vertical expression. Wilson, along with many architects of his period, often designed large greens with collars or tongues extending from the main portion in order to accommodate shots coming from the relatively low trajectory of a long iron or wood, especially on the longer holes, but often on the par threes as well. Today’s greens can be much smaller, given that modern equipment allows the top players (and the average golfer as well) to hit greens with higher lofted irons than was possible 50 years ago, and with more spin from the sharper grooves. The tongues or fingers might be areas of a green that were essentially peninsula shaped and could accommodate tighter pin placements than the main part of a green. Wilson would usually place bunkers or water hazards tight into these tongues to offer the player a more challenging, but rewarding shot if well struck. His bunkers were as a rule, 31” from the putting surfaces at Sunnylands, and the restored course reflects these elements.
He utilized long runway style tees, which allowed a course to be played at many different yardages, and worked well from a maintenance perspective compared with small tees. However, his design at Sunnylands did not include this type of tee, but had the more common (to that era) pods.69 Wilson did not favor the use of ladies tees, although these were incorporated by Lee and Cuellar after Wilson’s departure.

Wilson incorporated numerous doglegs, in some cases using them on virtually every hole. According to his chief rival Robert Trent Jones, “he builds too many doglegs. On some courses he’ll dogleg 14 of the 18 holes.”70 Wilson was somewhat formulaic in his designs, usually having water hazards on one third of the holes, landing areas at roughly 230 yards from the tees (the average drive of that era), bunkers and hazards close in to greens which required an accurate and lofted shot, and even incorporating specific distances from greenside bunkers to the putting surface. In the case of Sunnylands, 31” was the rule, which allowed for easy identification of greens that had been reduced over time due to mowing and maintenance practices.




Aerial view above of Doral Blue’s 9th left, and 18th, right circa 1969. Courtesy Ryan Hershberger, Marriott Corporation.

Note that Doral’s #9 Red green above, was originally located where the current pavilion is today. Photo circa 1969. Courtesy Ryan Hershberger, Marriott Corporation.

Doral Blue’s #1 above left and the Blue’s #11, considered the #18 handicap hole on the course. View is from the middle of the fairway.

Dick Wilson’s Signature Course: the Pine Tree Golf Club in Boynton Beach, Florida

The Pine Tree Golf Club in Boynton Beach, Florida is widely considered to be his finest work.71 The original 1961 routing is intact and much of the look and feel of original course remains, along with 128 bunkers. The runway tees are present on every hole, including the longest one at 160 yards on the 16th hole, a 666 yard par five, which also happens to be the longest hole in the state of Florida. A single engine Piper Cub once made a successful landing on that tee.
The club remains strictly a golf club; there is no tennis or pool. Mr. Wilson considered it his home course, and until his death, he lived in the house (below) along the entrance drive. It is currently for sale, but does not come with a membership at Pine Tree.

An aerial view of Pine Tree from 1968. University of Florida Map & Digital Imagery Library http://ufdc.ufl.edu/aerials

Above left #5. Above right, original #6 (courtesy Pine tree golf Club).

Top, #1. Bottom, #17

The club remains strictly a golf club; there is no tennis or pool. Mr. Wilson considered it his home course, and until his death, he lived in the house (below) along the entrance drive. It is currently for sale, but does not come with a membership at Pine Tree.

The bunkering exemplifies Wilson’s use of elaborate shapes, multiple islands within bunkers, and numerous fairway and cross bunkers. Consistent with his style as well was making them all visible to the player. The course features two dog legs (there are rarely more on his courses) and many of his large greens with elongated fingers for tight pin placements. Although renovation work, including bunker reconstruction was undertaken in 1997 under Ron Forse and again in 2005 by Bobby Weed, the historic integrity of the course remains largely intact. Among the club’s archives are aerial images, original plans and numerous photos of each hole commissioned by Ben Hogan in the mid 1960’s.

An original bunker on #2

Classic Wilson island bunkering on #4

The 5th hole.

Pine Tree’s first hole above, and #15 below. Note the uncharacteristic round bunker at left on #15, which is to be restored along with a number of similar atypical bunkers on the course.

Original 13th hole above and #18 approach below. Courtesy the Pine Tree Golf Club.

The 18th hole today.

The 12th hole, where Wilson incorporated a signature pine tree into the fairway. The tree has been periodically replaced to retain its strategic importance.

Below, two of Wilson’s play clubs on display in the clubhouse and his portrait which hangs in the lobby.

Two of Wilson’s play clubs on display in the clubhouse and his portrait which hangs in the lobby.

As evidenced by recent renovation and restoration work at many of the Dick Wilson solo designs and co-designs with Joe Lee, along with regular tournament play at his courses, Dick Wilson’s reputation is regaining ground. Between contemporaries Dick Wilson and Robert Trent Jones, Jones was by far better at public relations. His son Rees Jones has continued in his footsteps and further enhanced his name, whereas Wilson has had no such champion or descendants. His challenges with alcohol and somewhat ornery reputation have combined to overshadow his contributions to the field of modern American golf architecture. Without question, the hiring of Dick Wilson, arguably the most highly rated golf architect of the time, to design the course at Sunnylands, is an indication of Ambassador Annenberg’s intent to develop a state of the art private 9-hole course. Its restoration with the strong emphasis on retaining the historic character of the golf course as Mr. Wilson and Ambassador Annenberg envisioned it, should further enhance Mr. Wilson’s reputation, and solidify the characterization of The Course At Sunnylands as a significant historical and cultural landscape. The restored course and property as a whole would clearly satisfy the criteria for listing on the NRHP, should such designation be sought in the future. The restored course will constitute an outstanding example of a Modern golfscape.

61  Wilson was given this job somewhat by default. RTJ had originally been offered the contract, but was unable to begin work on the project as a result of the club’s moving forward earlier than anticipated with the purchase of the land on Ile Bizard and the sale of their old land.  Owen, Hon. George R.W. The Royal Montreal Golf Club 1873-2000. Royal Montreal Golf Club, Montreal, Quebec, Canada (2001) at pages 182-190.
62 http://www.bedensbrookclub.com/history.cfm
63   During the design of the course at Royal Montreal, Wilson had a strong disagreement with one of the club’s board of
directors who was insisting on using relatively new plastic piping for the watering system. Wilson slammed $1,000 down on the table, betting that the plastic pipe would not work. The bet was declined, the plastic pipe installed, and it promptly failed, resulting in a lawsuit. Brown (July, 1962).
64  Owen (2001) at page 190.
65 http://www.cavalryclub.org/newassets/cavalry-leaderboard.pdf. See also, Hamrock, Jarlath. Finger Lakes Golf Guide, Eastward Point Press, Willett, NY (2003) at page 135. www.cavalryclub.org
66 Brown (July, 1962).
67 Brown (July, 1962).
68 Sherman (2009).
69 Jackson Kahn Research Document (January, 2010) at page 33.
70 Brown (July, 1962).
71 Ben Hogan called it “The best course I have ever seen.” Sherman (2009).