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- A. W. Tillinghast
A. W. Tillinghast
“A.W. Tillinghast, known in his day as “Tillie the Terror”, was as outstanding golf architect, and also one of the most colorful characters in the history of golf,” wrote Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten in The Golf Course. “The only child of a wealthy Philadelphia couple, Tillinghast was a spoiled, pampered youth. He ran with a local gang of boys – called The Kelly Street Gang – who seemed bent on engaging in the most scandalous behaviour that could be attempted in the late 1890s.
At the age of 20, Tillinghast abruptly left the band of ruffians, joined a more refined social circle and married a lovely young woman named Lillian. He then worked hard to develop an aristocratic image. He took on the trappings of a connoisseur and raconteur, collected beautiful pieces of furniture, china and art, and wrote self-published novels full of maudlin prose. He lived the life of a sportsman, dabbling in cricket, billiards, polo and bridge.”
Albert’s father took him to St Andrews in 1896 and introduced him to Old Tom Morris. His passion for the game developed rapidly following a number of lessons from the old master and four-time Open Champion. Tillinghast wrote later: “I got to know the old man very well indeed in succeeding years, and I spent many happy hours with him in his little sitting-room over his shop. It was there that I handled the Champion’s Belt won by his son, as Old Tom got it out reverently and his eyes filled with tears as he told me many things about his boy.”
Between 1905 and 1915, Tillinghast competed in the US Amateur Championship alongside golfing notables including Chandler Egan and Walter Travis. “In 1906, at the behest of Charles Worthington (who had made a fortune with his pump company),” continue Cornish and Whitten, “Tillinghast somewhat audaciously laid out a golf course on the Worthington family’s farm at Shawnee-on-Delaware, Pennsylvania.” Tillinghast’s inaugural design (once known as Poxono Country Club) is still accessible for public play (for a very modest green fee) at The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, which is set on an island in the middle of the Delaware River.
The authors of The Golf Course continue: “It was about the first honest work Tillie had ever done in his life, and he found that he not only enjoyed it, but also that he was good at it. He formed a design and construction firm that immediately became a success, and Tillinghast was a millionaire from his own efforts by the mid-1920s.
He honed his aristocratic image even further during his years as a golf designer. From his home in Harrington Park, N.J., Tillie routinely rode a chauffeured limousine to his office in midtown Manhattan. Not one to slave over working drawings and detailed plans, Tillie preferred to tromp through the thick brush of a course site – always dressed in the garb of a Wall Street banker – and lay out the course with his perceptive eye and uncanny intuition. During course construction he would routinely appear in a three-piece-suit, plant a shooting stick in the shade, settle his bulk on it, sip from a flask and shout directions all day long to laborers.”
During an illustrious career, Tillinghast was involved with more than 250 golf course designs in the USA. Fifty major championships have been staged on twenty-four of his different designs, including Winged Foot and Baltusrol.
The Great Depression brought an abrupt end to Tillinghast’s aristocratic lifestyle and ill-fated investments almost bankrupted him. He worked for the PGA of America for a few years advising clubs on course updates, but the economic climate proved too challenging. He moved to Beverly Hills and opened an antique shop. “His own family’s furniture and art collections formed most of the stock.” Commented Cornish and Whitten. “When this venture failed, so did his health. He moved in with a daughter in Toledo, Ohio, where he died shortly after, nearly forgotten by the golfing world.”
Tillinghast was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2015, and according to their facts, “Tillinghast’s Brook Hollow Golf Course in Dallas, TX, built in 1921, was the first course to have complete fairway irrigation.” Tillie is quoted as follows: “A round of golf should present 18 inspirations. Every hole must have individuality.”
The Golf Course by Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten states Tillinghast; “also coined the word “birdie” to describe a hole shot in one less stroke than par.”
“A green has features like a human face. Of course, many are no more impressive than the vacant, cow-like expression of some people, but then again there are some with rugged profiles which loom head and shoulders above the common herd.”
Tom Weiskopf, talking about the course at San Francisco, said: “the course is unquestionably in my Top 10 golfing experiences in the world. I am still amazed why I cannot come up with anything close in design to what exists aesthetically and strategically on this marvellous piece of property. I still marvel at the brilliance of Tillinghast.”
From The Evolution of Golf Course Design by Keith Cutten: “As a prolific writer on the subject of golf and course architecture, Tillinghast, ultimately, was considered more than just a golf course designer. Tilly’s first-known major writing effort was his February 1901 article for GOLF magazine, titled ‘St Andrews’. Between 1901 and 1940, Tilly published numerous articles in The American Golfer, Country Life and Golf Illustrated. In June 1933, Tillinghast was named Editor of Golf Illustrated; while from 1935 to 1937 he frequently had articles published in The Professional Golfer of America."
Duncan Lennard wrote in Golf World magazine: “A.W. Tillinghast is remembered as a worthy contributor to the Golden Age. However, there can be little doubt that, had he been designing in any other era, his reputation and recognition would have been far higher. With classic courses popping up seemingly every year, to this day unsurpassed in their ability to test the best, the quality of his design has been somewhat lost in the crowd.
Taken in isolation, however, his work stands up against any architect in terms of quality, quantity, innovation, maintenance and just about any yardstick you want to use. However, his contribution runs deeper. Like no designer before him, Tillinghast grasped that through thoughtful design, you could build a single golf hole that challenged the elite player while remaining playable for the hacker.
While it is true that some of his most famed courses veered towards the former, the innate options and versatility of his approach led to courses that were the direct prototypes of for the so-called ‘strategic’ school of golf course design, a philosophy that has pretty much dominated the game ever since.”
Tillie (or should it be Tilly?) published a number of books, including a humorous title in 1915, Cobble Valley Golf Yarns and Other Sketches, which was followed by a 1925 sequel The Mutt… And Other Golf Yarns. He also produced three volumes of collected articles and the first volume, The Course Beautiful, chronicles more than one hundred essays on golf course architecture.
A.W. Tillinghast: Creator Of Golf Courses by Philip Young (2006)