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Perry Maxwell

Year of Birth1879
Year of Death1952, aged 73
Place of BirthPrinceton, Kentucky, USA

Born in Kentucky, the son of Dr. James A. Maxwell and Caroline Harris, Perry Maxwell was educated at the University of Kentucky, Lexington and Stetson University in Florida but poor health (he suffered from tuberculosis) prevented him from finishing his studies. He moved to Oklahoma where he met his wife Raymonde Woods then settled into a banking job as a cashier, eventually rising through the ranks to become vice president of the Ardmore National Bank.

Perry was a staunch Presbyterian, following the precepts of John Knox, so he never drank alcohol, smoked tobacco or swore and this clean-living lifestyle was one that he passed onto his four children. The family attended the First Presbyterian Church weekly, along with Sunday school, and both Perry and Ray were instrumental in the development of their local church.

The oil industry in Oklahoma brought untold prosperity to Ardmore, which was said to have more millionaires per capita than any other city in the country, and the Maxwells were able to purchase a 320-acre property for $7,025.00 at public auction from the Board of the County Commissioners. Perry’s brother-in-law was then brought in to oversee the running of the dairy farm.

It’s said his interest in golf was sparked by reading H. J. Whigham’s book, How to Play Golf, which waspublished the year after he won the US Amateur in 1896. The Scotsman’s father was a friend of C. B. Macdonald from their student days at the University of St Andrews and Whigham would go on to marry Macdonald’s daughter, Frances.

Encouraged by his wife, Maxwell laid out a 4-hole course in 1913 on their property (it would eventually become part of Dornick Hills Golf & Country Club) which was later said to be the first in the state to boast grass greens – up until then, all putting surfaces were flat, circular-shaped affairs comprised of oiled sand that was scraped and rolled.

Soon after his wife’s death from appendicitis in 1919, Maxwell retired and travelled to Scotland to learn as much as possible about using natural landforms when designing golf courses. He also spent time tracking down family in Anstruther, Fife, where the Dishingtons and the Adamsons were related on his paternal side. It’s also thought he may have first met Alister MacKenzie, who was at that time the consulting architect for the R&A in St. Andrews. On his return to the United States, he got down to work right away, setting out a dozen courses in Oklahoma within the five year period leading up to 1926.

Chris Clouser, author of The Midwest Associate has this to say about the architect’s decade-long alliance with Alister MacKenzie, which started in the mid-1920s: “Maxwell is misunderstood by many people. For example, he wasn’t MacKenzie’s associate, he was his partner.” Clouser explains that, during their period of collaboration, “MacKenzie would get the contracts, then they would collaborate in the design. Then Maxwell finished everything.”

Such an arrangement between the two men resulted in the construction of highly regarded courses at places such as Crystal Downs, The University of Michigan, Oklahoma City Country Club and Melrose Country Club in Pennsylvania.

With MacKenzie's death in 1934 and the dissolution of their partnership, Maxwell then went on to even greater things on his own, despite the nation still being in the grip of the Great Depression. Before the start of World War II, he had designed world-class layouts at Southern Hills in Oklahoma, Prairie Dunes in Kansas and Old Town Club in North Carolina.

Not only that, he is credited with carrying out improvements at more than a dozen other clubs around that time, including Pine Valley (5th, 8th and 9th in 1934), Augusta National (at least 10 holes in 1936 and 1937) and Colonial (several holes in 1940). Perry also became a master of renovation during this period of economic instability, his low-budget work attracting commissions at clubs with limited funds.

Maxwell was a master at networking, starting with banking associates in Oklahoma, progressing to developers and clubs in the Philadelphia area, then (through Clifford Roberts at NGLA) the ‘old boy’ network in the Deep South of the country. He also built up contacts in New York and Long Island through his friendship with C. B. Macdonald. All of these connections contributed to the contracts that led to his fame as an architect.

Maxwell's design trademarks were his contoured greens and the ability to use the existing natural topography to set out challenging holes. His putting surfaces were typically large and contoured with swales which are often referred to as “Maxwell's rolls”. It’s often best to be below the pin location on his greens to have a half a chance of making a decent putt.

He was also a master at using the natural landscape to sculpt holes and one of his favourite design features was the inclusion of naturally occurring cliffs. He built a green on top of a 50-foot cliff on the par five 16th hole at Dornick Hills, which most golfers can only reach in three shots. On the following hole, players tee off from the cliff and play sharply downward to a par three below.

Somebody who should not be forgotten when examining Perry Maxwell’s achievements is his brother-in-law Dean Woods, who worked in the Arizona copper mines before moving to Oklahoma City after Oklahoma became a state. Dean joined up with Perry in 1923 when asked if he was interested in building golf courses with him and he ended up as the lead construction manager until Press Maxwell took over when World War II ended.

After the war, Maxwell continued working – even after having his right leg amputated due to cancer – and he became a founding member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects in 1947. His son, James Press Maxwell, joined the business after serving as a pilot with the US Air Force in Europe and he handled most of the on-site supervision of their designs.

Following his father’s death in 1952, Press continued the family design practice, flying from course to course in his own small airplane, until he retired in the early 1970s. Fittingly, Perry Maxwell was buried in a family plot on a ridge to the north of the 7th fairway at Dornick Hills Golf & Country Club, close to where his design career had first flourished some forty years previously.


Architect Ian Andrew has this to say about the architect’s style: “Maxwell believed in moving as little as possible and building his courses at minimal expense. He took what the ground offered and made that a key element in the design, understanding that the rolls and undulations would be enough to confound most good players. Most of his work was limited to the bunkering and greens that would emphasize the strategy that he had prepared in the routing.”

Keith Cutten in The Evolution of Golf Course Design has this to say about Maxwell’s magnum opus: “In 1967, some twenty years after the first nine at Prairie Dunes was laid out, James Press Maxwell was asked to complete his father’s earlier work. Reports from that time indicate that Press tried to utilise his father’s original routing concepts; but due to drainage issues implementation was soon deemed impossible.

As such, whereas three early holes (the 3rd through to the 5th) loosely resemble those which had been proposed by Perry Maxwell; six holes on the back nine (the 11th through to the 16th) do not follow Perry’s plans in any way. Regardless, the course is universally hailed as a stunning success.”

Chris Clouser in The Midwest Associate: The Life and Times of Perry Duke Maxwell writes this about the architect:

“He was a simple man, who preferred to go by P.D. He either designed or was involved with the original design on several of the top courses in the US and has been involved in the renovation of other household names in the world of golf. Geographically his work has been isolated mainly to the Great Plains of America in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. This alone is probably a large reason for his anonymity, as none of his courses have been thrust into the spotlight of the major metropolitan areas and, except for Southern Hills and Colonial, very little of his work has hosted tournaments of any significance.

Maxwell was somewhat similar to most other architects of his time in that golf was not where he started his career. Beyond that the similarities end. He was originally involved with the banking and oil industry in Oklahoma and was a man deeply devoted to his family and to God. Although he played the game, unlike Stanley Thompson or Harry Colt or Donald Ross, he was not an exceptional golfer. Unlike George Thomas and Tom Simpson he did not heavily document his ideas on golf course design and strategy. Unlike almost every other designer from his time, he continued working during the Great Depression and after World War II.

It can be argued that Maxwell’s designs were the definition of what the art and science of golf course architecture should truly be about. He designed his courses on what nature gave him, plotted his holes with some strategy and let you play the game. And he created a legacy by passing the trade on to his son Press, who would later design several courses in Texas and Colorado. He also brought golf to a group of people who had never really had a chance to experience the game. Maxwell took golf to ‘the desert’. He was the first architect to make ‘greens’ as opposed to the browns that people in Oklahoma and the other states in the region had played for years.

Maxwell did get the notice of several others in the industry for his work. Alister MacKenzie requested his assistance. August National came calling. Pine Valley, National Golf Links and several others wanted the services of Maxwell. Over time he became famous for his amazing green complexes, which often contained large swales and dips termed ‘Maxwell Rolls’. Maxwell was recognized in his time, but has been pushed almost off the face of the map in our current versions of this historical period. This for a man that some consider the greatest green builder in the history of golf course design is unjust treatment.

His career lasted roughly forty years and during that time he completed a large number of projects. It has been noted that Maxwell believed the totals to be approximately 70 new courses and 50 other remodelling projects. It can be documented currently to be closer to 50 new courses and 30 other remodelling projects. During that time he worked on several courses that still spark conversation to this day.”


Perry Maxwell’s Prairie Dunes by James M. Elliott and Mal Elliott (2002)

The Midwest Associate: The Life and Work of Perry Duke Maxwell by Chris Clouser (2006)

Notable Courses

Chester Valley

Chester Valley

Malvern, Pennsylvania



Fort Worth, Texas

Crystal Downs

Crystal Downs

Frankfort, Michigan

Dornick Hills

Dornick Hills

Ardmore, Oklahoma

Gulph Mills

Gulph Mills

King of Prussia, Pennsylvania



Fort Smith, Arkansas

Hillcrest Country Club

Hillcrest Country Club

Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Hope Valley

Hope Valley

Durham, North Carolina

Jimmie Austin

Jimmie Austin

Norman, Oklahoma



Muskogee, Oklahoma

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