Willie Park Jr.
Willie Park Jr.
You've been subscribed.
You are already subscribed to our newsletter. Thank you for subscribing.
Top 100 Golf Courses has a new look and feel. If you have comments or questions about the changes, please let us know.Submit Feedback
Willie Park Jr. was born in 1864 in Musselburgh, the second of four sons belonging to (Old) Willie Park, the four-time Open Champion. Young Willie would win the Open twice himself, becoming one of five Musselburgh golfers to do so. In fact, of the first twenty-nine Opens played, eleven were won by men from the Honest Toun.
When he turned sixteen, Willie served under his uncle Mungo Park (the 1874 Open Champion) at Tyneside Golf Club in Northumberland, acting as assistant greenkeeper and club professional. His father, Willie Park Senior, was asked to design a course at Innerleithen in the Borders in 1886 but was unable to do so, allowing his son Willie Junior to step in and do the work on his behalf. He took over as greenkeeper from Mungo when he moved to Alnmouth in 1892 but he returned to his father and the family business in Musselburgh soon after.
From now on, his career followed three different paths simultaneously.
His playing career blossomed to the extent that he would win the Open twice in three years (1887 at Prestwick and 1889 at Musselburgh) and his golf course design business also flourished, with Willie Jr. laying out new 9-hole courses or revising and lengthening others.
Back in Musselburgh, Willie transformed his father’s club and ball making business into a thriving small factory, employing forty people in the workshop and twenty in retail branches in Edinburgh, Manchester and London.
He invented a number of new clubs, such as a lofter, a mashie cleek and a bulger. He also patented a diamond design for the cover of a gutta percha ball in 1894 and “The Royal” ball that he sold had a unique cover of small hexagonal facets.
Within the British Isles, Willie Park Jr. is probably best known for laying out the original course at Sunningdale and for his involvement with the groundbreaking project at Huntercombe, even though the failure of a proposed real estate element with this development was something of a financial disaster for him.
There’s no doubt that Willie Park Jr. was a main figure in the spread of golf to the rest of the world. He travelled overseas occasionally on assignments in Austria, Belgium, France and Ireland but it’s North America where he really made his mark, having moved there after the Great War.
In Walter Stephen’s book Willie Park Junior – The man who took Golf to the World, the author writes about Willie Park Jr. working on the other side of the Atlantic: “With a base in Montreal, and offices in New York and Toronto, he threw himself into course construction on a big scale... involved with major suppliers and contractors in building courses.”
The author notes 60 courses across sixteen US states and five Canadian provinces that are attributed to Willie Park Jr. though the list may be incomplete and a few of the original layouts have not survived. When added to more than 100 courses that he designed closer to home in the early part of his career, it’s a phenomenal body of work.
In The Evolution of Golf Course Design by Keith Cutten the author states: “In 1901, when both Sunningdale (Old) and Huntercombe opened to rave reviews, Willie Park Jr significantly elevated the standard for inland golf course architecture in Britain. With these works, located west of London, Park had broken new ground. At Sunningdale, Park became one of the first to select a site densely covered with brush because of the material underneath.
Indeed, Park understood that sand was a common thread of all great courses; and it was this element, as a feature, that he exploited when exploring golfing possibilities in the area which would be famously known as the ‘heathlands of England. At Huntercombe, a course laid out over an ancient, turf-established common, Park again broke the mould by crafting large greens, supported by by rolling fairway contours, plus boldly constructed hazards.
Contrasting the previous benchmark for inland British courses, everything appeared to be natural. These two projects secured Park’s success, enabling him to become one of the first full-time golf course architects.”
Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten sum up his contribution to golf design in The Golf Course as follows: “Sir Guy Campbell called him the ‘doyen’ of course architects and credited him with setting the standards adhered to by the countless designers who followed. Willie Park Jr. was surely one of the virtuoso golf architects.”
It’s said that Willie Park Jr. worked himself to death. In 1924, he suffered some sort of a nervous breakdown and his brother Mungo closed down his business operations in North America and took Willie back to Musselburgh. Sadly, he died the following year in an Edinburgh hospital, aged sixty-one.
The Game of Golf (1896) by Willie Park Jr. is reckoned to be the first book about golf written by a professional player. Apart from a number of chapters covering how to play the game, chapter ten (Laying Out and Keeping Golf-Links) is one of the earliest written descriptions about golf course architecture.
Willie Park Jr.'s second book, The Art of Putting, was published in 1920.
Willie Park Junior – The Man who took Golf to the World by Walter Stephen, published in 2005.
Northfield, New Jersey
Juniper Green, Scotland
Battle Creek, Michigan
Londonderry, Northern Ireland