Much like the other reviewers I share their opinion of all three nine holes at Shawnee. I went there for three reasons. First was to play a course that once hosted a PGA in 1938 won by Paul Runyon over Sam Snead by an 8 and 7 margin. Second was to play the first original design by A.W. Tillinghast as this course opened in 1911. Third was to see the hotel and golf course where Arnold Palmer met his first wife, Winnie Walzer, who happened to be there while the Waite Invitational was underway. Arnold Palmer had recently won the U.S. Amateur and she was a student at Brown University. He met her briefly on Tuesday. He asked her to marry him on Friday night during dinner. He won the tournament and they were married later that year on December 20 on an arranged elopement by Arnold’s sister, Lois Jean.
This is also where Jackie Gleason, the comedian, learned to play golf. Hale Irwin won a NCAA championship on the course in 1967.
As for the course, it was converted to 27 holes as the course was expanded in 1964 from the 18 holes used in the PGA. This expansion wiped out most of Tillinghast’s original work. The resort likes to say that four holes remain from Tillinghast’s work as well as several additional greens. I could make the case that five holes remain, although even four of those have been altered. As for some additional green sites remaining, I would need access to a lot more photos! In the book, “The Course Beautiful” which offers a collection of original articles and photographs of A. W. Tillinghast, on page 19 there is a sketch drawing of his original course, including yardages. What strikes one the most from this drawing is the amount of space between the holes.
In expanding the course to 27 holes, the resort likes to claim that Mr. William Diddel weaved his new holes expertly in with Mr. Tillinghast’s but that is inaccurate. Mr. Diddel used the same amount of land that Tillinghast used for 15 holes on the island to build 24 holes. In essence he had to wipe out 14 holes to build the other 23 (if I am correct about Tillinghast’s original seventh hole – now blue #2). In addition, Mother Nature likely eliminated much of the original bunkers and greens due to numerous floods over the years, many of which damaged the hotel as well which is likely one reason why the hotel has never been truly expanded and made more luxurious.
In my opinion, there are five holes that look to be from Mr. Tillinghast’s original design
#1 Par 4 – 336. Now Par 4 (#1 red) – 373/353. This seems to be the same hole, only lengthened. It is likely a similar green in size and shape and takes nice advantage of a stream crossing in front of it. This hole had no bunkers when first designed, nor does it have any today.
#7 par 5 – 533. Now Par 5 (#2 blue) – 571/540. This hole was built with a large fairway bunker on the right off the tee, but the bunker was moved to the left which makes no sense given the tree line (and river) go down the entirety of the left side of the hole. The green was built with two central bunkers blocking the entrance to the green (which was something Tillinghast rarely did), and then flanking bunkers to either side. Today there are only three bunkers, with two to the left side (again, silly given it is closer to the tree line), and one center-line bunker. In spirit, par and length, this is close to the original hole.
#16 Par 3 – 135. Now Par 4 (#7 blue) – 177/161. Maybe the club pushed the tee back due to not wanting it to be so close to the river due to the many floods that have occurred, but I am willing to bet the green has also been re-worked. Missing are the flanking bunkers to either side of the green as there are none today.
#17 Par 4 – 446. Now Par 4 (#8 blue) – 354/301. One could definitely argue this is not an original Tillinghast hole due to the loss of 90 yards. In its original form, this would have been a very difficult hole. I cannot tell if the original design had a tee back on the other side of the river or if the green was relocated forward to make room for a new entrance road (my guess is that a new entrance road was put in which shortened the hole). The current hole is missing the large center-line bunker on the fairway in play off the tee. It also played relatively straight whereas today’s version is a dogleg left. The hole does retain the central bunker about 20 yards short of the green as well as two bunkers to the right of the green.
#18 Par 3 – 221. Now Par 3 (#9 blue) – 230/216. Much like the first hole, the ending hole is likely the same with a single bunker right and two to the left of which one is a small pot-like bunker. The bunkering is essentially the same although it appears that the right side bunker was next to the front right edge of the green when originally built whereas today it is 15 yards short of the green.
As to the rest of the course, Tillinghast was famous for being inconsistent with his designs although favoring open entrances to elevated greens. Unlike other designers of his time, he did not follow a formula, choosing to build holes that fit the land, rather than move a lot of dirt to manufacture something to be repetitive. Each course was to have its own unique design. He did not favor template holes. Although later he sometimes incorporated a double-dogleg on a par 5, it was absent at Shawnee. He worked on essentially flat land at Shawnee for the three holes near the hotel and the fifteen on the island. Nevertheless his original design had the second hole par 5 featuring a heroic risk-reward tee shot over the water to a dogleg left with trees down the left side. His third hole featured a punchbowl green. He incorporated center-line bunkers, a relatively new concept at the time. His course had seven doglegs, of which his eighth hole was nearly 90 degrees. He also had optional teeing areas on his eleventh hole, a par 4 of 344 yards. His fourteenth hole utilized a series of chocolate drop mounds on the left side of the fairway, similar to what he later used at Somerset Hills. His ninth hole did not come back to the clubhouse; instead it was the farthest point away playing from one branch of the river to the other branch. Sadly, none of this remains as it was either ground to the dirt under Mr. Diddel or washed away in the floods.
A weird quirk to the holes created by Mr. Diddel is that the Blue and White nine’s each have three par 5’s and three par 3’s. On the white course, the first par 4 is the sixth hole. The new 24 holes on the island do feel a bit cramped at times whereas under Mr. Tillinghast’s original design there would have been a feeling of space even if the course had been tree-lined.
I played all 27 holes the day I was there as at the time I had some doubt which holes were considered the original Tillinghast holes. When I checked in the person at the counter looked at me blankly as I queried him. For my first 18 holes I joined a retired member of the FBI so I got to hear some interesting stories. My final nine I joined three guys that had been there for four days of an annual outing of twelve players. Seven had continued playing while 4 others, hopelessly behind in their tournament had retired early to the bar.
The conditioning of the course was not great but it was certainly not unplayable. There were several bunkers that needed more sand (or at least to be raked). The course in general suffers greatly from a lack of inspired/creative bunkering both in the fairways and at the greens. 75% of the holes require improved bunkering both in placement, depth, and shape. The greens are easy to read and need more inner movement. There is usually no real interesting contours off the fairways or in the green surrounds. This is a resort course with an aged hotel in an area that has been surpassed by many far better resort golf destinations (none near here). As a resort course based on the market they are trying to reach, the course is good for average players who do not mind a slower pace of play.
I did find a few holes that were decent on each of the three nines, but there was not a single time where I found three consecutive holes that I liked. The closest I came to that were the final three holes on the White nine.
The Blue/Red course plays to a length of 6800/6290 par 72 rated 72.8/70.4 and 129/126. The Blue is the longest at 3438 yards followed by the Red at 3362 and the White at 3227.
Red 1. Par 4 – 373/353. An okay starting hole with the approach shot playing over a stream that should not be a factor. There are no bunkers and the green is large tilted to the front.
Red 2 – Par 3 159/141. Playing over a branch of the Delaware River, the green sits between a narrow gap in the trees with a front right bunker and a bunker back right. The green is fairly tilted and this is one of the few holes that has mounding off the green on the right side. They should remove some trees to create more of an opening and add another bunker front left.
Red 3 – Par 5 – 510/472. This hole utilizes half of Tillinghast’s original second hole playing towards the other wider branch of the Delaware River. The hole plays as a slight dogleg right with heavy trees down the left side and scattered trees down the right. The first bunker is on the right about 125 yards from the green. This bunker should come into the fairway. “Near” the green is a second bunker well to the right and 15 yards shy of the green. It really is not in play. There is a smaller bunker on the front left but not deep. The green is oval and has decent slope to it. If one is left near the green they will have tree trouble as a tree overhangs the green. This tree should be removed as it is silly. I imagine the resort says this is an original Tillinghast green but I would be very skeptical as the bunkering is very different.
Red 4 – Par 4 – 415/354. This hole goes left at the end. Both sides of the fairways have trees although the fairway is generous. The green is surrounded by four bunkers and is smaller with a horizontal small ridge. I thought the hole was okay.
Red 5 – Par 4 – 391/345. I liked this hole as well which is somewhat of a mirror image of the fourth red, but even more of a fishhook dogleg left. One can miss right where there are few trees but there is a tree about 50 yards shy of the green that will block one’s line. There is one bunker left off the tee that bigger hitters can easily reach. The green is built into a hill behind it with a front left bunker.
Red 6 – Par 5 – 492/474. This hole would be better as a par 4, just shorten it, but I think it exists as a par 5 to soothe egos if one has gotten off to a poor start. This hole offers a bunker right off the tee with the next bunker also on the right about 100 yards from the green. There is a long center-line bunker that begins about 30 yards before the green followed by flanking bunkers. Behind the green is a large tree that should be removed. If this hole was a par 4 of perhaps 460/440 I would have found three holes in a row that I liked.
Red 7 – Par 4 – 396/375. This is a dogleg right with a large tree on the inner corner and trees down the left side. The green complex includes a central bunker about 20 yards short of the green and flanking bunkers. It is an okay hole in routing but needs a more interesting green.
Red 8 – Par 3 – 169/149. You play back to the river to an oval green with a large bunker on the front right. The green was not interesting.
Red 9 – Par 4 – 457/400. A slight dogleg left with a bunker left at the beginning of the fairway about 175 yards out designed to keep balls out of a pond. For the longer hitters the pond snakes back to the left edge of the fairway and is in play. The right side offers ample room but once again the line to the green is blocked by a large tree 60 yards short of the green. The green has a single bunker on the right. They should remove the tree, add two more bunkers, put better contouring around the smallish green, expand the green and raise it with a false front and two tiers. After all of that, it would be a worthy hole.
Blue 1 – Par 4 – 441/410. It’s an okay hole from an elevated tee near the starting area for both the Blue and White nine’s, well away from the clubhouse. The ponds to the left side of Red nine are now to the left side of this hole. The hole plays as a dogleg left with a large tree at the end of the pond on the inner corner. There are no fairway bunkers, nor any movement in the fairway. There are two bunkers left of the flattish green. This is a hole that could be interesting with a better green and better greenside bunkering.
Blue 2 – Par 5 – 571/540. The longest hole at Shawnee plays parallel to the Delaware River on the left with a bunker on the left side near the thick trees that really is not in play off the tee and likely not on the second shot. Near the green is a center bunker and two bunkers right. The green is small for the length of the hole and is slightly raised back to front. Better bunkering would vastly improve this hole.
Blue 3 – Par 4 - 363/346. The only interesting aspect to this hole is the single tree on the right roughly 100 yards from the green. There are flanking bunkers at the green.
Blue 4 – Par 5 – 570/550. Probably the second best hole on the Blue at Shawnee, this dogleg right offers a long pond down the left side off the tee and trees to the right. The hole bends right nearly all the way to the green. About 130 yards from the green are two large bunkers, one to either side, then another left center bunker about 40 yards from the green that likely catches a lot of balls. There are two small bunkers on the right side of this longer green.
Blue 5 – Par 3 – 211/198. This par 3 plays uphill and has the best bunkering on this nine with a long bunker on the front left, a decently sized bunker on the front right and two rear bunkers to a green that is tilted back to front.
Blue 6 – Par 5 – 521/505. The second par 5 plays as a dogleg right. The hole is too easy as you can miss well right and still be able to easily get to the green. The first bunker is 70 yards from the green set a bit too far off to the left. There is a front bunker and two bunkers to the right. The green lacks character.
Blue 7 – Par 3 – 177/161. This hole plays over a branch of the Delaware River to a green that has no bunkers. The green is uninteresting.
Blue 8 – Par 4 – 354/301. This hole is a dogleg left as I believe the hole was relocated to make room for vacation housing built along the fairway on the left. As mentioned the hole was likely shortened to make a new entrance road. This is the most interesting green location of the Red/Blue as the green is placed into a rise in the land with a front central bunker and two on the right. The green has a good tilt left to right and back to front.
Blue 9 – Par 3 – 230/216. The hole that is most likely the same as Tillinghast’s original design is this one playing as a long par 3 across an early stream. However, the right bunker is set 15 yards from the edge of the green and it should be moved closer. There are two bunkers left front of which one is a small pot-like bunker. The green has decent contours to it. The cart path on the left side is far too close to the green.
While this review is of the Red/Blue course and not the White, I will add a bit of commentary. As mentioned it is a quirky nine holes with only 3 par 4’s of which the first one does not occur until the sixth hole.
White 1 – Par 5 – 510/502. The first hole is an easy par 5 playing as a dogleg right with a right fairway bunker and then fairly wide open to the green where there is a fronting bunker from the left side and two bunkers on the right, both of which are placed too far away from the green. The ground is flat. This hole has a lot of potential.
White 2 – Par 3 – 160/139. I liked this hole as it is well-bunkered with one on the left and two large ones on the right placed inside a few trees. This hole had better contouring in the green surrounds and has a decent tilt to it.
White 3 – Par 5 – 557/532. This is almost a double dogleg going first to the right. There are heavy trees down the left side and a few large scattered ones on the right. The only bunker is at the green on the left. This hole is almost claustrophobic.
White 4 – Par 3 – 186/162. Another heavily tree-lined hole playing at the farthest point of the courses. There is nothing to the hole. One could raise the green and make it interesting.
White 5 – Par 5 – 471/458. This hole offers a narrower fairway due to the trees that are on the right but due to the length of this hole, even an errant shot will not lessen one’s chances of reaching the green in three shots. The green does have three surrounding bunkers but it otherwise uninteresting. If it were me in charge, I would take out the trees behind the fourth tee (where there is a cabin for events), build a new tee box, shorten the par 3 to 150 yards so that one could build a new tee box for the fifth that would lengthen the fifth by 50 yards, then remove some of the trees down the right side and add an outer corner bunker. Then one would have two good holes instead of two bad holes.
White 6 – Par 4 – 297/281. A driveable par 4 for those willing to take on the trees as they approach the green. This hole has a front left greenside bunker and a right side bunker. It needs a central bunker and a rear bunker.
White 7 – Par 4 – 416/376. Probably the best hole at Shawnee due to the pond that comes into play on the right side for the bigger hitters. The fairway bends left and the pond parallels the right side of the fairway to a green placed on a rise. There is a large bunker snaking down the left side of the green which has a decent tilt. The hole needs a bunker to the right of the green.
White 8 – Par 4 - 399/382. From an elevated tee the pond on the left is a danger with a bunker on the right and scattered trees to catch those playing away from the pond. The green has two bunkers left and one right and trees at its rear. It is an okay hole.
White 9 – Par 3 – 231/191. A long par 3 with a bunker to the left side and right side. The right front bunker is not close enough to the green. There is a large bunker on the right side placed on the side of a rise but it is not likely often in play. The end of the pond has to be cleared but it is early in the hole and should not be an issue.
Shawnee Red/Blue is a missed opportunity. Even if 13 of Tillinghast’s original holes were removed, one could easily improve the golf course with better bunkering and more interesting green complexes and surrounds. As to the commentary that people are surprised to see Shawnee mentioned on this website as being one of the top courses in the state, I would tend to agree that one can find other private clubs in the state that are worthier. Perhaps there are other public courses as well. Yet the setting is unique playing over and between two branches of the river, and you do get to play five Tillinghast holes.
Date: December 30, 2020