Monday, 27 December 2010

#3 Albert Warren Tillinghast

Best Course: Winged Foot

Other notable work: San Francisco, Baltimore (Five Farms),Ridgewood, Bethpage, Fenway, Philadelphia Cricket Club,

Remodelling Work: Quaker Ridge, Scarboro,

Overview: A. W. Tillinghast was born in Philadelphia in 1874, the only child of a prosperous family. He became captivated by the game of golf in the 1890s, and made annual pilgrimages to Scotland where he took lessons from Old Tom Morris – one of golf’s greatest icons. Tillinghast was a good enough player to compete, playing in early US Amateurs and Opens. His golf architecture career began when he was asked to lay out a course for friends on their farm at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware. It was an instant success. He immediately went into the golf design business.

18th at Winged Foot

For nearly 20 years he ran a very successful design business, until the bottom fell out after the market crash of 1929. He designed approximately 60 courses and remodeled or expanded an equal number during this time. Because of his skills and social connections, he acquired more than his share of great projects and left behind a handful of courses that are considered among the finest in golf. Some of his best include 36 holes at Winged Foot, both Baltusrol layouts, the San Francisco Golf Club, the East Course of the Baltimore Country Club, Somerset Hills in New Jersey, 27 holes of Ridgewood (also in New Jersey), and the Black Course at Bethpage on Long Island. He had a great run of courses and success until the Great Depression ruined his business. He worked for the PGA of America to keep his head above water, but eventually became totally disenchanted with golf. He and his wife moved to California to set up an antiques shop. With limited success, he attempted to re-establish himself with Billy Bell, but never achieved the same excellence. He died in 1942.

The enduring image of Tillinghast is that of the impeccably dressed architect poring over the plans for a golf course. He enjoyed being out “in the dirt” relying on inspiration to fine tune the details of each hole as it emerged from the landscape. There are great stories of Tillinghast sitting under the shade of a tree, bottle in hand, calling out directions to his workmen. He undoubtedly was as colorful as he was talented.

Praise for the work: Tillinghast was the first designer who consciously set out to create golf holes that were visually attractive. He helped transform golf course architecture from its roots in nature to a greater art form. Tillinghast drew on the principles of landscape design, engineering and art to transform a property into a spectacular playing field. His routings looked to the prominent feature of the property for inspiration, but he when faced with a featureless section of the site he immediately applied his imagination to create an entire green site from scratch or use an imaginative bunker scheme to make a landing area really interesting.

The grass faced bunkers at Five Farms

Tillinghast was one of golf’s great chameleons changing his style and character on a regular basis. When you contrast the stark grass slopes of Five Farms against the huge faces and flashes at Winged Foot and then contrast that with the lacy edged bunkers on a massive scale at San Francisco, you realize Tillinghast had no limits on what he could do. The greatest compliment I can give Tillinghast is that a number of his greatest courses are only on average sites. Winged Foot for example is a fine site but nothing particularly special, yet through the green sites that he created and the challenge they present he has crafted one of the toughest and most interesting pieces of architecture that architects cab study.

Criticisms: I can’t give Tillinghast a free pass for the work he did on behalf of the PGA. While many courses were lucky to get his advice, but others were hurt through his efforts too, including a few of the great architects in history where he removed features or changed entire holes through his advice. The Sahara was a cross-hazard. While I understand and personally enjoy the concept, it is the type of feature that in many instances only really penalizes the poor player.

Great Quotes: “The merit of any hole is not judged by length but rather by its interest and its variety as elective play is apparent. It isn’t how far but how good”
“I am thoroughly convinced that many of our country’s courses are hurt tremendously by stretching holes out for no other purpose than to bolster up the scorecard distances and figures. There seems to exist a feeling that the collection of par figures must determine the worth of the courses. Let us remember that in golf we do not measure pleasure with a yard stick.”

The 7th and 8th at San Francisco

Favourite Course: San Francisco

San Francisco is built to a monumental scale, which helped fit the site perfectly since there were originally such long views all around the course that competed with his architecture. It would be overly simple to say that Tillinghast increased the bunkers to enormous sizes to help fill the space, but it is more than that. What Tillinghast did was take everything to epic proportions so that nothing would get dwarfed by the space. The bunkers are obviously large, but the mounding and fairway widths are much larger than convention too. Tillinghast was also smart enough to intentional blend the bunkering on the 9th and 10th so that they appear from both side to be an extension of the bunkering for each hole. This essentially helps create enough size and expanse within the bunkering to create definition, but more important balance with the landscape.

The 10th at Winged Foot

What I take from him: Understanding the beauty of scale and space can lead to breathtaking architecture. Tillinghast teaches us all about scale and the need to spend extra time getting the sweep and drama into the bunkering in particular. You must be painstaking in your details, since everything gets magnified by the open space. Only a confident creative hand that is capable of the broadest strokes can succeed on this level.

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