A.W. Tillinghast, architect
Alfred Warren Tillinghast
For roughly thirty years, from 1910 to 1940, A.W. Tillinghast (Tillie) designed and constructed approximately 70 golf courses of original design; substantially redesigned another 70 golf courses and consulted in various manner on hundreds of other golf courses in North America. The Fried Egg Newsletter has fine overview of Tillinghast and his place amongst a fantastic group of golf architects that would become known as the “Philadelphia School of Architecture”.
For a deeper dive into the man himself, this pivotal 1974 article in Golf Journal Golf’s Forgotten Genius, written by Frank Hannigan, Executive Director of the United States Golf Association (USGA). Here’s a snippet of what Hannigan had to say: “AW Tillinghast was a superb, not a good or very good, but a superb golf course architect. His courses, properly cared for, improve with age.” This 14-page article is fascinating read for those interested in learning more about this Renaissance man.
By the end of 2018, 52 major and USGA Championships, professional and amateur, have been played on Tillinghast courses. In May 2019, the PGA Championship will be contested on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park, a public golf course in Farmingdale, NY. Likewise, the 2020 US Open will be played on Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, NY.
Early in his career, Tillinghast is hired to design Hermitage Country Club
After designing Shawnee Country Club in 1911 to great acclaim, Tillinghast’s career as an architect took off. In 1916, the newly formed Hermitage Country Club hired Tillinghast to design its new course on Hilliard Road, near Brook Road.
Not only did Tillinghast design Hermitage Country Club in 1916, at about the same time he was also actively involved in the design and construction of several fine courses including:
Somerset Hills Country Club in New Jersey, possibly among the five finest designs Tilly would create in his long career
Quaker Ridge in Scarsdale, New York, another highly regarded original design
Brackenridge Park Golf Course in San Antonio, Texas which hosted the Texas Open Golf Championship, an original PGA professional golf tournament, 22 times from 1922-1926, 1929-1932, 1934, 1939-1940, 1950-1955, and 1957-1959.
A Genius and a “Road Warrior”
Tillinghast made hundreds road trips working on golf courses. All this travel was done in an era before interstate highways, roadside motels and restaurants or commercial airline travel.
From 1913-1929 Tillinghast was enormously busy designing and building new courses. However, during the Depression, when new golf course construction projects were virtually nonexistent, the PGA of America commissioned Tillinghast to travel the country and provide consulting services for many of America’s golf courses. These consulting services were provided for free to golf courses where PGA Member Professionals were employed.
Consequently, from August 1935 through the summer of 1937 Tillinghast made two, very long, cross-country trips consulting with many golf clubs along the way. Over this two-year period, Tillinghast visited over 500 golf courses and had significant design input into many of the golf courses that he visited. His mode of operation was to take up short-term residence in a major city and then make daily visits to courses in the region, before moving on to the next city.
Late in life Tilly wrote, “I have been intimately in touch with the construction of holes of my design on more than a thousand golf courses in every part of the land.”
Some of the reasons that make Belmont Golf Course special:
It is only one-of-two golf course in Virginia that has hosted a major golf championship, the 1949 PGA Championship won by Sam Snead.
It one-of-two, original, AW Tillinghast-designed course in Virginia. The other course, Roanoke Country Club, opened in 1920.
At last count, 52 major and USGA Championships, professional and amateur, have been played on Tillinghast courses.
The 2019 PGA Championship and the 2024 Ryder Cup Matches will be contested on a restored, municipally-owned, public golf course, Bethpage Black.
Dozens of PGA Tour events have been contested on courses he designed over 100 years ago, and these courses continue to host golf tournaments today. In fact, many of these Tillinghast designed courses have been restored to their original design.
In Golf Magazine’s Top 100 courses in the U.S., 13 Tillinghast courses are included.
AW Tillinghast is one of only six golf architects to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Great design and history isn't disposable!