When you play as a guest at an old line esteemed country club there is always a moment, some time between when you lace on your Foot Joys and put the peg in the ground on the first tee when your host will chime in, “You know this is an original A. W. Tillinghast (or some other iconic designer from The Golden Age of Golf Course Design)……one of the only two that he did in this region.” Rich people love to brag about the uniqueness of their possessions and the pedigree of their country club is often at the top of this list.
Well, as you can read in John Paul Newport’s Wall Street Journal article “Country Clubs Dig Up Their Histories”, you may want to put that claim to a bit of scrutiny because it may be an exaggeration or an outright untruth.
As Newport explains, the members of the prestigious Bloomfield Hills Country Club in Detroit boasted for almost 100 years that they have been playing a Donald Ross original design. When in fact, as was unearthed by a renovation design team in 2009, Ross was hired twice to propose changes to Bloomfield Hills but his ideas were never implemented. He had nothing to do with the original design or any subsequent renovations.
This is often how misguided club histories are put back in order since the renovation designers will insist on proper research of course lineage so they can find documentation that will help them adhere to the original intent of the designer as they try to return courses back to their classic character.
The design of Bloomfield Hills was done in 1913 by Harry Colt, an English designer of great repute, who did very few courses in North America. His resume includes iconic venues like Sunningdale, Wentworth, and Royal Liverpool in England , Royal Portrush and Royal Dublin in Ireland, Eden Course at St. Andrews and Muirfield in Scotland, and countless others across continental Europe. So these members really have nothing to be embarrassed about in acknowledging the truth.
Like with our first president it is often claimed by country club elitists up and down the east coast that “Donald Ross slept here”. When in fact he may have simply waved from the carriage car as his train passed through town on his way back to Pinehurst. Ross would have had to sleep only 2 hours a night for forty years to have been able to design all the gems people say he had a hand in creating.
If you see a Redan or Biarritz green on their course the member will undoubtedly tell you it was C.B. MacDonald or Seth Raynor that was responsible for this when it may well have been William Flynn who was equally talented just much less well known. Flynn in fact may be the least acknowledged prolific designer of this Golden Age. His originals include Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, Cherry Hills in Colorado, and The Cascades in West Virginia and he had serious design or renovation influence at Merion, Pine Valley, The Country Club in Brookline among scores of others.
So the next time your friend tells you that it is a Tillinghast greens you just three-jacked or MacKenzie bunker that ensnared your wayward drive you may want to take it with a grain of salt. You see the self-serving dissemination of disinformation is not the exclusive purview of the federal government.
Wall Street Journal
John Paul Newport