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A.W. Tillinghast

A.W. Tillinghast, fondly known as “Tilly” amongst golf course enthusiasts, stands as one of the most renowned architects in golf history. His incredible body of work, widely admired for its strategic framing and masterful understanding of the natural terrain, continues to withstand the test of time and serve as an enduring testament to his vision and ingenuity.

Born into affluence in the city of Philadelphia in 1874, Tillinghast, nurtured by an environment that held a high appreciation for the arts and gifted with an adventurous spirit, would in time, grow to create an indelible mark in the golf course designing landscape. His father’s friendship with the St. Andrew’s maestro, Old Tom Morris, presented him with a golden opportunity, an explorative trip to Scotland, igniting his lifelong passion for golf.

On his return from Scotland, Tillinghast took up the sport fervidly and soon became intrigued with course design, studying it incessantly. This exploration culminated in the creation of his first golf course, Shawnee on Delaware in Pennsylvania, in 1911. This ignited the spark for an illustrious career, spanning over three decades, during which he designed over 250 golf courses and made alterations to many more, significantly impacting the proliferation and development of golf across the United States.

Tillinghast was known for his intricate, thoughtful design philosophy. His courses were characterized by their harmony with the natural landscape, their careful strategic placement of hazards, and the uniqueness of each hole design, reflective of his assertion: “No two holes in succession should be laid out in the same direction.” One of his enduring contributions was the conceptualization and design of “dual fairways,” providing strategic variety and fostering an element of creative decision-making for golfers.

Among his most famous creations are “San Francisco’s Cal Club,” “Bethpage Black,” “Baltusrol,” and “Winged Foot,” where numerous major championships have been played. These designs, praises of which are sung widely, reflect Tillinghast’s philosophy, which boasted of a multilayered design aimed at challenging seasoned golfers whilst still being enjoyable for the average player— a seamless blend of fun and challenge.

Beyond designing courses, Tillinghast played an enormous role in developing the game itself. He was a sage advisor to the United States Golf Association (USGA), driving the development of the Public Links Championship to promote the sport among the working class. This shows his belief in golf as an inclusive, democratic sport, a vision he ardently worked to realize.

A man of manifold talents, Tillinghast also distinguished himself as a writer, contributing regularly to golf publications like “Golf Illustrated” and “PGA Magazine,” writing about design techniques, advice for golfers, and sharing anecdotes from his colourful life. His articles and musings, much like his courses, remain relevant today, providing insight into the mind of this visionary.

Despite his significant contributions, Tillinghast’s legacy was temporarily forgotten following his death in 1942, overshadowed by the rise of emerging golf designers. However, a renewed appreciation for classical golf architecture in the 1980s brought his work back into the spotlight. His courses, after careful restorations, have since played host to many major championships, reigniting the admiration and respect for his groundwork.

More than just a golf course architect, A.W. Tillinghast was a course psychologist. He brilliantly blended risk and reward into his designs, compelling golfers to reappraise their skills and mindset with each stroke. His method was equally an art and a science, engineering designs that rewarded strategic play, preserved the integrity of the natural landscape, and instilled an enduring love for the sport.

A true pioneer, Tillinghast’s contributions to golf course architecture are immeasurable. His imaginative, thoughtful designs and indelible love for the game amounted to a rich legacy that transformed the landscape of golf forever. “Tilly” left behind not just signature golf courses for the world to play but an inspirational echo of his vision for golf— a testament to strategy, creativity, and the art of playing the field.

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