‘Tillinghast: Creator of Golf Courses’ by Philip Young

By: Dr. John Wagner

What do Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort and San Francisco Golf Club have in common? Both are golf courses designed by the great A.W. Tillinghast, more commonly known as "Tilly."

Author Philip Young brings to us one of the best biographies I have read in some time. The first half of the book deals with the life of Tillinghast. During these sections we get to know his upbringing and family and how he related to his parents and friends. Tilly’s father owned the Tillinghast Rubber Goods Company, and the family was quite well off. Being the only child, A.W. enjoyed a very good life. Though an excellent athlete, he spent much of his youth as a rebel. Later on, he met his future wife and lifelong companion, Lillian.

Tilly spent much of his early life traveling as his indulgent parents obliged his every whim. He went to Scotland many times and had frequent discussions with the fabled Old Tom Morris. It was during these visits that he developed his love of golf. He took up the game and became quite an accomplished player.

His friendship with C. Worthington later led him into golf course design. Worthington hired Tillinghast to design and build a course in Shawnee-On-Delaware, Pa., in 1907. This initial foray into golf course architecture established Tilly’s career and, besides his wife, he finally found his true love. Tillinghast could have run his father’s business and made a lot of money. But it simply did not excite him.

Thus began one of golf’s important characters, as illuminated in this book. Young gives us all the good things about Tilly as well as the bad, such as his problems with alcohol and gambling. But Tillinghast was a genius when it came to course design. Some of his great works include Baltusrol, Bethpage, and Winged Foot.

For two years during The Depression, he worked for the PGA and advised golf course owners on how to make their holes more interesting. The volume of work and travel he did on behalf of the PGA was enormous.

This book really shows the human side of Tilly – he was still a person with special needs. To me, Young’s prose is so real that I felt the author was Tilly’s companion for years.

In addition, the section on Tillinghast‘s design philosophies should be read by all the people who sit on green committees. They could use these principles in making a golf course enjoyable and playable for all people, not just a select few. This book is a must for your golf library. Get it and read it slowly so you can enjoy a wisdom that is applicable today.

“Tillinghast: Creator of Golf Courses,” by Philip Young, Classics of Golf, 2005, 371 pages, $45 (Special Limited Edition, leather-bound, signed book: $79), ISBN 0-940889-68-4

Dr. John Wagner has been a Seattle dentist for 37 years. He’s been published in several dental journals as well as had several articles appear in the turf magazine for Pacific Northwest golf course superintendents. John has served as a guest lecturer at the University of Washington Business School for several years and as a guest lecturer for several dental societies. Dr. Wagner is the co-designer (with Steve Shea of the Berger Partnership) of a golf course in Japan that cost over $120 million and was built by Wadsworth Golf Construction. He’s a Past President of the Washington State Golf Association and the current President of the Pacific Coast Golf Association. John is currently a Member of the USGA Green Section and a Director of the WSGA.