| Club History || |
The roll call is illustrious: Baltusrol (Lower and Upper), Winged Foot (East and West), San Francisco Golf Club, Somerset Hills, the Five Farms course of Baltimore Country Club, the Black course at Bethpage, and the Flourtown course of the Philadelphia Cricket Club. Each is a jewel; each was designed by Albert W. Tillinghast.
Born in 1874 and the only child of very well-to-do parents—his father founded and ran the B.C. Tillinghast Rubber Company, which made baptismal suits for Baptist ministers as well as rubber balls and dolls—Tillinghast was a member of the Philadelphia Cricket Club for many years. Though respectful of the historic eighteen at Wissahickon Heights (St. Martins), where two U.S. Opens had been played, he was sensitive to the course’s short-comings (the emphasis is on short) and hopeful that the club would either drastically revise the venerable layout or one day acquire land on which to build a championship course.
Soon after the end of World War I, when it appeared unlikely that the club would ever be able to purchase the St. Martins land, 300 acres of farm and woodland were acquired about six miles away, in the Whitemarsh Valley near Flourtown. It was first thought that the club in its entirety would move there. An ambitious plan that included two eighteens, many tennis courts, a swimming complex, and a splendid clubhouse was developed. This grand scheme, however, proved too costly. Instead, a farmhouse and a barn on the property were pressed into service as clubhouse and locker house, respectively, and Tillinghast was commissioned to design an 18-hole course.
What a splendid job he made of it! From start (a strong uphill two-shotter that, from the back tees, measures 408 yards and plays at least 30 yards longer) to finish (at 477 yards, and with a broad stream some 50 yards short of the green imperiling the downhill second shot, a heroic par 4 that is one of the noblest home holes in all of golf), Flourtown is a course to cherish.
Play it from the member tees—some 6,300 yards all told—on a pretty day in mid-summer, with your swing as close as it ever gets to being grooved, and you may not feel out of your depth. After all, the three long holes—484 yards, 464, 489—are not very long. And the short holes— 116 yards, 156,143, and 187—are inclined to be short. But there is nothing automatic about par on any of them, thanks in the main to very serious bunkering.
Still, a full appreciation of what Tillinghast has wrought here can only be gained by heading back to the tiger tees, which add 450 yards to the card and, for most of us, a halfdozen (or more) strokes to the score. For now what had seemed manageable becomes, at best, a dicey business. And it is the two-shotters that exact the heaviest demands. There are eleven of them. Only two, the 5th and 6th, are under 400 yards, and neither looks anything like a birdie hole, what with a veritable wall of sand sealing off an elevated green in the one case, and in the other a left-hand dogleg with a boundary tight on that side and the heavily bunkered green set on a diagonal to the fairway.
The other nine par 4s, just for the record, measure 408 yards (uphill all the way); 416 (down, then up); 463 (level, then up: water, trees, sand, out of bounds, plus a frightening bi-level green to cap it!); 407 (down, then up); 402 (almost imperceptibly up); 424 (level, then down); 412 (down, then up); 410 (gently up, then level); 477 (gently falling, then dramatically falling).
But length is only part of the story. Sand is another element, a major element, particularly at the greens, where bunkers invariably pinch the putting surface to snare the "almost good" shot. In truth, the bunkering at Flourtown lies somewhere between penal and merciless.
18th green and clubhouse at Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Flourtown course.
Water menaces the shot several times—on the 185-yard 8th, where a narrow creek crosses in front of the green; on the 9th, where a broad stream will swallow the thinly hit drive with any tendency to fade; and on the last hole, where advancing our drive and second shot a total of 400 yards will put the ball squarely in the center of that same broad stream.
Boundaries bedevil us more often than water, but never so chillingly as on the 15th. This superb 201-yarder plays from knob to knob, with three bunkers and a steep falloff at the left of the green. That is the safe side, where we aim in order to bail out when we are willing to settle for a bogey, on the right side a boundary hugs the hole, importunately close every foot of the way. And where it counts most, at the green, the white stakes are no more than 25 feet from the edge of the putting surface and separated from it by a long, narrow—and sometimes heaven-sent—bunker. Philadelphia Cricket Club members insist that their 15th is the most dangerous, if not the most difficult, par 3 in the Philadelphia area. Those familiar with the 5th at Pine Valley know that this is not the case, but that is to take nothing away from the great Flourtown one-shotter.
The new eighteen opened on Labor Day, 1922, to a chorus of proud hurrahs. The golf holes were instantly recognized for what they were: wonderfully varied, free of quirks, consistently exacting, and, from time to time— 9, 15, 18—downright thrilling. No one claimed that the newborn course was beautiful, at least not in the generally accepted sense of the word. An aerial photograph showed the vast, rolling expanse to be virtually treeless. Seventy-five years later that same land is studded with an attractive assortment of hardwoods and evergreens (the many Norwegian pines are especially handsome). But happily, we do not play tunnel golf at Flourtown.
What we do play is the very course Tillinghast laid out. Oh, there have been a few changes over the years—a string of bunkers along the right side of the 6th fairway was eliminated; the 16th became a gentle dogleg left with the planting of six trees left of the fairway in the 1950s; a dozen years later a cluster of pot bunkers and mounds in the middle of the 4th fairway was removed—but by and large the long succession of golf committees has demonstrated admirable restraint.
During a career in golf course architecture that lasted from 1907 to 1937, Albert Tillinghast, working in various parts of the country, designed more than 60 courses and remodeled some 50 more. Countless national championships have been contested on them. Here in Philadelphia, his native heath, where he learned the game and exercised an important influence on it in its formative years as an outstanding player and as a writer/editor, he created only two courses. One of them, the original Cedarbrook, has been altered beyond recognition to accommodate a condominium complex. The Philadelphia Cricket Club course at Flourtown is to be treasured. It is quintessential Tillinghast, and it is superb.