A. W. Tillinghast: The creator of championship tests

A profile of golf course architect A. W. Tillinghast



Albert Warren (A.W.) Tillinghast was born in 1876 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and became one of the most heralded American golf course architects. Like many other great architects, Tilly spent time in Scotland with Old Tom Morris where he learned how to be a world-class player and student of the game.

Tillinghast was a forefront member of “The Philadelphia School of Architecture” which included several other great architects – George Crump, William Flynn, William Fownes, George Thomas and Hugh Wilson. All friends and accomplished players, this group would chat regularly and shaped the landscape of American golf, particularly on the East and West coasts. The majority of Tillinghast’s work can be found in the Northeast, where he spent most of his time. In New York’s Westchester County alone there are 16 courses designed by Tillinghast.

Design Principles

Tillinghast’s iconic and challenging designs have stood the test of time as many of his designs are among the greatest championship courses in the world. Tillinghast’s overarching design strategy was that each hole and course deserved its own identity, resulting in very little redundancy with TIllinghast’s holes and courses. This is a stark contrast to that of Macdonald and Raynor who believed in adapting hole templates to their land.  While Tillinghast would occasionally employ some of Macdonald’s “Template Holes,” they appear only sporadically throughout his designs. A common design theme across Tillinghast’s courses was the value he placed on a player’s ability to hit precise approach shots.

Off the tee, his fairways were typically wide, but there is usually a correct side. In order to get to that side, a player will generally have to take on some risk. A good example is the 9th hole at Philadelphia Cricket Club, where the left side of the fairway yields an ideal approach, but also brings out of bounds into play.

With approach shots, Tillinghast would typically test players with his deep and intimidating bunkers. These bunkers are generally placed to the sides and in front of greens to force a player to hit a high and soft approach from the appropriate angle of the fairway. To make matters more difficult, Tilly loved to have sloping fairways that would give players uneven lies and a little bit more of a challenge.

The fun really starts when you get to the green. Most Tillinghast designs would have intimidating undulations to navigate if an approach shot wasn’t placed in the correct area of the green. Typically, you will see one side (back, left or right) of a Tillinghast green raised in order to create ideal angles for approach and difficult up and downs for wayward shots.

Little Known Fact

While Tillinghast didn’t believe in templates, there were a few common hole designs that he would use regularly.  Following are quicks description of a few of his favorite designs.

The Great Hazard

In an effort to replicate the effect of a water hazard, Tillinghast’s “Great Hazard” was born, a design feature used on par-5s to intimidate players on their second shots. The great hazard is an expanse of bunkers that come into play and affect players who didn’t hit a good drive or second shot. This design element has been used at classic and notable courses such as Pine Valley, Bethpage Black and Philadelphia Cricket Club’s 7th. More on The Great Hazard

The great hazard on the par 5 7th at Philadelphia Cricket Club.

Tiny Tim

Tilly’s version of Macdonald’s Short Hole can be found on almost all of his designs, and generally range from 115-125 yards and feature treacherous bunkering or hazards on all sides.

The "Tiny Tim" 3rd hole at Philadelphia Cricket Club

Double Dogleg

Tillinghast had an affinity for designing three shot par-5s that tested a player’s precision and ability to hit three good shots in order to make a birdie. These holes are laid out as the names suggests, doglegging one way off the tee and then another way on the layup shot. The most famous of his double doglegs is the 4th at Bethpage Black.

The double dogleg par 5 4th at Bethpage Black.

Golf Course of Note

Winged Foot (East & West), Baltusrol (Upper & Lower), San Francisco Golf Club, Philadelphia Cricket Club (Wissahickon), Somerset Hills, Ridgewood C.C., Quaker Ridge G.C., Sunnehanna, Fenway G.C.

Courses that you can play

Bethpage State Park Black & Red (NY), Old Course at Omni Bedford Springs Resort (PA), Galen Hall Golf Club (PA), Capital City Country Club (FL), Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort (PA), Brackenridge Park (TX), Manchester Country Club (CT), Belmont Golf Course (VA)