A. W. Tillinghast: The creator of championship tests

A profile of golf course architect A. W. Tillinghast



Born in Philadelphia in 1876, Albert Warren (A.W.) Tillinghast is one of the most heralded American golf course architects. Like many other great architects, Tilly spent time with Old Tom Morris in Scotland 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. Friends and accomplished players, this group would chat regularly and shaped the landscape of American golf, particularly on the East and West coasts. Tillinghast spent a lot of his time in the Northeast United States and most of his work is found in that region. There are 16 of his courses in New York’s Westchester County alone.

Design Principles

Tillinghast’s iconic and challenging designs have stood the test of time and many are among the greatest championship courses in the world. His overarching strategy was that each hole and course deserved its own identity, resulting in very little redundancy among his designs. This is a stark contrast to that of Macdonald and Raynor who believed in adapting hole templates to their land.  Tillinghast would occasionally employ some of Macdonald’s “Template Holes,” although you won’t find many.

A common theme across Tillinghast’s designs is the value he placed on approach shots. His fairways were typically wide off the tee, but there is almost always a favorable side. A player will generally have to take on some risk in order to gain that advantage. The 9th hole at Philadelphia Cricket Club is a great example. The left side of the fairway yields an ideal approach, but also brings out of bounds into play.

Tillinghast typically tested players with the threat of deep and intimidating bunkers around the greens. These bunkers are generally placed to the sides and in front of putting surfaces, forcing players 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.

While his approach shots are challenging, the real fun starts on Tillinghast’s greens. Most of his 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 shots and difficult up-and-downs for those struck poorly.

Little Known Fact

While Tillinghast didn’t believe in templates, there were a few common hole designs that he would use regularly.  The following are quick descriptions 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” — a design feature used on par-5s — was born. The great hazard is an expanse of bunkers that come into play in the middle of the hole 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. 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. This par 3 generally ranges from 115-125 yards and features 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 ability to hit three good shots for a birdie try. As the names suggests, the first part of the hole doglegs one way off the tee and then another way on the layup shot. The most famous of his double doglegs is the 4th hole at Bethpage Black.

The double dogleg par 5 4th at Bethpage Black.

Golf Courses 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 open to the public

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)