Seth Raynor: The protégé

A profile of golf course architect Seth Raynor



Unlike his contemporaries, Seth Raynor was not born in Scotland and did not grow up playing golf. He discovered the game when he began working with the man responsible for golf in America, C.B. Macdonald. When they first met, Macdonald was plotting out National Golf Links of America (NGLA) on Long Island where Raynor hailed from. Raynor was working on his own as a freelance land surveyor before Macdonald hired him to plot out the land for NGLA. Macdonald was impressed by Raynor’s work and engineering skills and managed to convince him to shift career paths to golf course architecture.

After NGLA, Raynor began building courses with Macdonald all over the northeast and learning everything he knew about golf from Macdonald. As demand for Macdonald’s services grew, his desire to continue to build courses dwindled, allowing Raynor to pick up the business and become one of golf’s most prolific architects. From 1914 – 1927, Raynor designed over 100 courses before his life was cut short by illness. Unlike many architects of his time, Raynor never kept a clean record of his work. To this day, his course design credits are still being discovered.

Design principles

With C.B. Macdonald as his mentor, Raynor used the same “template holes” that C.B. believed were ideal. Raynor’s engineering background gave him the understanding of how to move earth, allowing him to “manufacture” holes by further shaping natural topographies, creating deeper bunkers, and elevating greens. The easiest trademarks to spot are his large, often elevated, square greens with deep bunkers. Many of Raynor’s designs were considered revolutionary and bold due to his earth moving skills. A great example is the 9th at the Golf Club at Yale, a biarritz par-3 over water that was thought by many to be the most difficult hole in golf after its completion.

A look at Yale's biarritz 9th the day it opened in 1925.

An Architect’s Take

“Seth Raynor built golf courses that elevate the most important aspects of a course’s architecture: strategy & shotmaking options. Additionally, he and his team were true experts in the art of construction, and his brilliant green complexes are functional works of art that place a premium on approach and recovery shots. It is a testament to his skill in design and construction that his work maintains its playing interest all of these years later.”

– Rob Collins, King Collins Design

Little Known Fact

Seth Raynor was originally hired to design Cypress Point Golf Club, but due to his early death, Alister MacKenzie took over the job using Raynor’s original routing for the course.

Notable Courses

Westhampton C.C., Southampton GC, Shoreacres, Chicago Golf Club, Camargo, Yeamans Hall, Fox Chapel, Mountain Lake C.C., Fishers Island, Country Club of Charleston, Waialae Country Club, The Course at Yale, Lookout Mountain, Blue Mound Golf Club, Morris County Golf Club, Everglades Golf Course, Midland Hills C.C., Somerset C.C. (MN)

Courses that allow public access

Unfortunately, all of Raynor’s public courses have been massacred by modern architects during renovations and “restorations”.