Feature Interview with George Bahto
George Bahto came to golf architecture in a rather roundabout manner. Originally a baseball player, Bahto signed after high school with the then, Philadelphia Athletics farm team. Following the outbreak of the Korean War, he enlisted into the U.S. Navy. Trained as an airman, he logged over 2,000 hours as a crew member on a patrol plane as a radioman.
Bahto took up golf with a passion while in the service and soon became a single-digit player – a level of skill he maintains today at age 69. Looking for a suitable public course to call home, Bahto played for several years at Hendricks Field, ironically discovered to be a Charles Banks course decades later through his own research. Tiring of the congestion and poor conditions at Hendricks Field, Mr. Bahto moved on to the West Course of Essex County Country Club in New Jersey where he played for about 17 years. Noting he spotted something strangely familiar in the architecture of the two layouts, Bahto had inadvertently chosen another Charles Banks course. By happy accident, Bahto finally settled at the nearby Knoll Club in 1974 – yet another Banks course, where he remains today. Still not cognizant of the connection between the three courses, Bahto began to research the Knoll Club’s history following a fire that burned down the clubhouse in 1986. Discovering that Charles Banks had studied under a man named Seth Raynor, the inquisitive Bahto began to research Raynor’s history. This, of course, led to information on Charles Blair Macdonald and Macdonald’s National Golf Links.
Since then, Bahto has devoted his energies to the study of Macdonald, Raynor and Banks, focusing on their contributions to architecture and legacy of classic designs. Bahto is generally recognized as the leading expert on the subject. His long-awaited upcoming book, ‘The Evangelist of Golf,’ is due out next year from Sleeping Bear Press. Edited by San Mateo Times golf columnist Gib Papazian, the book will be a must for any golf library as it contains much fresh information.
Mr. Bahto is in demand as a consultant and restoration specialist by clubs hoping to undo years of changes by green committees and architects less than familiar with these men’s works. Mr. Bahto has also just completed building his first golf course, Stonebridge Golf Links on Long Island. Inspired by the architecture of Seth Raynor, this modern day throwback is scheduled to be seeded next spring.
1. What do you most admire about C. B. Macdonald and about Seth Raynor?
Charles Blair Macdonald guided American golf though its formative years by example. He first built our first 18-hole course in Chicago, later demonstrating what an ideal course should look like when he designed and built the National Golf Links of America between the years on 1907-10 – this country’s first fully strategic course, the National Golf Links if America. He did not strive to reinvent golf, but rather emulated many great classical holes of Europe intertwined onto a single course – with no weak holes. He was the right man at the right time to guide the sport through these developmental years, stubbornly upholding the traditions of the game he knew as a youth in Scotland. He fought strongly against every attempt to develop an Americanized version of the sport.
I admire Seth Raynor as a gentleman, and also one who left his comfortable profession as an engineer/surveyor on Long Island to become one of the greats of the golden age of golf architecture. Raynor, despite never really playing the game, thoroughly understood the elements of golf strategy, leaving behind a legacy of timeless courses for us to play over. I’ve always admired artists, sculptors, writers, composers – really anyone one who leaves something of lasting value behind after he passes through our world. I feel golf architects like fall into the same category.
2. Please briefly describe the matched set of par-3 holes the pair typically designed into their courses.
In the order of their length, we will start with the so-called ‘Short’, a fairly generic par-3 common to many courses in the British Isles long before Macdonald began his quest for the better holes in Europe. The ‘Short’ specifically tests the skills of the short-iron game. Macdonald always felt there was room for improvement in a golf hole, so he (and later Raynor) surrounded his versions of this genre’ with a sea of sand – elevating the green to make the target more dramatic and intimidating. These Shorts were nearly always drawn as a squarish looking green with a larger surrounding enclosure indicating sand bunkering. The bunkering details would then be developed during the construction phase. Short hole putting surfaces were generally much wider than deep, containing strong undulations befitting a shorter hole. A horseshoe feature with the open end facing the tee or a rounded dished depression were mainstays of design. Two of their finest examples can be found at the wild 6th at National and 10th at Chicago Golf Club (where two depressions are separated by a ridge). The origin of the Macdonald/Raynor Short was the 5th at Brancaster. He favored this particular version over the 8th at St. Andrews because the tee-box was higher and afforded a clearer view of the green. Shorts were generally constructed 135 to 145 yards long but often clubs incorrectly added back tees in a pointless effort to gain yardage on the scorecard.
Next longest would be the ‘Eden’ hole, fashioned after the 11th at St. Andrews (A.K.A. High Hole-In), whose severely sloping back-to- front putting surface remains one of the most fearsome in golf. Original Macdonald/Raynor/Banks versions usually present teardrop shaped greens, falling in a yardage range between 160 to 175 yards. Aesthetically, their Eden holes have some of the most picturesque greenside bunkering on the course. Pinched in front by a representation of ‘Strath’s’ pot bunker on the right and ‘Hill’ bunker on the left, Macdonald always installed an ‘Eden’ bunker behind the green representing the shoreline of the Eden River behind St. Andrews’ 11th green. Strath’s bunker, of course, is named for the great Davie Strath and his many unsuccessful bouts with this pit. Greenside left we find Hill bunker, so called because its cape creates a downhill slope in the putting surface. Most renditions include a ‘Shelley’ (or ‘Cockleshell’) bunker short right of the green. There are so many fine Eden holes that its difficult to identify the best one. However, there is a strong consensus that the 11th at Fishers Island, framed by Long Island Sound in the background, may be as good as it gets. Macdonald felt there should be an intimidating hazard fronting the Eden hole because at the turn of the century golfers sometimes played short of the hole (even using putters) and chipped on to avoid disaster. In addition, a topped ball was not punished. At the National Golf Links, Macdonald placed the 13th Eden green on the far side of a stretch of water to combat this.
What more accurate way to describe a ‘Redan’ than Macdonald’s own words? ‘Take a narrow tableland, tilt it a little from right to left, dig a deep bunker on the front side, approach it diagonally, and you have a Redan.’ Bear in mind when Macdonald says ’tilt,’ he means it. At National, hole #4 falls over five feet from front to rear. Redans are usually around 190 yards (a formidable distance in the early days of golf) with numerous strategic options depending on wind direction and course conditions: Fly it to the green if you are able, lay-up and chip on hoping to make three, hit a running shot at the banked area fronting the green or even play left of the Redan bunker hoping for a better approach angle (not recommended!). Behind the green are usually deep sand pits to catch aggressive play. To identify the best renditions, I would have to agree with this site’s ‘Discussion Group.’ National’s 4th and Piping Rock’s 3rd are the most outstanding they built. Macdonald stated: ‘the strategy of the Redan cannot be improved on.’ The Redan strategy is used by nearly all architects – even as the green complex on par-4 holes. Redan traces its origin to the 15th at North Berwick where Davie Strath first built the hole while revising and formalizing the course. Sir David Baird, a former British Guards officer and a member at North Berwick, remarked that the escarpment Strath used at the 15th hole reminded him of the fortification he had stormed in Crimea 20 years before – the hole was immediately christened the ‘Redan’.
The ‘Biarritz’ hole is the longest of the par-3s. Its background stems from the ‘Chasm’ hole (#3) at the original Willie Dunn course at Biarritz – famous at the time as a luxurious international spa. Located along the northern coast of France, the ‘Chasm’ hole was played from an 80-foot high cliff over the Bay of Biscay to a 50-foot cliff beyond. The water carry was nearly 170 yards. An oft told story states that while visiting the spa, William Vanderbilt and two close friends (sportsmen but non golfers) asked for a demonstration of the game by Dunn. Out to the Chasm hole they went and Willie laid a few balls down and hit them to the green ’220 yards away.’ An enthralled Vanderbilt remarked, ‘this was better than skeet shooting’ and asked Dunn to come to America to help build a course in New York. Dunn accepted the invitation, expanding the Shinnecock Hills course to a full 18-holes. Ironically, a Biarritz was never built at National – probably the only 18-hole course Macdonald and Raynor designed without one. Apparently Macdonald didn’t think he had the proper topography for the hole at the site. After National, he and Raynor built the first version at Piping Rock’s the 9th hole. The rest is history. There are three versions of a Biarritz. One, a simple single green variety, is often confused with an Eden – the back tee yardage is the key to recognition. At Westhampton Country Club the 17th hole is a one-of-a-kind Biarritz where their single green version was originally framed, front and two sides, by a huge horseshoe bunker facing the green rather than the typical strip bunkers that normally run down both sides of the green and the approach area. In total, the green and the approach area (often planted and mowed as putting surface) is between 225 and 245 feet long and separated by a deep swale. Architects of the day often referred to it as ‘Macdonald’s Folly’ for the balls could not be carried into the green and a bounding shot was required that would run through the approach, disappear into the swale and hopefully reappear on the green. Golfers of today have much more picturesque references to Biarritz when played from the back tees (originally the only tees). Charlie Banks built some of the better Biarritz holes at the Knoll, Forsgate and Tamarack. One of the most unique versions was the 8th at the great Lido course which was built parallel to the lapping waves of the Atlantic Ocean and usually played with a strong crosswind. It eventually washed away and shortened to about 180 yards, was still too difficult and finally ended up even shorter. Creek has a wonderful version that plays to an island and Fishers Island’s 5th is a classic. Too many great ones to detail but Shoreacres and Chicago Golf, both fully planted, should be seen if possible.
Macdonald was striving balance and the caliber of golf shot values on his set of par-3s. If at all possible he and Raynor would try to position the line of play to different points of the compass so if there was wind it would effect each hole differently.
3. How about describing other holes they used in their designs. (i.e Cape, Alps, Raynor’s Prize, Channel etc)?
The ‘Cape’ hole, according to Macdonald, was first labeled that (not first designed) when he built the 14th at NGLA. Most people think it is the angle of the tee-ball play that makes it a ‘Cape hole’ – not true. The word ‘cape’ refers to a body of land jutting into a body of water, forming a small peninsula. Macdonald 14th ‘Cape’ green originally jutted into the bay, but was subsequently moved in the late 1920s for two reasons. One was that downwind, big hitters were attempting to drive the green. The second was the necessity of constructing a new access road along the edge of the shoreline. Macdonald moved the green to the left further onto shore and surrounded it with sand. Then, Raynor (a civil engineer also) designed a new access road leading to the front gate. Cape holes come in a variety of designs. The 14th at Fishers Island, for example, requires the tee-ball to flirt close to the edge of a hazard rather than successfully attempt a carry. Even greens that jut out into midair on the edge of a precipice can be considered ‘Cape-style greens’ – the second green (not the second hole) at Yale was called just that in an early verbal description.
‘Alps’ was a term describing a blind shot throughout the British Isles – the original was the 17th at Prestwick. The 3rd at National is an awe-inspiring version. A ‘mountain’ must be carried on the approach shot to a green fronted by a deep cross bunker. National’s Alps is considered an anachronism to some, but students of the classics consider it a wonderful tribute to days gone by. It was the end of the era of blind shots, but C.B could not resist when he found a natural Alps site when building his Ideal Golf Course. Seth Raynor built an Alps on most courses, but they were generally identified as having ‘Alps bunkering’ – meaning some cross-bunkering in front of the green. Instead of a blind approach over a ‘mountain,’ Raynor customarily positioned his Alps renditions just over the crest of a rising fairway – then cross-bunkering the green complex. Sadly, many clubs covered in the cross bunker because they did not understand the origin and concept. Alps greens usually had a spine of sorts running through the green to compound putting problems.
The ‘Knoll’ hole was first built at Piping Rock’s 13th hole. The original is the 4th hole at Scotscraig GC near St. Andrews. I wrote to Scotscraig and sent them a photo of the 13th Piping Rock – they were amazed at the similarities. The design is presented as a short par-4 between 310 and 340 yards. At its best, the Knoll genre is played to an elevated green – a much higher version of the ‘Short’s’ plateau. If original, the putting surface should include a single plateau covering the back third of the putting surface. The green was usually only moderately bunkered if at all. Do not go over the back – at Piping Rock – the drop-off is near 20-feet. There is an interesting version at Yale’s 376 yard 14th, where the tee-ball can be banked off hills to the left but the green is quite moderate (no bunkering originally). It makes a wonderful drive and pitch hole.
‘Raynor Prize Dog-Leg’ was first introduced at Lido as the 6th hole. The MacKenzie hole (18th) received all the headlines as the winner of the Macdonald/Lido design contest, but I’m not sure it was ever reproduced again. The Raynor Prize Dog-Leg was an adaptation of the third place entry, and was such an effective design Seth used it as the most difficult par-4 on his courses. Charlie Banks followed suit. The basic strategy of the hole is a dog-leg off the tee that played to echelon bunkers. If the heroic (longer) carry was successful, the golfer was rewarded with an opportunity to carry yet another hazard to the green. However, if the second hazard could not be carried, the player was forced to lay up, leaving a long third shot to a par-4 (normally in the 440-yard range – imagine that play in the 1920′s). At Lido, it seems only long hitting Abe Mitchell could consistently carry the wide second hazard (completely over off-fairway wasteland). In essence, this hole played as a par five for most. Unfortunately, most of the approach hazards have been covered over – I have been trying to persuade a few clubs to re-establish them where applicable. Even with major bunkering removed, these gems are often the hardest par-4 on the course.
The ‘Leven’ hole is what most of us know as the 17th at National – one of the great holes in this country. Only 360 yards and downhill to a wide fairway, the hazards seem strewn in a haphazard manner. However, nothing is haphazard about National’s strategy. There are lots of ways to play the Leven, but the main crux of the problem is to place the tee ball precisely. Carry the hazard, placed on one side of a fairway, from the tee and a clear view of the putting surface with a short-iron approach awaits. Fail, and the player is left with a blind approach over bunkered sandhills or a high shoulder of a greenside bunker to the short side of the green. A great strategy to test players who are uncomfortable when they cannot see the target.
The ‘Punchbowl’ is basic – another generic hole from the early days of golf when many greens were positioned in natural hollows so as to conserve as much moisture as possible. Many Macdonald/Raynor versions incorporated deception bunkering 50 to 70 yards short of the green to obscure the target – those were the great days of no yardage books or sprinkler head markings. For the layman, this style green can be described simply as a catcher’s mitt. There are too many good ones to mention after National’s 16th, but there is an exceptional one at Chicago. Often, Macdonald and Raynor combined an Alps hill with this style green. This brings to mind the great 4th at Fishers Island.
Lido was full of new holes. ‘Strategy’, a dog-legged hole with an optional fairway, opened up to the player with the longer drive off the tee rather than the heroic carry. The heroic carry shortened the hole considerably but you had to play the approach over a deep bunker. It seems everyone’s favorite at National is the Bottle hole 8th – a composite hole – some of which was based on the original 12th at Sunningdale. The play was to a narrowing fairway – squeezed by a hazard. Macdonald’s expression of this strategy is an optional (usually split-level) fairway hole where the most daring drive has the better view and approach to a raised green. These holes were designed on many courses, but often were not accepted by membership (Camargo’s 12th and others). Sometimes the option was eliminated such as Essex County’s 10th, CC of Fairfield’s 12th to name a few. The Bottle hole was designed used both as a long par-4 and occasionally as a drive and pitch to a precariously positioned green complex.
Macdonald was very fond of the Long hole(version of the 14th St. Andrews), but they never installed the Hell Bunker complex in as literal a form as the original. Most of these renditions were very tame when compared to St. Andrews. It appears the pair felt the hazard too fearsome for club players. Nationals 9th is a fair rendition of this genre.
There is ‘Sahara,’ notably the second at National with one of the most confounding drives on the course, a narrow ribbon of fairway backed by a deep basin. Macdonald was fond of saying he ‘approved of (the original at Sandwich)) Sahara as a hazard, not as a golf hole’ More is the pity that Sahara is another dinosaur that was seldom reproduced.
A favorite of Seth Raynor and Charles Banks was ‘Hog’s-Back,’ which can refer to the fairway, the green or both. The tee-ball to a hog-backed fairway is like playing to a Donald Ross green – very uncomfortable and a bit intimidating. When it refers to the putting surface, there is usually a sharp spine running through the length of the green, back to front. From the center of the fairway the golfer is faced with the problem of producing an accurate enough approach to find the correct segment of the green. The spine will dramatically deflect balls left or right.
‘Road’ hole. What is there to say except it has withstood the challenge of 150 years of golf? Since it was first built in 1842 when Allan Robertson formalized the Old Course, the Road Hole at St. Andrews remains the most fearsome test in championship golf. Ben Crenshaw has remarked that the reason it is the toughest par four in golf is because it is really a par five. Most of Macdonald and Raynor’s versions were designed as par fours holes. They rarely built the requisite bunker as deep as the original, but most were still a daunting task to negotiate. One of the more interesting versions is found at North Shore CC on Long Island. Thought to be purely a Tillinghast course, there are many classic Raynor greensites – especially the Road hole.
‘Double Plateau’ is a personal favorite of mine and an overlooked design in the array of Macdonald, Raynor and Charles Banks classics. It can appear as any length par-4 except a drive and pitch hole. Tee shots on these holes varied so much there was no real overall pattern. It seemed as time went on, these holes became steadily longer. Eventually they became one of the toughest par-4s on their courses. The green was generally in an ‘L’ shape and contained at least three levels. A lower level in the center of the green, one plateau one and a half feet higher and a third plateau higher yet. The plateaux were most often right rear and left front but came in varied configurations. The lower level funnelled aggressive shots directly into the rear bunker beyond. Pin placements are very difficult because for what has been created is essentially three small greens on one putting surface.
That said, it appears a large target from the fairway, and aside from Biarritz, usually the largest green on the course. The trick is to manufacture shot to stop the ball on the correct level – no simple task. Charles Blair Macdonald referred to the Channel hole (4th at Lido) as the best two-shotter he ever designed. The landfill at Lido encompassed filling in a morass up to 20 feet or more in some areas. A lagoon was built with water gates adjoining Reynolds Channel to control water level, tides etc.
The premise of the hole: A short par-5 of just about 505-yards with an optional fairway. The main fairway was a ‘C’ shaped affair, taking the long route straddling a lagoon while negotiating two carries over hazards. However, for the bold there was more direct route to a raised island fairway (30-yards by 100-yards long) surrounded by sea bents and eel grass – in effect taking the short cut. Find the fairway and a long-iron or brassie approach to the green was well within the grasp. Miss, and the recovery was all but impossible. Even the conservative route had its trials, the third shot was tricky in the wind, and carried a cross bunker.
4. What place does National Golf Links of America hold in the history of golf in America?
Well, it was the first course with no weak links. Aside from the par-3s there is no real defined route to the green and the golfer is required to make a decision on the tee relative to his game, wind conditions and his own psyche that day. There were other courses with individual strategic holes, but consider 1907, here was the course full of them, a course that made the golf world sit up and take notice. Macdonald’s object was to build an Ideal Golf Course and set an example for others to follow. It was a major move away from penal architecture, with a wonderful mix of strategic and heroic golf. It remains today a living textbook for architects to study. How wonderful if National could be stretched proportionally to a length that would accommodate today’s high-tech equipment.
5. What was Macdonald’s greatest strength as an architect? Raynor’s?
I think Charles Macdonald, like the rest of the Golden Age architects, had a great insight into what separates great holes from average holes – and how they could be played by all levels of golfers. The latter doesn’t imply simply placing tees at varied yardage from the green. Macdonald kept the basic strategies intact at all three of his tee-boxes by using angles and length to their best advantage. It meant, in his world, that different levels of golfers could play against each other in match play without the giving all these shots we do today.
The problem with Macdonald was that he did not want to keep building golf courses. After the first few, unless there was a major challenge like Lido, he was more interested in playing with his friends, of which he had many. I often laugh at how he is often portrayed – boorish, humorless and all that – certainly he was but he was also a fun-loving man. Macdonald had friends all over the world, most of them super wealthy who could buy and sell him many times over – the Vanderbilts, Whitney’s Otto Kahns, Rockefellers, the giants of American industry and finance. I think a lot of the ‘bad reputation’ stems from the golf world in the northeast. Macdonald came to New York as an outsider from Chicago and ruffled a few feathers.
His architectural strength was the boldness of his designs – reflective of his bold and brash personality. ‘I dare you’ – ‘challenge me’, his bunkering cried. I think the main theme running through NGLA is the diagonal play off the tee, rewarding the risk taker but more importantly, teasing and tempting the golfer of every level to attempt more that he could handle. It’s remarkable. You can go around the course, pretty much under control, then suddenly risk just a fraction too much and find yourself in deep trouble. I think Seth Raynor’s strength was his ability to carry these classic holes and make them work successfully under varying conditions. But more so, I think his routing skills were his strongest asset. I marvel at the routing of Shoreacres. In, out, over and around those 25-foot+ ravines while still maintaining play over pretty level ground. His engineering and drainage background was a major asset.
Seth Raynor was a pretty tough guy on his own – learned from his mentor – but he must have had a great way of placating the egos of club officials. Charlie went into Piping Rock and Sleepy Hollow looking to take over the existing polo fields and when he was told he had to route his new-fangled golf course out in the wooded area at Piping Rock he basically threw up his hands and left – he wanted a open links style course. Raynor’s cool-headed influence was a great asset and eventually agreements were reached – he had lost, he couldn’t have the polo fields! It is amusing to note the polo field the club refused to surrender at Piping Rock is now a huge driving range! At Sleepy Hollow there was a controversy about tree removal and polo fields – here again I think Raynor may have been influential cooling the volatile Macdonald down. Poor Charlie, all he wanted was to build a links course and the only other one he built was Lido.
6. Over the years, many of their designs have suffered from change by Green Committees in the name of ‘improvements.’ Would you identify which courses specifically are closest to their original design?
The National has changed a little but not enough to matter. A couple of tee-boxes had to be abandoned and the hole strategies suffered, but there were safety problems as the amount of play increased. Construction at National began in 1907 and finally officially opened in 1910. It was not designed to accommodate a lot of players. As the years went on, the access road to the clubhouse had to be changed. By the time of the first Walker Cup there was many more members and safety on certain holes was a little bit of a problem. Most of these changes were made by Macdonald though. Perhaps the most salient change has been the irrigation system. The course is meant to play much faster than it does today.
A most sensitive restoration of the course by the club, spearheaded by a massive tree removal program, is being led by the skilled hands of superintendent Karl Olson has been on going for some time. I find it very interesting that Macdonald was one who had total control at National, the Links Club and at Mid-Ocean (while he was still alive) over a period of many years – one of the very few architects who had that luxury. Of course, Donald Ross also comes to mind as well at Pinehurst.
I think Fishers Island is a more of less unaltered Raynor layout (discounting the addition of some ‘senior tees’).
His re-do of Chicago Golf is pretty intact, perhaps a bit more formalized.
Yale has been close to original, but they have been trying to ‘update’ some things. Hopefully it will be kept as built. To me, Yale is a ‘landmark’ course, a fabulous course over some of the worse terrain imaginable.
Charles Banks courses have fared a little better. My home course, The Knoll, has only covered in 7 bunkers, all inconsequential. Banks’ 4th nine at Montclair CC seems to be pretty original and the Seth Raynor course at the Hotchkiss School, where Banks first met Raynor, is very rough but pretty much as built considering a 2-hole modification by Banks in 1930.
7. As a historian, which courses particularly do you feel would benefit most from a complete restoration?
Camargo is exorcizing some bogus bunkering little by little and should present a gorgeous face when complete. Raynor felt it was his best inland design.
Need I say what he thought was his best links design? – Fishers Island of course.
The Country Club of Fairfield has begun planning a restoration which will put the Seth Raynor feel back into their design.
Westhampton has some of my favorite greens, most of which have not been modified. The original layout was probably Seth Raynor’s first solo effort. Westhampton, has some unique holes, but there have been changes to the course.
Josh Banks’ Tamarack in Portchester, NY, is a pretty dramatic layout. I think it is a prime candidate for restoration.
Gibson Island in Maryland would gain more than most courses if returned to its original configuration, but much of that land is now in the hands of private parties and it will never happen. That course may have rivaled some of Seth’s best work when first built. There were some very bold holes there, and it appears Macdonald may have had a hand in some of the design – especially on the second 18-holes that was planned but never built.
Although it is a very fine course today it might be very interesting to see what the original St. Louis CC would have been like untouched.
Essex County Country Club’s original West course in New Jersey, one of my old stomping grounds, had many of its original bunkers filled in and a couple holes modified when it was opened to the public. It’s one of Banks’ better works but has been damaged a lot from its original form.
If I could wave a magic wand and restore courses lost over the years, I would most like to see Lido, T. Suffern Tailer’s 9-holer off Newport CC, Ocean Links and the Links Club course re-established.
8. How would you explain the working relationship between Raynor and Macdonald?
This was an interesting relationship between the teacher and student. The boisterous and the reserved; the fun-loving and carousing Macdonald and business-like Seth Raynor; the loud vociferous and opinionated Macdonald and the reticent and quiet man I found to be Seth Raynor.
Legend has it that CB would often show up ‘on the job’ about the time Raynor and the working crews were completing the days work. They had enormous mutual respect though. Raynor hung on CB’s every word on golf, and Macdonald relied on him completely and with total trust.
Macdonald could be a pain though. He was relentless in his pursuit of perfection. An often told story by Raynor’s grandniece recounts how during the construction of National, Raynor would take her and his wife Araminta to the campsites across the Bull Head’s Bay from National to get a few hours reprieve from the incessant calls and directives. The fact that Seth Raynor and Araminta are buried just across the path from Macdonald’s family is certainly not a happenstance. Whether the plots were purchased beforehand or the Raynors were moved matters not – they were very close in life and after.
9. Charles ‘Steamshovel’ Banks has long been associated with the pair – can you clarify his role with them? To what extent did he continue to carry the torch after Raynor’s death? How do his efforts stand up today?
Charlie Banks was minding his own business at the Hotchkiss School in CT (an English Professor for 17 years) when Seth was hired to build a new course at the school – imagine, a major golf course architect building a course for a prep school! Recognizing that Banks had a talent for building, was of an artistic nature and was an efficient man with good financial sense, Raynor weaned him away from teaching. In a matter of months, he went from associate to Raynor’s partner as they opened an office in New York City (Roaring Twenties). Their firm was in great demand, and by the end of the year Charlie Banks was designing courses as well.
Tragically, within a year tragedy struck. Raynor, who had worked himself into a weakened state, died suddenly – leaving nearly 30 courses in various stages of construction scattered across the country. A few clubs, unfamiliar with Banks, hired a ‘name’ architect to finish their courses (Cypress Point where they had just been commissioned to build three courses). Banks finished the remainder of their joint projects in the next 18 months before continuing on his own.
While to some extent he remained true to the Macdonald/Raynor ‘famous hole’ concept, Banks began modifying some of the holes slightly – raising tees a bit and segmenting the greens with more mounds and spines. Of course, his main departure was the cavernous bunkers – a feature which became a trademark.
Like Raynor, Banks was an efficient, pragmatic man always on the lookout for an opportunity to maximize efficiency and cut costs. It was here, with the pressure of completing so many unfinished courses, that he began depending extensively on the heavy equipment he became ‘famous’ for. My personal opinion is that his work is very good – but he was not a Seth Raynor. Banks certainly understood architecture and was quite a writer (as a former English teacher). I’ve uncovered about a dozen articles that go into great detail about his philosophies – it’s a pity Seth Raynor never thought or wanted to do the same.
10. How about Devereux Emmet?
Dev Emmet was a renaissance man, a golf designer and a close friend of Macdonald. He assisted CB in gathering information in the British Isles in preparation to building National – actually lending help in design and construction. I think his work from then on was greatly influenced by Macdonald’s great hole philosophy. One of his better designs- and still in pretty original form – is Leatherstocking CC in Cooperstown, NY. I thought it might be a Raynor course when I first looked at it.
11. Was Seth Raynor a genius or simply an understudy who repeated what he was taught over and over? What was Raynor’s most innovative design?
Seth Raynor was a genius in his own right. True, he used the same classic holes in each design, but his genius lies in adapting these holes under such varied topography. Clients were calling for a ‘Macdonald style course’ in the beginning. Soon they were asking for a ‘Raynor course.’ Beyond his engineering background, I think routing was his major strong point. I think Shoreacres is his most innovative work. Lido may be, but it is difficult to separate Macdonald’s work from Raynor’s in the actual designing phase – doubtless there was a lot of Raynor in Lido. Fishers Island is for certain 100% a pure Raynor design.
12. Raynor designed many more courses than he is credited for. How many courses did he actually design? How about Charles Banks?
Macdonald said Raynor built 150 or more courses. He may have been right. In the beginning of my research was there just the Cornish/Whitten listings, but since then I must have uncovered over a dozen more and about 6 to 8 ‘possibles’. More keeping coming in – Metairie CC in New Orleans, 3 or 4 here in New Jersey, a number of private estate courses and work on Long Island (he worked on Maidstone twice and North Shore CC). I’ll tally them all up soon.
Banks was pretty well documented – he kept track! I have only ‘found’ a couple his here in the east and a course he built in South America so far.
13. What was the Macdonald/Raynor connection to Shinnecock Hills?
After National was complete, Shinnecock paled by comparison – in routing, design and length. Charlie was also a member of Shinnecock and it was only natural that he was asked to redesign the course. Shinnecock Hills was actually a Macdonald/ Raynor course from 1916-30. This lasted until the local highway came through and wiped out much of their design. Additional land was purchased and the course was done over – but five holes plus one green still remain.
14. What course is a personal favorite with which perhaps the readers may not be familiar?
Most of Raynor’s work has not been seen by the average reader – even one who is interested in architecture. Much of his best work is hidden at America’s most exclusive (and low profile) clubs. There are many to choose from, so I’ll leave out the most obvious ones (Yale, Camargo, Shoreacres, Chicago etc.). I like St Louis a lot; Banks’ course, Whippoorwill with such dramatic terrain, is a great course as is Tamarack if it gets re-established a bit. I was going to say Yeamans Hall, but our discussion group participants have worked that one over pretty good. Most everyone has heard of Country Club of Fairfield but I’m not sure how many have played it – that is a very fine design and it will be better after an upcoming restoration. It is remarkable how few well-travelled players are familiar with Shoreacres.
15. Besides National Golf Links of America, what five Macdonald or Raynor courses are ‘must-sees’ for a student of golf design today?
In alphabetical order: Camargo – Chicago Golf – Fishers Island – Shoreacres – Yale.
16. Are any Banks courses particularly instructive?
Yes, at The Knoll, Whippoorwill, Forsgate and Tamarack his green complexes (greenside bunkering and his greens) are exceptional. His fairway bunkering is pretty routine as are his routing plans, but there is great balance to his designs – his courses are difficult to score on.
17. Without knowing the history of the course, how could a player discern whether a course was a Macdonald/Raynor effort or a Raynor solo design?
Ascertaining an obvious difference would be difficult for anyone but a real student of their architecture. To me there was more boldness and innovation to Charlie Macdonald’s hole designs. I’m not sure this mattered to Raynor – his ‘role’ was to present tried and true designs in the best way on the properties he had to work with. Macdonald had the luxury of picking and choosing where he worked, and never had to worry about bringing the project in on budget. It is a shame Macdonald did not personally design more courses than he did.
18. Tell us about the legendary ‘Lido Golf Links?’ In its time it was considered in the top three with NGLA and Pine Valley. Would it have stood the test of time?
Lido rose to the top of this country’s courses with National when it was built – Pine Valley came a few years later. They were considered by most the top three in America. Lido was an international resort that featured more class amenities than any club in the world – plus something no other club had, a world class beach. They literally rose the course from the sea in one of the most astonishing engineering miracles of the era. The results were fabulous, with some of the most dramatic and innovative holes ever built.
Unfortunately the timing was horrible – Europe was in the midst of World War One when they began construction. By the time they completed the project four years later, the US had joined the war and interest dwindled. Following the market crash in 1929, interest waned in golf. Despite selling-off some of the land to cover costs (much of it stemming from the overhead of their new opulent 400-room clubhouse in 1928), Lido held on until Long Beach Island was taken over by the US Navy during World War Two – and the course was gone. The current ‘Lido’ course (nearby) bears has no connection with the original.
This was a monument to Raynor’s design and engineering prowess (4 years in the building and 2,000,000 cu. yds. of fill pumped from the sea in the process). Yes, it would have stood the test of time. Often overlooked about Lido was how dominating the wind could be – far more taxing than at National and Shinnecock.
19. Which modern architects are the most knowledgeable and accurate in their restoration of CB/Raynor courses?
Tom Doak, Ben Crenshaw / Bill Coore, Pete Dye, and Gil Hanse.
20. Tell us about your book due out in March from Sleeping Bear Press.
I enlisted the help of a writer out in California named Gib Papazian, who writes golf for some newspapers and magazines. His job is to straighten out and untangle the text. It is kind of funny really, because he has rewritten so much of my stuff that he complains that
everything else he writes lately has started to sound like me! Poor guy, I may have ruined him. Luckily, he is as nuts about Macdonald and Raynor as I am.
We finished most of the book in October, but I have been so busy building my new course there wasn’t time to compile it before the end of the year. He’s patient (for an Armenian), but I think Gib is ready for it to be done. I’ve decided to call the book ‘The Evangelist of Golf,’ after an article written by H.J. Whigham following Macdonald’s death. The book(s) contains biographical information on Macdonald, Raynor and Banks, and delves deeply into the their architectural philosophies. There are course reviews with historical accounts of their founding – which in many cases is as interesting than the course reviews. There is extensive analysis and information on National’s hole strategies. I feel extremely fortunate because National opened up their archives to me, allowing me to photograph Macdonald’s personal memorabilia in the clubhouse. Everyone will get a glimpse of history. The book (which will probably be two books) deals with the original architecture – not what exists on the courses today. I have lots of old photos, sketches, my personal map renditions of their original designs and routings of most of their courses (some long gone).
21. What will surprise the reader the most?
I think the photos and personal Seth Raynor information should be most interesting. Pictures taken in the National’s clubhouse will offer a glimpse of a area not seen by many.
22. You have just completed designing and supervising the construction of a course on Long Island based on the architecture of Seth Raynor. Any comment on its design?
Gil Hanse was routing a course over existing terrain in Hauppauge on Long Island and while visiting with me he expressed an interest in plugging in a couple of Macdonald/ Raynor holes. Before long, it evolved into a course based on Seth Raynor architecture with modern day carries. Nearly two years later, Gil asked if I would like to build the course (because he was so busy) and introduced me to the developers. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, so I basically moved to the site during the week and dove in with both feet. I rearranged some of the routing and designed all the greens and bunkering. Because I was able to supervise the construction from start to finish, it gave me the time to continually refine and perfect all the details. There is no substitute for being on-site from beginning to end.
The green complexes and bunkering were completed at Thanksgiving time, so now I have time to finally finish assembling the book with Gib. Weather permitting, Stonebridge Golf Links should open towards the latter part of next year. Seeing a one-dimensional drawing literally rise out of the ground as you pictured it and have it become a golf course has been an unmatched experience.