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"Dear Mr. Whitten..."
« on: May 15, 2009, 10:40:19 PM »
Fellow GCA members, I would like to ask your indulgence and make a request that NO ONE post anything on this thread as its purpose is to try and have a one-on-one discussion with Ron Whitten about his continued insistence that Joseph Burbeck and not A.W. Tillinghast designed Bethpage Black.

The reason for doing so can be found in the latest issue of Golf Digest where he didn't even have the common courtesy to refer by name or organization to those who have sent both he and Golf Digest a number of newspaper references, articles, documents and more since the first publication of his THEORY in 2002.

In his latest short piece he states that the original article was "infuriating Tillie fans." He goes on to state that "a Tillinghast proponent referred us to a New York Times article from Nov. 13, 1936" and then goes on to both misrepresent the writer and what it states as well as ignoring the most important apsects of what it contains.

So, please indulge me in this, as the "Tillinghast Proponent" of whom he refers, has asked me to post this letter and speak on his behalf if Mr. Whitten deigns to reply. I will be opening another topic for discussion in which i will attempt to answer any & all questions or comments related to this thread, so please, only post on that one.

"Dear Mr. Whitten,

I was both perplexed and disappointed in your latest attempt to claim as fact your theory that Joseph Burbeck designed Bethpage Black and not A.W. Tillinghast. As someone who purports to be a serious scholar of golf course architecture you certainly seem to show little or no respect for others who are serious students and scholars of this subject, referring to them as "fans" who were infuriated and by simply referring to one in particular as a "Tillinghast proponent" you appear to be both dismissive and demeaning. This is beneath you as both a scholar of the art form and a leading member of the golf media. For that at the very least you should apologize to him and them. As one who knows this "Tillinghast proponent" quite well and the emails and information and proofs he has sent you through the last few years I can personally say that he has been highly respectful of you and and sent you them in the spirit of one serious scholar to another. You should treat him with the same respect he has shown you.

I would like to offer you the opportunity to engage in an ongoing and hopefully daily discussion of the issues surrounding this theory of yours through this page on I believe you are a member and that you simply haven't involved yourself on here in quite a while. I respectfully ask that you begin again.

This website is the premier locale for any and all serious students of golf course architecture to engage in discussion, debate and even a bit of respectful arguing. You owe it to the history of the game to do more than publish a theory and proclaim it fact; Golf Digest simply has too large an audience and will be referred to many years in the future just as you, myself and others refer to Golf Illustrated and The American Golfer for proofs of issues on the subject of golf architecture from more than a hundred years ago. You need to prove it in a scholarly manner against the points and arguments raised against it by others of equal, greater or lesser scholarly ability.

I therefor ask, and I want to stress that this is not a challenge, as that is both insulting and demeaning and I have too much respect for you to do that, to discuss your theory and the issues it raises daily. This will be of great benefit and value to your readers, the fans of Tillinghast and all those who enjoy both the game of golf and those masters who envisioned the great playing fields of the game.


Philip Young on behalf of the "Tillinghast proponent"


Re: "Dear Mr. Whitten..."
« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2009, 11:12:36 PM »

The first question I have for you deals with the 11/13/1936 article and your view of both the person who wrote it and what it contains, especially a few very important points that you left out of the article.

You stated that, "It appeared in the Times, but it was an Associated Press piece filed by an unnamed stringer in Chicago..." This seems to imply that it was just a piece of fluff written by someone from another area of the country than Bethpage and so wouldn't have any first-hand knowledge of the veracity of what he was writing.

The problem with that line of reasoning is that the "unnamed stringer" actually personally interviewed A.W.TTillinghast for the article. We know this because the article, after stating that, "Tillinghast laid out and supervised the construction of the four 18-hole courses at Beth Page State Park... The Beth Page Park layout was built with government funds and Public Works Administration labor..." he wrote, "Tillinghast said the new setup probably would be operated along the same line..."

TILLINGHAST said... This "unnamed stringer" is DIRECTLY quoting Tilly. He interviewed him for the story. And the story states unequivocably that Tilly "laid out and supervised" the construction of the courses! It is obvious that it was Tilly himself who made that claim. Proof that this is the correct understanding is that further on in the article it does more than mention a statement by Tilly, it actually DIRECTLY quotes him;

"According to my understanding," Tillinghast said, "any golf course development with government assistance..."

How would this "unnamed Stringer" get a personal interview with Tilly at that time? Why, quite easily as it turns out. The article was published in the N.Y. Times on 11/13.1936 after being released by U.P. on the 12th. Tilly had been in Chicago inspecting courses for the PGA Course Consultation Tour from 11/1-10/1936. During this period he did in-person interviews with a number of those in the media as he did in almost all of the cities he stopped in during the more than 2 years that it lasted.

So my question is this, WHY do you simply ignore this quite obvious proof that Tillinghast himself publicly stated that he designed the courses at Bethpage, especially when, as you well know having reported this in your original 2002 article on the theory, that Joseph Burbekc NEVER claimed to have done so?

As a follow-up, you also denigrated the "unnamed stringer" becuase of the "misspelling of Bethpage" and the "obvious error" in that "Only three courses were built (Bethpage's Green already existed)..."

You can't blame the writer for a misspelling that was the repsonsibility of a TYPESETTER and EDITOR who failed to pick it up! he had NOTHING to do with that.

As far as the statement of four courses, you seem to forget that even though the "Green course" was there it also had considerable work done it including a complete redesigning of several holes and rerouting of the course. It appears that the writer was referring to four newly-constructed courses, but he may just as well have meant that the existing course had also been worked on as it had. And, by the way, it was only named the "Green Course" after the other three were built. When the State of New York began operating it in 1932, its name was changed from Lenox Hills to the Bethpage Golf Club. So you see, you also made a little typo there. Should we discount the veracity of the rest of your article because of that just as you appear to do so because of teh typo in the 1936 article?

So Ron, I hope you take this in the spirit it is meant and will both respond and discuss this and the other issues and questions to come.

Phil Young


Re: "Dear Mr. Whitten..."
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2009, 03:57:12 PM »
Hi Ron,

Today I'd like you to further consider what was actually stated in that 1936 article that you view as irrelevant.

It stated, "The Beth Page Park layout was built with government funds and Public Works Administration labor. Tillinghast said the new setup probably would be operated along the same lines, at least in part."

As you are aware, this statement was made after it was announced at the PGA's annual meeting that a partnership between the PGA & the government had been reached in which the PGA would provide consulting services to those communities who were interested in building municipal golf courses with public funds.

Do you know what Tilly did just two days after the meeting in CHicago? He CHANGED his itinerary and headed to Virginia where, on 11/27, he met with state engineers to consider the design of a golf course at Hungry Mother State Park. He spent one day on the site. He described Hungry Mother as presenting an "extremely rugged but scenically beautiful face. The plan of any course is not obvious at first glance, but after a critical study I was prepared to assert that eighteen holes may be developed there, which will not involve unusual problems of construction, and which will provide not arduous golf. Exaggerated features may also be avoided. The course may be very worth while..."

He would leave them with not only a design in hand, but "an alternate one as well." In fact, he instructed these two gentlemen, "R.E. Burson (Director of the Parks of the State of Virginia) himself a landscape engineer of long and distinguished standing... C.C. Lincoln Jr. of the city [Marion, Virginia]" to provide him with a contour plan showing five foot elevations and the suggested plan of the course from which he would send his "notations, corrections and any suggested improvements..." he would receive these, but unfortunately the course would never get built as the public funds were denied.

The point is that tilly designed two courses on a rough site in a single day.

You make a rather large point in refering to Tilly's contract which called for him to be on site for 15 days, as if that wouldn't have been sufficient time for him to design the courses at Bethpage. Now without going into detail on that point, for Tilly was there many more than 15 days and I'll show you that later, it would have been quite easy for him to design all three new courses and redesign the existing 4th course in that time frame as shown by what he did at Hungry Mother in Virginia. In fact, and you as a student of the history of golf course architecture are quite aware, that many fine, and even a few great courses were designed by Tilly, Ross and others who spent but a day or two on their site. This was a quite common occurance in the early years, especially if they weren't overseeing the actual construction. In fact, isn't that why they would often times include plasticine models of hole and green complexes from which the course constructors could refer? And yes, Bethpage had models on site as well, the most prominent being the scale-model of the entire project showing every hole in great detail that was displayed in the lobby of the newly-opened clubhouse for a number of years.

So my question then is, WHY do you believe that 15 days on site (if that is all he was there for) were not enough time for Tilly to design the courses at Bethpage when it was actually a routine amount of time for him to do so?


  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: "Dear Mr. Whitten..."
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2009, 05:38:36 PM »

I deleted the post.  I need to be able to follow directions better!

« Last Edit: May 16, 2009, 06:27:26 PM by Jeff_Brauer »
Jeff Brauer, ASGCA Director of Outreach


Re: "Dear Mr. Whitten..."
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2009, 05:50:44 PM »
Dear Jeff,

Please accept this in the spirit it is meant. I asked all to specifically NOT post anything on this thread. I want to have a sincere debate and discussion with Ron Whitten about his theory. I believe that it will be difficult enough to engage him on here and that if he feels that he will be inundated with questions from many sources that he simply will not take part.

I ask you to please remove your post and place it on the other thread that I posted for that specific purpose as I will not answer it or any others on this thread.

Thank you so much.



  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: "Dear Mr. Whitten..."
« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2009, 06:29:33 PM »
That said, I am looking for the other thread. What is its title?

Jeff Brauer, ASGCA Director of Outreach


Re: "Dear Mr. Whitten..."
« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2009, 08:34:01 PM »
It is titled "Bethpage Questions"


Re: "Dear Mr. Whitten..."
« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2009, 01:03:28 PM »
Hello Ron,

The question I'd like to next ask is an important one because it has a direct impact upon Joseph Burbeck's ability to both design the courses at Bethpage and manage the specific aspects of the project.

What courses had he designed before Bethpage that would have caused his superiors to give him the reponsibility of designing three new courses and redesigning a fourth course at the same time? This is the ONLY time in the history of the game that such has occurred. Why would they give him this responsibility when they had, UNDER CONTRACT, the architect who had already designed more multiple-course complexes than anyone else in the history of the game?


Re: "Dear Mr. Whitten..."
« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2009, 12:36:30 AM »
Hello Ron,

You made mention in your latest article that Tilly was "laid off on April 18, 1935." It appears to imply that he was let go while the courses had yet to be finished as what directly follows simply states, "a little more than a year before the Black course opened."

Isn't this just a bit more than a little misleading? After all, what happened just 10 days later on April 28th?Why that was the day that the Blue course opened for play. What happened on May 30th? Why that was the day that the Red course was opened for play.

And what about the Black?It would wait another year. Was this because it hadn't been built or that design changes were occuring?

No. It was because there were weather problems in the fall of 1934 and they were only able to seed the Blue & Red courses. The Black was finished and complete but the decision was made that seeding that late would not take and create problems the following year. THAT is why the Black course was seeded in early 1935 and opened for play in 1936. That is also the reason that the Red & Blue courses hosted the 1936 USGA Public Links Championship and the Black did not. Yet the Black course was still grown in enough that in August of 1935, MGA Open champion Jimmy Hines, during a practice round on the Black, became the first player to reach the par-5 seventh hole in two shots. His 3-iron 2nd shot actually ended up OVER the green.

So Ron, let's be honest here. When Tilly was "laid off" as you put it, actually he had fulfilled and FINISHED his contract as all 3 courses (Blue, Red & Black) and the Green course in addition, had been fully designed, redesigned and built. Only a little grass had yet to grow on the Black...


Re: "Dear Mr. Whitten..."
« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2009, 05:14:19 AM »
Good morning Ron,

I thought I'd ask you a question that should give you a chuckle because it certainly tweaks my funny bone especially after your latest article quotes Lester Rice who states that Burbeck designed ALL the courses at Bethpage. If you & GD put so much stock in what Rice wrote, why then when someone types in "Bethpage Blue" or "Bethpage Red" it lists as course designer A.W. Tillinghast with not even a mention of Joseph Burbeck?

But the serious question about the Rice article is this... Can you show a single DIRECT QUOTE by Joseph Burbeck where HE STATES that he & NOT Tillinghast was the architect of Bethpage Black, Blue, Red or even the redesign of the green course from that article? You certainly seem to imply that he seemed to have told Rice this, yet Rice NEVER QUOTES BURBECK as having ACTUALLY SAID IT!


Re: "Dear Mr. Whitten..."
« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2009, 04:13:07 PM »
For all those who've been following along in my attempt to engage Ron Whitten in a discussion/debate on the Tillinghast/Burbeck issue that he & Golf Digest has raised, I received a long and detailed email from him this afternoon in which he has informed me that he will not be participating in this or any other discussion/debate on this subject.

I have asked him for permission to post that resonse without comment on this thread as I think that he deserves to atleast be somewhat heard against the little I have already posted. I am hoping that he will do so.

In any event, please feel very free to ask any & all questions about this topic and anything else Bethpage related on the other thread, Bethpage Questions. I will endeavor to answer them to your satisfaction.

I think that it would be most proper to close out this thread with a quote from Dave Catalano, Superintendent of Bethpage State Park. He wrote me after learning of my attempt to engage Ron and had this to say:

"There is a stone at the rear of the Clubhouse with two names on it - Tillinghast and Jones. The architect of the golf course and the architect of the renovation! That by the way is not a theory it is a fact."


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