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Just a comment regarding the courses in existence, as referred to previously. Garden City Golf Club and Myopia were mentioned as among few courses of merit. In a 1901 article on "The Construction and Upkeep of Courses", Travis listed the following as the "best courses in the country": Garden City Golf Club, Wheaton, Atlantic City, Morris County, Newport, Nassau, Apawamis, Midlothian, and Myopia. He expressed the opinion that the Ekwanok Country Club course showed the "promise of being a really good one in time". A little OT perhaps, but suggests that people like Fownes had courses fairly close at hand from which they could have learned.
Mind you, even in the middle of the first decade of the 20th century the 3 courses mentioned as the best in the country were Myopia, Garden City and Chicago, but I believe that's primarily due to Oakmont not being in a major golf metro center at that time and therefore not having the same exposure.