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Devereux Emmet Society

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Ian Andrew:
I think I had help from Mark on this, but it's a decent short biography

Devereux Emmet was born in Pelham, New York on December 11, 1861, the son of a wealthy Sugar Company executive William Jenkins Emmet. He was the great grandson of the famous American lawyer Thomas Abbot Emmet.

He was one of eight children. His four brothers went on to be successful business men and his three sisters were respected artists. Devereux himself went to Columbia University and earned a law degree in 1883. While the others were quick to establish themselves, Emmet was the child who seemed to march to a different drummer. He seemed to be far less interested in any form of work and was described as socialite or wealthy sportsman. He was also an excellent golfer talented enough golfer that he made it to the quarter finals of the British Amateur in 1904.

In 1889 he married Ella B. Smith in an elaborate wedding at her home in New York City. Miss Smith was the daughter of Judge J. Lawrence Smith and a niece of Alexander Stewart. Ella's sister Elizabeth was also the wife of famous architect Stanford White. They had two sons together Richard and Devereux Jr. This connection would play a key role in his future as a golf course architect.

"The bride's gown was of white satin and point lace adorned with pearls. A wedding breakfast was served by Pinard, and about 500 hundred guests attended the reception in the afternoon...... After a three week honeymoon Mr. and Mrs. Emmet will return to New York, but they will soon make their home at Cooperstown, where the groom has a large estate."

New York Times, January 27, 1889

Rather than become a lawyer like his famous great grandfather, Emmet bought hunting dogs in the South, raised them, and then sold them in the British Isles in the fall. He then spent his time overseas hunting and playing golf before returning home for the winter. It was on one of these later trips that he spent his time measuring and producing sketches of the famous British golf holes for his friend CB Macdonald who was then planning The National Golf Links of America. Emmet would eventually become a founding member of the National and play a small role in the purchase and planning of the course.

In the early 1870’s Alexander Stewart began the development of a community called Garden City. This project included George Hubbel, who would see this project through to the end for the family, and architect Stanford White. The community called for housing, parks and eventually golf courses as part of the overall plan. In 1899, based upon Devereux Emmet’s skill and enthusiasm for the game he was selected to layout the original nine-hole course.

School boys mostly ignore the game – make fun of it. Only to find out when they are thirty five years old and too old to be really good golfers, that it is the only game they care about for the rest of their lives. There is a mistaken idea among young people that is it’s a soft babyish game, requiring no courage or hardihood. As a matter of fact it calls for more pluck than any other form of athletic contest. The great efforts must be made with perfect sangfroid in the face of imminent disaster.”

Devereux Emmet on golf

The original nine was called Island Golf Links and was influenced by Emmet’s multiple trips to United Kingdom. Emmet was familiar with St. Andrews, Prestwick and North Berwick among other famous links and brought many of the ideas he saw there to his new holes. Eventually he would draw upon those golfing trips and adapt many of the famous holes into his own work. The 7th hole at Huntington Country Club is clearly his own adaption of the Road Hole and is in my opinion the best adaption I have seen in the United States.

Originally he accepted no fee for his work, likely because the first few projects involved his wife’s family, but it wasn’t soon after that Emmet became a professional golf course architect accepting fees. His practice grew as golf began to expand rapidly. In 1916 the USGA instituted a rule banning golf course architects who accepted a fee for their services from competing in amateur tournaments. Emmet’s design business continued to flourish in the 1920’s as golf went through a period of rapid expansion fueled by the roaring twenties. In 1924 Emmet hired Alfred Tull as a design associate.

“He may be classed by our intelligent golf legislators in the same category as caddies and club makers, but he must have imagination, education, love of nature and naturalness, and lots of technical knowledge and special knowledge thrown in to do justice to the job. It pays to employ a good golf architect – the best you can get. Then you won’t have regrets nor changes to make.”

Devereux Emmet on professional golf architects

Emmet had many interesting project along the way including the creation of The Women’s National Golf and Tennis club with Marion Hollins. Hollins provided Emmet with sketches of famous holes she had collected on a trip to England and some of those were incorporated into the design. Emmet even served as the club’s secretary for period too.

In 1929 Tull was promoted to full partner of Emmet, Emmet and Tull. The firm included his son Devereux Emmet Jr. who worked with the firm until his father’s death on December 30th 1934.


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