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Ran Morrissett

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Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« on: April 21, 2022, 08:44:58 AM »
Mike Cirba spent a tremendous amount of energy over the past two years on the subject of Dorset Field Club and his research is presented today.

What drew him to Dorset as a subject matter?  Simple: their claim, as they state on their web site, that it is ďthe oldest, continuously operating golf course in the United States.Ē
 

As Mike noted to me in an email, ďThey should expect some scrutiny of that claim.Ē

Fair enough! Mike was skeptical in the absence of proof. Well, scrutinize is what he did (!) as you can see in this considerable effort:

https://golfclubatlas.com/in-my-opinion/cirba-mike-the-maddening-mystery-of-dorset-field-club/


His paper presents like a detective story as he follows the clues, from an 1886 map, to a man named Ransom Gillett (Mike ends up matching his signature!), to the various property owners back then, to hole names, to a barn constructed pre-1900, on and on. Mike presented his findings to the club in late February, seeking clarification on several points. More information was gathered, and Mike adjusted his thinking accordingly.

Great job by Mike on many levels, including the zeal and dogged determination that he brought to this effort which started pre-pandemic. So few people (we miss you, Tom MacWood!) do this kind of deep-dive research and we are grateful that Mike shares his findings today.


Mike wants the reader to draw his/her own conclusions but personally, he has decided golf has been played here since (at least) 1886 and that makes Dorset the oldest course in continuous existence in this country of which he is aware.

Best,


P.S. For those that haven't already, have a look also at Mike's January 2018 IMO piece on Foxburg, as it dates back to 1887.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2022, 08:51:08 AM by Ran Morrissett »

Cal Carlisle

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2022, 09:31:45 AM »
Mike,


What an exhaustive amount of legwork done on this piece! The deciphering of some of these long-accepted truths can be very daunting to verify. Thank you for sharing this interesting journey.




Jim Sherma

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2022, 01:31:43 PM »
Mike - awesome piece of work. Well written and wonderfully presented. It's great that GCA provides a forum for this type of research.

Tommy Williamsen

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2022, 08:57:01 PM »
I'm gonna have to spend some time with this article. It deserves it after just a cursory view. Thanks for all the work. I saw an new article on
Saucon Valley that looks good as well.
Tom Williamsen
Where there is no love, put love; there you will find love.
St. John of the Cross

MCirba

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2022, 08:30:21 AM »
Thanks, Cal, Jim, and Tommy;

That truly is one of the great things about GolfClubAtlas and the forum Ran provides here.   Can you imagine any existing publication willing to devote that much print space to a detailed, lengthy investigative article?   Perhaps some of the newer, high-end ones?

in any case, I appreciate it a great deal.
"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent" - Calvin Coolidge

https://cobbscreek.org/

Tom Buggy

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2022, 09:14:27 AM »
What Mike has done is remarkable and is presented remarkably well. It also adds another confirmation of something I've come to believe from the research I've done about the Edgewood Club of Tivoli and the Dutcher Golf Course: It's amazing what can be learned about things from 100 to 150 years ago in today's Internet and newspaper archive world; it is equally frustrating not to be able to learn the completing detail. Similar to Mike, I personally believe that golf was present at the Edgewood Club of Tivoli before September, 1886. I just haven't been able to find the formal completing proof.

John Blain

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2022, 10:02:03 AM »
I read the entire report last night and thought it was pretty incredible. True meaning to the saying that no stone was left unturned.
I have played DFC a number of times over the years. It's a very enjoyable course and a very welcoming club, not to mention the setting is nothing short of sublime.
Mike- Are you at all familiar with the changes the club has for the golf course?  I understand they have hired Kyle Franz and Tyler Rae who apparently have already submitted their long range plan and I have heard the changes are significant. I heard through the grapevine that the club would like the two nines to be similar to one another, at least from an architectural perspective.



Neil_Crafter

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2022, 01:47:47 AM »
Great job Mike and a very interesting historical read. Also well done to Karl who his contribution.

MCirba

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2022, 08:00:13 AM »
Tom & Neil,

Thanks very much for the kind words.   As you both know, doing this kind of research can be very rewarding but it can also be frustrating (in terms of inconsistencies) and yes, at times "maddening".

John,

Yes, when Joe and I were there a few years back the pro verbally shared with us the plans by Kyle and Tyler to bring the course into a more consistent look and feel as the newer nine with lots of earth moving was pretty incongruous and given that the holes are interspersed on both nines it's no longer possible to just play the original.    While great in concept, and we really liked the idea of (re)creating a greensite down in the excavation, I think we both blanched a bit at the idea of combining the first two holes (a short, downhill par four with a pitch to a raised green beyond a creekbed and the 2nd being a par three to a tiny green surrounded by bunkers) into a single par five starter.   They are both very talented and I'm sure the overall course will be improved but as a historian I always feel sad seeing something of antiquity changed...that's just a gut reaction thing on my part.
"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent" - Calvin Coolidge

https://cobbscreek.org/

John Blain

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2022, 10:01:27 AM »
Thank you, Mike. I appreciate the response. Almost sounds like if the Franz/Rae work takes place the finished product will result in what may look like a brand new course. Some of these old school clubs now have many younger members than they used to and I'm not sure they really care about the "old course.'  Just the way life is sometimes, I guess.  I hope it all works out for them.

Joe Bausch

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #10 on: April 23, 2022, 04:08:17 PM »
Tom & Neil,

Thanks very much for the kind words.   As you both know, doing this kind of research can be very rewarding but it can also be frustrating (in terms of inconsistencies) and yes, at times "maddening".

John,

Yes, when Joe and I were there a few years back the pro verbally shared with us the plans by Kyle and Tyler to bring the course into a more consistent look and feel as the newer nine with lots of earth moving was pretty incongruous and given that the holes are interspersed on both nines it's no longer possible to just play the original.    While great in concept, and we really liked the idea of (re)creating a greensite down in the excavation, I think we both blanched a bit at the idea of combining the first two holes (a short, downhill par four with a pitch to a raised green beyond a creekbed and the 2nd being a par three to a tiny green surrounded by bunkers) into a single par five starter.   They are both very talented and I'm sure the overall course will be improved but as a historian I always feel sad seeing something of antiquity changed...that's just a gut reaction thing on my part.


I really enjoyed our day at Dorsett back in September of 2019, not too far before things really went crazy with the pandemic. It strangely seems like a decade ago!


I think this hole by hole photo tour is pretty good:


http://www80.homepage.villanova.edu/joseph.bausch/images/albums/DorsetFieldClub/index.html
@jwbausch (for new photo albums)
The site for the Cobb's Creek project:
https://cobbscreek.org/
Nearly all Delaware Valley golf courses in photo albums: Bausch Collection

MCirba

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #11 on: April 25, 2022, 02:53:43 PM »
 A friend contacted me outside of GCA and had a number of questions...below are his questions and my answers.
 
 To those of you who managed to read this odyssey to the end, first...thank you!   Second, Iíd welcome any and all questions and interpretations of events so have at it.
 
My initial conclusion is: Can't dismiss the possibility of a 1886 course, but can't confirm it either. There are so many fascinating clues in both directions. There seems to be strong evidence of a course before the formal founding in 1896, but when? And so many questions:

- How could Gillett be a "founder" if he was 9-year-old in 1886?- When did Gillett make the map copy? If it was in the 1940s, why wasn't it discovered until 1974?
 
- If he copied the supposed Harrington map, why didn't he give the original to the club?
 
- Why did it take until 1946 for the 1886 claim to be made?

 
I have much the same thought process, so let me first answer your direct questions; One thing the club definitely got wrong is that Gillett and some others were founding members in 1886.   They were founding members a decade later when the club was formalized, not when the golf course was laid out, if that makes sense.   They conflated the creation of the golf course with the formation of the club and they were, if Gillett is to be believed, a decade apart.
 
Theoretically, he could have copied the map at any time from 1896 onwards.   My theory is that he came across it in 1940 after Harrington's wife died, and perhaps it was fragile.   He died a year later so it may or may not have made it to the club at that point.   We know the first time 1886 was mentioned was in the 1940s based on research the President of the club was doing at the time but he also died shortly after that.   But, Gillett is clearly the author.  I suspect the original map may have been fragile and falling apart, but that's just speculation.
 
At the end of the day, it comes down to Gillett's believe-ability.     Given his social prominence, war hero, judge, etc., I find no reason to believe he'd fabricate it.   Further, even if he were a suspicious character everything on the map checks out historically and whoever drew it originally had to know that the barn built atop the 3rd green/4th tee didn't exist before 1896. 
 
« Last Edit: April 25, 2022, 03:08:37 PM by MCirba »
"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent" - Calvin Coolidge

https://cobbscreek.org/

Karl Jensen

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #12 on: April 25, 2022, 07:05:44 PM »
Ransom H. Gillett wrote on the copy of the map "All of which I can swear to.", then signed his name. A lawyer using this terminology from his legal profession carries weight. Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God? Given that Mike and I proved his signature and found supporting evidence for a pre 1896 map, I believe Gillett. Sure, you can always find room for doubt. So, prove it. I started out to do this very thing and was surprised that my disbelief turned to believing the map copy to be true. As Ripley said "Believe It or Not!", it's your choice.

Bret Lawrence

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #13 on: April 26, 2022, 07:56:40 AM »
Great job Mike!


You really did a deep dive on Dorset Field Clubís original course and the story is very interesting. I respect all the research and digging you have done.


 I have always found it harder to unprove  something than to prove something which is why many of these stories materialize.  It may also explain why some of these claims werenít  generated until many years later.  Why did Macdonald and Travis never tell us about Dorset Field Club claiming to be the oldest course in the country? They visited Ekwanok on many occasions in the late 1890ís and early 1900ís. Surely they would have mentioned the club as one of the oldest if they believed it to be true.


In 1931 the American Annual Golf Guide lists the oldest golf clubs in the United States and Dorset is not on the list.  Wouldnít 1931 have been a good year to start making the claim that someone may have overlooked their age? 


I think itís hard to determine the oldest club in 2022, because we overlook or ignore  the criteria set forth by the USGA in 1894 for what defined an ďestablished golf clubĒ.  Playing pasture golf was not considered an established golf club back then.  I feel like in order to make the claim for Dorset or any other club not on the 1931 list, we are using modern rules or interpretations that they did not agree with in the early days of the USGA.


Finally, even if it it is proven that there was a golf course in Dorset in 1886, how do we prove that golf was played in 1887, 1888, 1889, 1890 and so on?  I feel like with all these continuous claims, we are supposed to assume that they kept playing golf on those sites each year. We are not just claiming that they had the first golf course, but that they played on that course continuously from 1886 until now. The critic in me wants to see more proof to back up this claim, but as a researcher I really do appreciate all the fine work you put together here Mike.


Bret

MCirba

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #14 on: April 26, 2022, 08:20:48 AM »
Hi Bret,

Thanks for the kind words.   Let me try to answer your questions.

First, Dorset does not claim to be the "oldest club" and Karl was able to find that they didn't even formalize as a "golf club" until 1898, two years after the "Dorset Field Club" originated.   Complicating matters, Dorset Field Club didn't legally organize through incorporation until 1918, likely because they wanted to begin purchasing property they played though either some type of inexpensive lease or through just friendly agreement with the landowners.

The "continuous use" is of course more difficult to prove but these same folks "summered" year after year in Dorset, and Arvin Harrington first leased and then owned property in town.   Some of the other originators like the Holley's and Kent's lived there virtually year round so it's unlikely someone would build a golf course and then come there each summer and let it go fallow when all the friends gathered.   


As mentioned, the merry band did not have a "golf club" or enter into competitions with other clubs such as Equinox (formed 1895) until 1898 so it's unlikely that CBM or Travis would have learned about or known they played golf 7 miles from Ekwanok well before that club opened in 1900.

Hope those distinctions are useful, thanks.
"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent" - Calvin Coolidge

https://cobbscreek.org/

Bret Lawrence

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #15 on: April 26, 2022, 10:42:55 AM »
Mike,


Thank you for making those distinctions.  I thought I had read the oldest golf club, but now I realize the distinction is golf course.


I think most courses used by summer residents and maintained by livestock prior to 1900 went fallow in the Fall and a cutting of hay would generally be taken in the Fall and again in the Spring before the summer residents returned.  I am not saying this disqualifies the course as continuous, but itís more to make the point that they laid out golf courses back then, they didnít build them.  To let a course go fallow to feed your livestock was not out of the question.  The first course was very rudimentary and it evolved into what is there today, but did they use different property one year or not use the property one year is a valid question when we claim continuity.  We canít just assume that because they may have laid out a course in 1886 that they used that same property every year. 


If we are to prove golf was continuous, we need to produce some kind of proof that golf existed there in the intervening years between 1886 and when we first read about Dorset in the newspaper.  We canít just assume or expect the reader to assume this was the case, because all of the same residents came back every year.  Many readers arenít critical enough and will generally believe what the author tells them to believe.


Did Dorset have golf in 1886?  I think they may have, but I donít know for sure.  Did they always play golf  on the same property every year since? No one alive today really knows the answer to that question and that is what makes it a mystery we may never solve.  So we are really at a crossroads of a club that made a claim in 1941 that no one has been able to disprove in 81 years of research.  If they werenít the oldest continuous golf course who would hold that title?  Itís really a self proclaimed title that no one has really ever challenged until recently. I get the feeling when we look at the oldest continuous golf courses we put so much emphasis on the oldest and not enough emphasis on continuous.  Just my two cents.


I donít mean to be overly critical, I am just asking the questions I would ask myself if I were researching such a claim. Again, I think your work is terrific and I enjoyed reading and learning about the history of the Dorset Field Club.


Bret

MCirba

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #16 on: April 26, 2022, 12:40:55 PM »
Mike,


Did Dorset have golf in 1886?  I think they may have, but I donít know for sure.  Did they always play golf  on the same property every year since? No one alive today really knows the answer to that question and that is what makes it a mystery we may never solve.

Bret

Bret,

Perhaps the term "in continuous use" is flawed on the face of it?   Many prominent clubs closed during the world wars, for instance, and some turned their courses into "Victory Gardens".   Most courses are closed for a few months every year during the coldest or hottest seasons, so we get into splitting hairs in that regard.

I tend to think it's simpler than that.   The question in my mind is did these men play golf on this property as far back as 1886, has golf been played there routinely and regularly since that time and is golf still played there on that same property today?

I started out as a skeptic based largely on the lack of media reporting but everything about the map checked out.   Whoever drew the map (and I think we proved that Ransom Gillett is the one who actually drew the copy of the original by Arvin Harrington) had to know specifics about the property that wouldn't have been known to someone trying to fraudulently make that claim years later without having actually been there at the date of origin.   Unlike us, they couldn't just google title searches and old maps.  ;)

Thanks for your feedback...definitely enjoy the discussion.
"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent" - Calvin Coolidge

https://cobbscreek.org/

Bret Lawrence

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #17 on: April 29, 2022, 10:38:55 AM »
Mike,


I agree with you that the title of ďcontinuous useĒ is a little silly. Itís really a default label, they probably thought would never be challenged. My point is that Dorset attempted to challenge St. Andrewís as the oldest golf club in the country back in the middle of the century.  They were turned down from the USGA because they didnít have any documentation to unseat St. Andrews.  If you look at your bibliography, every former story mentioned ďOldest Golf ClubĒ not golf course.  So the title has changed to fit the story.  I also get the feeling that the story continues to change as years go by to line up with the new information that is found. Something as simple as Ransom Gillett noted as a founding member.  In the original story he was a founding member, but once future researchers realized he was only 9 years old at the time, the story changes to him as a founding member in 1896. 


I feel like the only part missing from the story is that Arvin Harrington studied in Scotland for a semester under the tutelage of Old Tom Morris. ;)  If he laid out the Dorset Golf Links in 1886, he was the first American-born golf architect.  If he laid out nine holes, then Dorset had the first nine-hole golf course in the country, by a long shot.  Even St. Andrews and Foxburg didnít start with nine holes. If he designed clubs in the comfort of his own home he would have to have some first-hand knowledge of how to make them.  Where did Arvin attain all of this knowledge 5 years before the first pro ever came to the country?  Why didnít Waterlivet have Arvin lay out their course considering he had all this expertise? Instead, they called in Phil Honeyman.


For this reason, I think itís somewhat important to focus on the continuous claim. If golf wasnít played from 1887-1895 then should this course be considered the oldest continuous course in the country?  I understand clubs shut down for war and improvements to their golf course, but a nine-year span without record is a long time to assume golf was being played in the same spot.


Couple that with recorded newspaper accounts that golf was introduced to Vermont by James Campbell in 1895 and its getting harder to believe this story.  The pictures in this write-up are great to look at, but without any dates or reference they unfortunately donít add to the proof. It reminds me a little of ďThe Evangelist of GolfĒ with pictures galore, but very few references tied to them.   The captions that appear on these pictures may be misleading.  The pictures with Arvin holding the tartan golf bag is likely from the late 90ís, unless he was making tartan golf bags too? The picture of the large group in front of Harringtons House (was this really Harringtons house or the Dorset Inn) doesnít show anyone holding golf clubs, and shows far more than 14 original members.  How do we know this wasnít just a gathering of families at the hotel before a picnicking trip? The pictures prove golf had been played in Dorset for a very long time, but I donít think any of the pictures suggest golf was played prior to 1895.  Only the map ties us back to 1886 and if you take away the map, then the story fast forwards to the mid to late 1890ís.  So what happened in between?  Itís not that I donít want to believe their story, but if the story is true you want to know more details about the first American-born architect/club maker to lay out nine holes in the US and where he became so knowledgeable.  Am I alone in this suspicion?

To me it doesnít matter much if Dorset calls themselves the oldest continuous golf course in the country, the second oldest golf course in Vermont or the First 9-hole golf course in the United States, Iíd still like to play the golf course, regardless of its title.  Itís not for me to say whether their claim is true or not, but I do find the story fascinating. Thanks for the topic Mike.


Bret

« Last Edit: April 29, 2022, 11:34:18 AM by Bret Lawrence »

MCirba

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #18 on: May 01, 2022, 10:01:26 AM »
Bret,


Some good questions and Karl and I wrestled with those and quite a few other questions over the past few weeks via email when we tried to put together all the pieces into a meaningful narrative supported by known facts.   


I'm sort of replying to your commentary on both this thread and the one on Foxburg simultaneously although I will say I never gave Foxburg the type of scrutiny I did with the Dorset piece, probably because I just took the several depositions at face value, right or wrong.   


But I'd like to address the piece about the USGA and holding them as the arbiter of all things golf history related in the United States.   I'm not sure that John Reid and his friends playing 3 holes in a field with tin cans at St. Andrew's is all that much different than what's purported to have happened at places like Dorset and Foxburg, irrespective of year, other than it was in New York City and not some rural outpost and someone remembered to keep the minutes.   The USGA and it's early history was heavily influenced by Charles B. Macdonald and he clearly had bigger visions for the game here than just localized groups of pioneers playing in their local meadows so that early organization was very CBM centric, with Chicago, St. Andrew's, Newport, The Country Club, and Shinnecock all either in major metros or rich people's getaway enclaves.   I will add...and I can't emphasize this enough...they were all PRIVATE clubs, when both Dorset and Foxburg always invited outside play in the early days.   This emphasis on exclusivity and golf as something "aspirational" still exists to this very day.


I'm not sure I'd make the case that early golf at Foxburg and Dorset went nowhere, either, as we have no idea what influence Fox had on his Merion Cricket Club co-members in getting golf started at that club, nor do we know any possible influence of the Dorset gang on getting Ekwanok going.   Did John Reid and his fellow Apple Tree gang have any higher aspirations than just some fun recreation among themselves?   


One of the tricky things (as you know) about understanding history is being able to take ourselves out of our present day understandings and try as best we can to put ourselves in their shoes, in their timeframes.   In that light, it seems to me that this type of "disorganized" golf among friends is much more likely to have occurred based on someone's exposure to the game overseas (or here) well before people started thinking of forming clubs to promote the same and organize competitions. If golf is still played on those former pastures today, with or without a club formation designation I think that's pretty cool and historically noteworthy and as mentioned, I just tried to find the facts and let those facts tell the story.  Does it make sense that Reid and company played golf in a field with some implements he sent for to play on a makeshift golf course and then have the foresight to create a formal organization at the end of the day?   


Back to Dorset.   We do know that George Harrison's father came from England, became a self-made millionaire, and at a very young age passed away leaving his estate to young George who went on numerous trips to Europe in the late 1880s and throughout the 1890s.   He was a friend of Harrington's through their business, social, and sporting endeavors back in Troy and attended nearby Williams College, graduating in 1886 the year Dorset golf purportedly started.   Is it any less likely that he might have been exposed and attracted to the game, perhaps procuring a few implements and showing friends the concepts and techniques of this foreign game than John Reid?   Or Joseph Mickle Fox?


In both cases we're left with the words of the men (and women in the case of Foxburg) who told us the years and the people involved.   In the case of Dorset, I went in with total skepticism and was continually proven wrong in my assumptions, particularly in relation to the Dorset map.


At the end of the day, I could find no believable story around the map that could explain why someone creating a fraudulent map for some type of publicity would know the various facts that we learned while investigating the property holdings, what building existed or didn't exist prior to 1896, or even who lived in a house (Mr. Frost and his Bull Pen) on land owned by others.   They would have had to have been there at the time.   Why would you start and end your golf course hundreds of yards from the later built clubhouse?  Why would you locate your 3rd green/4th tee complex at a place that became a barn in 1896?   Someone faking it years later would never have come up with that level of authenticity in a million years.


Thanks for your questions and thoughtful dialogue.
« Last Edit: May 01, 2022, 10:18:51 AM by MCirba »
"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent" - Calvin Coolidge

https://cobbscreek.org/

MCirba

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #19 on: May 02, 2022, 08:13:43 AM »
I was just reading H.Bl Martin's "Fifty Years of American Golf" again this morning and I think another differentiator between some of the earliest "clubs", such as St. Andrew's and even Oakhurst is that they were originally played on lands owned by members, so as a practical matter of establishing who could come and traipse around their properties hitting a white ball likely had as much to do with property rights and privacy as an intention to spread the game to everyone.


I had forgotten that St. Andrew's originally played on Reid's "empty lot" in February 1888, which became insufficient as more clubs (and therefore more simultaneous players) became available through probably Robert Lockhart's efforts, and then Reid, Tallmadge and the others moved to their next door neighbor John Schott's pasture where they played with his permission.   This play with permission on a neighboring pasture was similar in some respects to Dorset, with one notable exception.   By and large, Dorset (and Foxburg to a large extent) were "summering communities', more like today's resorts, where the wealthy with available free time would spend their lengthy vacations, or travel back and forth between home in the city to the playgrounds in the country several times per year.   St. Andrew's was located at the northern edge of New York City and its teeming environs where matters of privacy and freedom of association had to be considered and prioritized.   One would therefore assume that play was by invitation among friends and close associates, only. 


While it's true some members of Dorset like the Holley's originally lived in town it's likely that the Harrington brothers and George Harrison from Troy, NY brought the game to them, as opposed to visa versa.   Living in a summering community meant encouraging tourism as it helped local commerce and economic sustainability during the long winter months.   So by nature, these places were inclusive.   And while it's true that golf in Foxburg started on the Joseph Mickle Fox estate grounds, once it became more popular it was determined to move it to other holdings of the Fox family a mile or so away and let those pastures be used by all who would pay $1 annually for the privilege.   While that could be called a formal club with Fox as President and Harvey as Secretary, it seems by and large that bookkeeping of who had paid and paying the man who cut the grass with a scythe were their primary orders of business.


Perhaps not major distinctions, but subtle ones to keep in mind.
« Last Edit: May 02, 2022, 08:15:50 AM by MCirba »
"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent" - Calvin Coolidge

https://cobbscreek.org/

Bret Lawrence

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Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #20 on: May 03, 2022, 01:02:52 PM »
Mike,


I think you and Karl have asked all the right questions.  I just get the feeling that once we start to believe the story as fact, we stop asking questions.  I agree that there isnít much difference from the early days at St. Andrews and what is purported at Dorset and Foxburg.  When I said nothing really materialized out of these clubs starting so early I meant that they didnít start the Vermont Golf Association or host the first Amateur or National Championships which were greatly debated and led to the formation of the USGA.    When you say we donít know what these clubs did to promote golf at Merion and Equinox I am in full agreement with you.  It was never recorded whether these clubs influenced any other club to start playing golf.  This is sort of my point.  If something materialized out of theses early clubs then Iím sure we would have heard about it. 


I am still learning about the history of golf so I think this topic is very interesting.  I donít want to try to prove the story wrong, but I do want to know more details about the beginnings of golf, if this is in fact where it started in the US.  As I mentioned earlier I think we have two stories about Dorset, one story is about the Dorset Golf Links from 1886 and the second story is the Dorset Field Club from 1896-1898.  The stories seem conflated to me, as if many of the things we were told in the original stories actually occurred in the late 1890ís rather than the late 1880ís.  The reason I said to take away the map, to look at the big picture is because the map is not from 1886. The map is from a later period with annotations added to it.  So if we take away this copy of the map, what record do we have of a golf course existing anytime before 1895? 


I get the feeling we are told to believe the map because Ransom Gillett was a lawyer, but how do we know he didnít make this map before he passed his bar exam?  If he did make the map prior to being a lawyer, does it change the validity of the story or the map?  I feel like Ransom Gillett is telling us a few things that arenít necessarily true on this map, such as the titles of the men involved. So where do we draw the line for what is truthful versus what is made up? 


I just want to clarify that I never mentioned the word fraudulent when referring to this map.  I think when the club challenged the USGA they did it in good faith.  Clearly, the persons challenging this claim were not founding members, so they did their best to verify the story that came before them.  As for your question on the USGA, I donít really know the answer to that.  Itís likely because they have been around since 1894 and the employees are composed of many retired lawyers and judges who are looking for something to do on rainy days?  I think the question is better suited for the clubs that in fact made the challenges to the USGA.  Why did they go to the USGA to challenge St. Andrews?


I am enjoying the discussion as well.  Thanks for making my head spin all weekend.


Bret

Kevin Mendik

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #21 on: May 03, 2022, 06:55:37 PM »
I was asked to speak at the DFC for the occasion of the Julian Curtiss Cup on 30 September, 2011. The club was  celebrating their 125th anniversary that year, corresponding of course to the date of MR. Harringtonís map. The topic was a familiar one: whatís the oldest golf club in the US? Itís never been a simple question.
As a lawyer, I can say with authority that ďit depends.Ē The first place where golf was played in the US? The first golf club to be formally incorporated (or founded and subsequently incorporated) in the US? The longest continuously operating golf club formally incorporated in the US (whose golfing grounds never laid fallow for decades)? Foxburg, Oakhurst Links, the Carolina Low Country? I pulled together most of the existing literature in book form, spoke to a number of the usual suspects, and relied on the research of my late co-author Bob Labbance. I know Bob would be thrilled that you have helped us all ďmake the call.Ē
Although my presentation went in far less depth than you have, I too arrived at the conclusion that portions of the land played upon in 1886 by a number of gentlemen (some of whom went on to found what we know today as the DFC), represent the oldest continuously operating golfing grounds in the US, associated with a specific organization in existence today.
The Dorset Field Club holds a special place in American golf. We are fortunate to walk upon these grounds.
Thanks to you and those who contributed to the article, clearly prepared with much of the same care and attention to detail as Mr. Harrington did when he drew the map.

MCirba

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #22 on: May 04, 2022, 03:42:13 PM »
Thanks very much, Kevin...the club certainly has a long history to be proud of.


Bret,


Thanks again for your response and questions.   Just leaving a placeholder here to let you know I'll try to respond in the next day or two.
"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent" - Calvin Coolidge

https://cobbscreek.org/

MCirba

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Mike Cirba's IMO on Dorset Field Club
« Reply #23 on: May 16, 2022, 02:18:04 PM »
Bret,


Sorry for the long delay in replying.   Please see my answers below in BLUE

Mike,

I think you and Karl have asked all the right questions.  I just get the feeling that once we start to believe the story as fact, we stop asking questions.  I agree that there isnít much difference from the early days at St. Andrews and what is purported at Dorset and Foxburg.  When I said nothing really materialized out of these clubs starting so early I meant that they didnít start the Vermont Golf Association or host the first Amateur or National Championships which were greatly debated and led to the formation of the USGA.    When you say we donít know what these clubs did to promote golf at Merion and Equinox I am in full agreement with you.  It was never recorded whether these clubs influenced any other club to start playing golf.  This is sort of my point.  If something materialized out of theses early clubs then Iím sure we would have heard about it. 


Very fair point.   It's also possible that at this very early, genesis state of American golf we didn't have very much in the way of journalistic or documentary avenues for this information to be captured and/or reported for posterity, particularly in these rural outposts.   I suspect much of the sharing of golf related information and related evangelism was very informally communicated person to person among friends and acquaintances.   And while we'll never stop asking questions and trying to obtain and interpret any additional information that might be available, at this juncture I believe Karl and I unearthed as much information (at least related to Dorset) as is available and far beyond efforts of previous researchers, largely due to better tools.


I am still learning about the history of golf so I think this topic is very interesting.  I donít want to try to prove the story wrong, but I do want to know more details about the beginnings of golf, if this is in fact where it started in the US.  As I mentioned earlier I think we have two stories about Dorset, one story is about the Dorset Golf Links from 1886 and the second story is the Dorset Field Club from 1896-1898.  The stories seem conflated to me, as if many of the things we were told in the original stories actually occurred in the late 1890ís rather than the late 1880ís.  The reason I said to take away the map, to look at the big picture is because the map is not from 1886. The map is from a later period with annotations added to it.  So if we take away this copy of the map, what record do we have of a golf course existing anytime before 1895? 


I would agree with the division of golf and the creation of the club.   However, I can't divorce the map from the story because I'm now convinced that whoever originally created the map that Gillett later copied (presumably A.W. Harrington) claimed to have created the map on September 13th, 1886, and there is information on that map that would have been virtually unknowable for someone else who hadn't been there at that time, even by 1896 a decade later. 


I get the feeling we are told to believe the map because Ransom Gillett was a lawyer, but how do we know he didnít make this map before he passed his bar exam?  If he did make the map prior to being a lawyer, does it change the validity of the story or the map?  I feel like Ransom Gillett is telling us a few things that arenít necessarily true on this map, such as the titles of the men involved. So where do we draw the line for what is truthful versus what is made up? 


That's possible, but unlikely, simply because no one found copies of the map until the 1940s.   I find that date too close to Gillett's being the executor of Arvin Harrington's wife's will in 1940 (and Gillett's subsequent death in 1941) to be coincidence.   It also may explain why Gillett sought to copy the map rather than forward the original as it would have been a 54 year old piece of paper at that time and may have been fragile, and/or fragmentary. 


I honestly don't know if Gillett would have even known the dates of other early clubs at this time as it doesn't seem golf was a big part of his life after being injured multiple times in World War I and his other subsequent military, public service, and professional responsibilities after that time but I'm thinking he likely just knew it was early and thought it should be properly reproduced for posterity.


I just want to clarify that I never mentioned the word fraudulent when referring to this map.  I think when the club challenged the USGA they did it in good faith.  Clearly, the persons challenging this claim were not founding members, so they did their best to verify the story that came before them.  As for your question on the USGA, I donít really know the answer to that.  Itís likely because they have been around since 1894 and the employees are composed of many retired lawyers and judges who are looking for something to do on rainy days?  I think the question is better suited for the clubs that in fact made the challenges to the USGA.  Why did they go to the USGA to challenge St. Andrews?


Bret, I'm not sure the clubs ever went to the USGA to challenge anyone's claim in either the case of Foxburg or Dorset or others.   I think they may have reached out to the USGA to share their respective stories and those stories were generally well accepted but because St. Andrew's close to formalize into a club in 1888 and those minutes still existed the USGA sort of punted in terms of being some type of de factor arbiter. 


I am enjoying the discussion as well.  Thanks for making my head spin all weekend.


Bret


Glad you said that because my head was spinning all winter!  ;)   Thanks for your questions. 
« Last Edit: May 16, 2022, 02:21:10 PM by MCirba »
"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent" - Calvin Coolidge

https://cobbscreek.org/

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