Albert Warren (A.W.) Tillinghast (born 1874, died 1942) was born in north Philadelphia in 1874. As one of the golden age of golf architecture’s prime figures, his golf course designs are among the best in the world. A master whose courses defined the Golden Age was A.W. Tillinghast , who was “golf architecture’s ultimate eccentric,” Shackelford wrote. “Humor and quirkiness abound on his holes, but every course is a solid test of skill from first hole to last.”
Tillinghast’s greatest courses are those he designed early in his career in the eastern United States, including Bethpage Black, Baltusrol and Winged Foot. He moved to Los Angeles after going bankrupt during the Great Depression, and tried to revive his career with work at such courses as Brookside Golf Club in Pasadena, Palos Verdes Golf Club and Virginia Country Club in Long Beach.
“A round of golf should present 18 inspirations — not necessarily thrills, for spectacular holes may be sadly overdone,” Tillinghast wrote in “Reminiscences of Tillinghast.” “It must be remembered that the majority of golfers are aiming to reduce their previous best performances, first, last and all the time, and if any one of them arrives at the home teeing ground with this possibility in reach, he is not caring two hoots whether he is driving off from nearby an ancient oak of majestic size and form or a dead sassafras. If his round ends happily it is one beautiful course. Such is human nature.”
Tillinghast also was an advocate of strategy and felt greens were key to any course. In writing about Winged Foot, he said that its “holes are like men, all rather similar from foot to neck, but with the greens showing the same varying characters as human faces.”
While many of Tillinghast's courses disappeared entirely during the depression or have been severely altered by time, others remain so well distinguished that they are treasures of the game. He knew every hole must be unique yet remain sound and within the rhythm of the routing.
He did not require lakes, streams or even trees to prop up his designs–many of his courses are just turf, sand and contours devilishly combined to demand the most from a golfer's intellect and abilities. He also coined the term “birdie” to describe a one-under-par score for a hole. Tillinghast practiced in the days when wealthy men made golf courses. Thus, most of his works are still private clubs and closely guarded secrets.
According to a synopsis by Daniel Wexler in The Book of Golfers, Tillinghast was poorly educated and ran a street gang, dropped out of school and skipped college. Despite this, Tillinghast also made a significant contribution to the golfer’s library with his fictional writing.
Cobble Valley Golf Yarns and Other Sketches was written in 1915 and was published by Philadelphia Printing. As Tillinghast describes in the introduction to Cobble Valley Yarns: “Somewhere, nestled among the hills of Everywhere, is Homesburg, and there, too, is the golf course of Cobble Valley. The Links differ from others, just as they all do, but, after all, the people there are very like those of every other section. In the stories contained in this volume the author has attempted an analysis of human nature.”
The book contains nineteen short stories about golf. Although Tillinghast’s writing would never be confused with that of P.G. Wodehouse, the book is relatively scarce and is worth between $300-$500 in good condition.
The Mutt and other Golf Yarns (A New Cobble Valley Series), was privately printed in two editions in 1925. The standard trade edition was published with a red cloth cover. While this edition was not issued with the author’s signature, Tillinghast signed many copies. A standard trade edition is worth a couple of hundred dollars. Copies of either Cobble Valley or The Mutt signed by Tillinghast increase the value by about $1,000.
The Mutt was also published in a limited edition of 250 copies, hand-numbered and signed by Tillinghast. This book was produced in a much nicer green embossed binding. This version of the book is extremely rare and sells for between $5,000 and $7,500.
Planning a Golf Course was published circa 1917 and is by far the rarest Tillinghast publication. It is essentially a prospectus for his golf course design firm and is 24 pages and soft cover, measuring 8 ½ inches x 3 ½ inches. It contains illustrations from drawings. The only copy seen at auction in the last twenty years sold for an eye-popping $14,400 earlier this year.
It’s really too bad that Tillinghast didn’t do more non-fiction writing along the lines of Robert Hunter’s The Links or Alister Mackenzie’s Golf Architecture. As one of the undisputed great architects of the game, it would have been nice to have learned more about his thought process regarding design.