Check out this very interesting article from the WSJ last week.
The ninth hole at North Shore Country Club.
Glen Head, N.Y.
Donald Zucker was elated when he signed the paperwork last fall giving him title to North Shore Country Club. Mr. Zucker, 78, is a lean, energetic New York City real-estate developer who fell in love with golf in his 50s and took his first lessons at North Shore, a 96-year-old club overlooking an inlet of Long Island Sound about 15 miles from Manhattan. He belongs to five clubs and considers himself a golf purist. His favorite way to experience the game is on foot, carrying a half-set of clubs in a skinny bag.
He had been actively looking for a golf club to buy, simply for the joy of ownership, for several years. A couple of deals fell through. But North Shore was the best. The club was for sale because the membership had been devastated by the recession. At least 10 families had been undone by investments with Bernard Madoff, and many others could no longer afford the annual dues exceeding $23,000. By the end of last season North Shore had only about 90 golf members and was $5 million in debt. Mr. Zucker paid $12.5 million for it in all.
What appealed to Mr. Zucker most about the club: North Shore’s course was designed by A.W. Tillinghast, whose other famous creations nearby include Bethpage Black, Winged Foot and Baltusrol, all of which have hosted U.S. Opens. “I can’t believe I actually own this,” Mr. Zucker said as we toured the course here last week.
But within two weeks of the purchase, he began hearing rumors that maybe Mr. Tillinghast had not been the architect after all. “In the beginning, I paid no attention because I didn’t believe it. We asked some of the oldest members, and they all said, ‘It’s a Tillinghast course, of course it’s a Tillinghast course,’ ” he said.
When the rumors persisted, Mr. Zucker asked Mark Hissey, a golf consultant he had already retained to help plan improvements for the club, to investigate. “My goal is to make North Shore one of the top courses in country, but given the controversy about who the original designer was, we had to know the truth and issue a definitive statement,” Mr. Zucker said.
Mr. Hissey quickly discovered the source of the rumors: a Web site, well-known among aficionados of golf-course architecture, called GolfClubAtlas.com. “North Shore CC on Long Island is an interesting story—one I was involved with a few years ago,” began a thread on Nov. 25 by George Bahto, a golf-course design and construction expert.
Several years ago, he wrote, an acquaintance advised him to take a look at North Shore because “it looks a lot like it was built by one of your guys.” The reference was to two other famous early golf architects, Charles Blair Macdonald, about whom Mr. Bahto wrote the biography “Evangelist of Golf,” and Seth Raynor, whose biography he is now writing.
Mr. Bahto soon visited North Shore and came away convinced that the greens were the work of Mr. Raynor, who during the course’s construction, 1914 to 1916, was just launching his career independent of Mr. Macdonald. The pair’s most famous collaboration had been National Golf Links of America in Southampton on eastern Long Island, which opened in 1909. The holes at the National were renditions of the greatest holes in Europe. The greens at North Shore looked remarkably similar.
“No. 14 was a double plateau green, just like No. 11 at the National,” Mr. Bahto told me. “The ninth was a Redan; No. 10 was an Eden. No. 3 was one of the best Road Hole greens I’ve seen anywhere.”
Mr. Bahto invited a Tillinghast expert to examine the course for evidence of Mr. Tillinghast’s handiwork. He found none. In the index of his Macdonald biography, Mr. Bahto gave full credit for North Shore to Mr. Raynor—not that anyone at the club seemed to notice. (Mr. Macdonald by 1914 had stopped taking on most new assignments, but lived nearby and no doubt consulted on the project, Mr. Bahto said.)
In his posting at GolfClubAtlas.com, Mr. Bahto did not insist on Mr. Raynor’s authorship at North Shore. Rather, he posed the question to the community: “Tillinghast—Raynor? If you get a chance check it and judge.”
By the end of the next week he had more than a hundred replies. Several posters attached copies of articles from the period and blurry early photographs of the holes. A number referenced the official history of golf clubs in the New York area, which provided such details as the $75,000 fee supposedly paid to Mr. Tillinghast for design and construction. A few sleuths theorized that the Raynor-like greens remained from an earlier course on the site co-designed by Devereux Emmet, who had worked with Messrs. Raynor and Macdonald at the National. Even Mr. Bahto began to doubt. “Given all this ‘new’ information, I’m taking North Shore off the list of Seth Raynor golf courses,” he wrote at one point.
But by early December the communal intelligence of the posters began to focus on one thing: Not one piece of contemporary evidence linked Mr. Tillinghast to North Shore. So on Dec. 4 a contributor named Steve Shaffer, a retired attorney from Philadelphia, hopped on an Amtrak train and paid a visit to the New-York Historical Society. In the archives there he located the records of the Harmonie Club, the German-Jewish Manhattan social club dating from 1852 that started North Shore.
“I fully expected to find documents connecting Tillinghast to the golf course. There had to be some reason he had been known as the architect without dispute for all those years,” Mr. Shaffer told me. But he didn’t. Instead, he found evidence authorizing payments to Mr. Raynor, and an official thank you, in 1916, to him, Mr. Macdonald and Robert White, the course superintendent, for creating the course.
As a courtesy, Mr. Shaffer presented his findings to the club before posting them at GolfClubAtlas.com. Mr. Hissey later paid his own visit to the New-York Historical Society, thoroughly searched North Shore’s archives (he found a lost trove of material in an attic under the club’s widow’s walk) and contacted a slew of golf historians. He, too, has been unable to unearth any reference to Mr. Tillinghast’s involvement, nor any evidence for why he got credit.
Mr. Zucker now accepts that Messrs. Raynor and Macdonald are the architects of the course he bought. “I’m treating it as a positive, not a negative,” he said. Between them, Messrs. Raynor and Macdonald have exactly as many courses listed on Golfweek magazine’s list of the top 100 classic courses as does Mr. Tillinghast. In June a highly anticipated tribute course to Mr. Macdonald will open at Bandon Dunes in Oregon, and Mr. Zucker has just hired Tom Doak and Jim Urbina, that course’s co-designers, to revitalize North Shore.
“I’m amazed how all the most knowledgeable people in golf, for so many years, made the assumption that because everyone else said Tillinghast was involved, that it must be true, even with no background evidence,” Mr. Zucker said.
GolfClubAtlas.com, meanwhile, has another intriguing thread shaping up. A respected member has said that he will soon post research suggesting that the esteemed San Francisco Golf Club was not originally designed by Mr. Tillinghast, as the club maintains, but rather by…well, that for now remains a mystery.