A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE TO CHARLES BLAIR MACDONALD
Happy 162nd birthday to the Godfather of American Golf, Charles Blair Macdonald.
On November 14, 1855, Charles Blair Macdonald was born in Ontario. After growing up in Chicago, he attended St. Andrews University, where he learned golf from Old Tom Morris. In 1874, he returned to Chicago but rarely played golf until 1891, calling these years his “dark ages.”
In 1892, Macdonald founded the Chicago Golf Club, and built nine rudimentary golf holes in Downers Grove, IL. In 1893, he expanded the course, creating the first 18 hole course in the US. Parts of this course still exist as Downers Grove Golf Club.
In 1895, the Chicago Golf Club moved from its original location to a site in Wheaton, IL, where Macdonald once again built an 18-hole course for the club. Nearly 125 years later, CGC still occupies this land.
In 1894, both St. Andrew’s Golf Club (pictured) and Newport Country Club held national tournaments. After finishing second in both, an angry Macdonald criticized the events, and set about forming a uniform body to govern the game in the US.
In 1895, representatives from Newport Country Club, Shinnecock Hills, The Country Club, St. Andrew’s and Chicago Golf Club (represented by Macdonald himself) formed the United States Golf Association. Macdonald then won the inaugural U.S. Amateur at Newport, later that year.
In 1900, Macdonald left Chicago for New York, and almost immediately began searching for a site upon which to build his vision of the perfect golf course. In 1906, he settled on a parcel in Southampton, NY, and founded the National Golf Links of America.
Macdonald’s vision was to build the greatest golf course in the country. In doing so, he modeled many of his holes on strategic principles and concepts of the best holes in the British Isles. These “templates” would become a hallmark of his designs.
Macdonald hired Seth Raynor to survey and plot the land on which the National would be built. Soon after, however, Macdonald put the talented Raynor in charge of all construction, forming a partnership that would change American golf.
When it opened in 1909, National Golf Links of America was immediately and universally recognized as the greatest course in the country, and one of the best in the world. It remains so to this day.
Macdonald would continue to care for and tweak his beloved National, living nearby at his estate, Ballyshear, for the next 30 years. The property, now owned by Michael Bloomberg, includes replicas of the Redan 4th and Short 6th holes.
Macdonald and Raynor collaborated on many other projects over the years until Raynor’s premature death in 1926, including an earlier design of Shinnecock Hills. Six Macdonald/Raynor holes survive today, including the famed Redan 7th.
Shortly after National opened, Macdonald was persuaded by several wealthy friends to build a course for Piping Rock Club. Here, he built the first rendition of his par-3 Biarritz template, one of four templates, along with Redan, Eden and Short, he used on nearly all his courses.
Next, Macdonald built the original course for Sleepy Hollow Country Club. Later, the club hired A.W. Tillinghast to expand and revise the course, and several Macdonald holes were lost. The club, with Gil Hanse, is currently renovating the Tillinghast holes in a Macdonald style.
In 1914, Macdonald returned to the Midwest and built the course at St. Louis Country Club. Although Macdonald and Raynor remained largely true to form, dutifully building Short, Redan, Eden and Biarritz par-3s, they added a 5th unique par-3, which they called “Crater.”
In 1914, Macdonald designed the Old White Course at Greenbrier Resort. Seth Raynor would later design the Lakeside Course (1923) and the Greenbrier Course (1924) at the resort. Old White remains one of the few ways the general public can play a Macdonald design.
In 1918, Macdonald designed the Lido Club, which was situated at Lido Beach on the southern shore of Long Island. By all accounts, the course was magnificent – Bernard Darwin called it the best in the world. That it no longer exists is one of the great tragedies in golf history.
In 1923, Macdonald designed The Creek on Long Island’s North Shore. One of Macdonald’s more dramatic sites, the course begins with five holes atop a hill before plunging down to Long Island Sound for the remainder. The club is nearing the end of a restoration by Gil Hanse.
In 1924, Macdonald built his only course outside the US, in Tucker’s Town, Bermuda. In addition to its incredible beauty, Mid Ocean Club offers up some of Macdonald’s best templates, led by the par-4 5th hole, the best Cape he ever built, and one of the finest holes in the world.
In 1924, Macdonald and Raynor began work on the Course at Yale University. The most dramatic of their remaining courses, Yale is golf at its most bold, challenging golfers in a direct and uncommon manner. As a result, the course is controversial: loved by many, hated by some.
On January 23, 1926, having spent half of his life designing and building golf courses, including over 100 of his own, Seth Raynor died at 51. Although Macdonald continued to work on the National, he never built another course after the loss of his partner and dear friend.
During his final decade, Macdonald continued to improve his beloved National Golf Links of America, moving greens, adding and removing bunkers, and shifting and lengthening holes to ensure that the course remained a challenge for the best players of the day.
On April 23, 1939, Charles Blair Macdonald died in Southampton, NY, at the age of 83. He was interred in Southampton, just a lag putt from his close friend and partner, Seth Raynor, ensuring that the two remain close even in death.
Over the course of his life, Macdonald was an Amateur Champion, a successful businessman, a founding member of the USGA, architect of some of the world’s best courses, and author of Scotland’s gift. Here’s to you, C.B., on your 162nd birthday.
From golfers everywhere, thanks.
Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf
5 thoughts on “LinksGems Birthday Tribute to C.B. Macdonald”
What a wonderful tribute. A lovely potted history with some memorable photos. Thank you
Thank you sir. Jon is great at what he does.
Great job and thanks for the post. I’ve played the Old White, The Greenbrier course, and Meadows prior to recent redesigns. In a word, brilliant. Both the Old White and Greenbrier courses have Biarritz greens. Old White, the par 3 third, and on the Greenbrier, a challenging par 4 on the back side. Due to last year’s floods, a number Greenbrier course holes have been lost. Believe the plan is to integrate/add to both Greenbrier and Lakeside with Phillie Mick consulting.
Thanks for checking it out, and the update. Appreciate ya.