The Golf Course and the Architects
It was the peak of America's Gilded Age and along the Jersey Shore a new era of development was about to begin. In Spring Lake Beach, a group of wealthy eastern industrialists had combined with a number of influential local businessmen to form the Spring Lake Beach Improvement Company with the intent of creating a seaside resort. On the oceanfront they erected the Monmouth Hotel and, in July of 1898, a group of these gentlemen met to discuss the formation of a golf club. On August 20th, the Spring Lake Golf and Country Club was officially incorporated in Monmouth County. The newly formed club elected to build the original nine-hole course on an 18-acre tract in the southwestern sector of Spring Lake. The original course is believed to have been laid out by Willie Norton, a Scot from Prestwick, who was then employed as the Golf Professional at Sea Bright Golf Club, one of several clubs that later merged to become Rumson Country Club. Assisting Norton with the design were Harrison Townsend, the first president of the club, and Alexander Jamieson, another of the founding trustees. The nine-hole course played to 2,130 yards with a par 35. It was in use from 1898 to 1911.
The first clubhouse was the rambling former home of Captain Forman Osborn on Mercer Avenue in Spring Lake. As the young club prospered and development of the Spring Lake area accelerated, the founders investigated potential new locations for an expanded 18-hole golf course. In September of 1909, club founders formed the Spring Lake Real Estate Company to purchase the nearby 118-acre Thompson farm on which the new course would be built. Soon thereafter an additional parcel of 30 acres was added to the complex. To design and build their new course, the trustees selected 36-year old George C. Thomas, Jr., a member of the so-called "Philadelphia School" of golf course architecture.
Spring Lake was only Thomas' third design, having earlier laid out a nine-hole course for the Marion Golf Club near Plymouth, Mass. In 1908, his initial 18-hole course design was completed on his family estate outside Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter this tract became Whitemarsh Valley Country Club. In his early years of design work he closely studied the works of Donald Ross, A. W. Tillinghast and his close friend George Crump, the founder and designer of Pine Valley Golf Club. Thomas received assistance in the design of the Spring Lake course from famed Scottish golfer George Duncan. Assisting in the construction phase was another young Scot by the name of David Aitcheson who, upon completion of the project, became the first Greens Superintendent.
In the spring of 1911, work was completed on the course which played to 6,030 yards and a par 35-35-70, including his monstrous 4th hole (now the 3rd hole), a par five of 610 yards known as "Hell's Kitchen." Spring Lake would be the last course that George Thomas would design on the East Coast and his only course in New Jersey. After completion of his active military service in World War I, Thomas moved to California where he revived his interest in golf course design, gracing the pristine canyons around Los Angeles with such classic layouts as Riviera Country Club, Bel Air Country Club and Los Angeles Country Club's North Course.
With the completion of the new course, Spring Lake's clubhouse was shifted from Mercer Avenue to the old Thompson homestead between Essex and Sussex Avenues on the east side of the Manasquan-Long Branch Turnpike (Route 71). While this clubhouse was in use, the first tee was just across the road in a location that is today's 18th teeing area. By 1915, the Thompson clubhouse had outlived its usefulness and a new facility was needed. Construction soon began at a more central location on the course. The new clubhouse was completed in 1916 and, with its occupancy, the golf course holes were rotated to align with the new location. The original 2nd hole now became the 1st and the original 1st became the new 18th hole. The Thompson clubhouse was saved and was eventually reborn as the Village Barn and, currently, Doolan's Shore Club.
Perhaps influenced by the golf course construction going on at clubs such as Pine Valley and Merion Golf Club, as well as the new clubhouse at Spring Lake, the trustees determined in 1917 that their still young course needed a substantial updating. To create and execute the new plan they turned to one of America's greatest golf course architects, Albert Warren Tillinghast. As a golf course designer, Tillinghast had much in common with George Thomas. Both were devotees of generous teeing areas, small greens, artful bunkers and well-placed trees to frame a hole.
In the spring of 1918, The American Golfer reported on the progress that Tillinghast was making in his reconstruction effort, noting that the extreme length, from the back teeing grounds, has been increased to nearly 6,400 yards, several dog-legged fairways have been introduced and new teeing grounds constructed. Probably the most pronounced improvement is that of the home hole. Here the old green in the hollow has been abandoned and a new one rears its face from the ridge beyond. In places nearly 15 feet of fill was used in the making of this new green. The former 200-yard par three 2nd hole has been lengthened to a 375-yard par four and the infamous par five 3rd hole has been reduced in length by some 75 yards. Many pits of sand are being placed and, when the work is completed, Spring Lake will be a very notable course.
During a roughly thirty-year period, A. W. Tillinghast designed over sixty golf courses, including some of the treasures of American golf…San Francisco Golf Club, Quaker Ridge Golf Club, Baltusrol Golf Club, Winged Foot Golf Club and Ridgewood Golf Club. His course designs are considered among the best in the world and he is widely recognized as one of the prime figures of the golden age of golf architecture in America.
Since his reconstruction effort was completed at Spring Lake, relatively few major changes have been made to the golf course. The par four 9th hole has been lengthened by over 50 yards and made into a par five, the par four 11th hole has been extended by 75 yards and the par four 16th hole has been shortened by 100 yards, once again becoming a par three. This has transformed the course from a par 35-37-72 to today's par 36-36-72. During this period of time the overall length of the course has remained essentially the same, increasing in length by less than 150 yards. Changes have been made to several greens and sand bunkers along the way but there have been no other major architectural changes since the time that A. W. Tillinghast completed his work at Spring Lake.
Major Tournaments and Exhibitions
The club has been most fortunate over the years to have played host to a great variety of major golfing events…early exhibitions, the first professional tournament of note on the Jersey Coast, the Spring Lake Invitational of the 1940's, a USGA Senior Women's Amateur Championship and two NJSGA Open Championships. Each of these events has been a wonderful experience and they have collectively added to the rich golfing history of Spring Lake Golf Club.
Shortly after Labor Day in 1911, Spring Lake's recently completed eighteen hole course was the site of the first exhibition match held at the young club. As a tribute to both the old nine-hole course, as well as the new eighteen-hole layout, the match began on the old course and finished on the new course. Featured in this exhibition were George Duncan, the famed Scottish golfer who had contributed design suggestions for the new Spring Lake course, and America's Jerry Travers, one of the leading amateur golfers of the early 20th century. Although the outcome of the match is not recorded, the club is fortunate to have pictures taken on site of both of these players.
It was just over three years later, on September 11, 1914, that Spring Lake again came into prominence as the playing site of what may have been the first major professional golf tournament to have been held along the Jersey Shore. The event featured thirty-four of the best professional golfers of the East and Middle West playing thirty-six holes on each of two days. At stake was total prize money of about $1,000. Taking first honors in the tournament was Fred McLeod of Columbia Country Club. Among three players tied for second place was "Long Jim" Barnes of Whitemarsh Valley Country Club, the reigning Western Open champion. Finishing in seventh place was Spring Lake professional Jim Ferguson while Walter Hagen, the U. S. Open champion, finished well off his normal game in sixteenth place.
On August 21, 1932, in the darkest days of the Great Depression, an exhibition match was played at Spring Lake for the benefit of the Fitkin Memorial Hospital (now the Jersey Shore University Medical Center). Featured in the match were Maureen Orcutt, one of the nation's leading amateur golfers of the 1920's and 1930's, and her playing partner, Maurice J. McCarthy, Jr., the Metropolitan Amateur champion and member of the U.S. Walker Cup team. They were teamed against Miss Martha Parker, MGA, and New Jersey Women's Amateur champion and the reigning Spring Lake women's champion and J. Wolcott Brown, four-time Spring Lake champion, winner of the N. J. Amateur championship and, later, a three-time MGA Senior Amateur champion. The team of Orcutt and McCarthy defeated Parker and Brown 5 and 3.
The initial Spring Lake Invitational was staged as an eighteen hole pro-member event in July of 1940. There were 28 New Jersey professionals and an equal number of members competing for a total purse of $400, $100 for the low gross professional and $300 for the top five pro-am teams. Johnny Kinder of Plainfield captured the low pro honors and he teamed with Spring Lake member Robert Newhouse to win the pro-am. From these modest beginnings, the Invitational grew into arguably the largest pro-am Calcutta event in the United States.
The 1941 tournament expanded to 34 pros matched with 34 club members in another eighteen hole event. The professional field once again consisted exclusively of New Jersey club pros. Maurice O'Connor of Branch Brook took individual pro honors, defeating the defending champion Johnny Kinder of Plainfield by one stroke. Four teams tied for first place in the pro-am, including the team of Spring Lake professional John Reardon and club member Jack Mara.
The first war-time Invitational was held on August 30, 1942 and the field expanded yet again to 45 pros and 45 club members competing over eighteen holes. The composition of the pro field began to expand beyond New Jersey's borders for the first time as players such as Gene Sarazen, Mike and Joe Turnesa, Craig Wood and Lou Barbero made their first of many appearances. The professionals competed for a total prize pool of $1,000 plus war bonds. Reigning U. S. Open champ Craig Wood garnered the $400 first place prize. The pro-am victors were Vic Ghezzi and Frank Shattuck. This was the first time that we have specific evidence of a Calcutta team auction taking place and, as luck would have it, Frank Shattuck had purchased his team and pocketed some $3,300 of the auction pool.
With a diminished field, the playing format changed somewhat for the 1943 and 1944 Invitationals. The 1943 event featured 28 professionals with each pro playing with two club members to form 56 pro-member teams. Vic Ghezzi shot a par-shattering round of 65 to capture individual honors, sweeping both of his partners, Gil Van Note and Frank Shea, into a three-way tie for first place. The Calcutta pool reached $18,750 of War Bonds. Spring Lake member Bayard Beebe, playing with pro George Fazio, hit the shot of the tournament on the 10th hole. Playing with a borrowed four iron, he aced the hole for his first hole-in-one. A slightly larger field of 35 professionals joined 70 club members for the 1944 event, an eighteen hole competition won by Branch Brook's Maurice O'Connor who tied Ghezzi's tournament record of 65. Teaming with club member Joe Larkin, they set the pro-member tournament record of net 61. O'Connor also won second place with his other partner, A. T. Bush, bringing his estimated winnings to $3,500 in War Bonds.
The 1945 Invitational was a story unto itself. The playing field expanded slightly to 40 of the nation's best professional golfers, playing a pro tournament of thirty-six holes over the weekend. Each pro coupled with two members to form the pro-am on Sunday. Making their debut at Spring Lake were Byron Nelson and Sam Snead who combined with a number of top professionals…Gene Sarazen, Herman Barron, Tony Manero, Clarence Doser, Lou Barbero, Emory Thomas, Craig Wood, Harold McSpaden and several of the Turnesa brothers to produce a record spectator crowd. The professionals were competing for $5,000 in prize money, with $1,500 to the winner. But the real focus was on Sunday's pro-member event where an astounding auction pool of $70,075 had been generated, possibly the largest such pool ever seen for a golf event in the U. S. in those years. When the teams teed off on Sunday, there was an incredible $19,000 at stake for the owner of the winning team.
In the professional event, Byron Nelson finished with a two-day total of 140, one shot better that Snead and Barron. Gene Sarazen crafted a brilliant 68 for the low round of the tournament. Taking first place honors in the pro-member were the team of Herman Barron and Ed Buckley. Nelson pocketed nearly $2,200 for the weekend while Barron picked up $2,800 for his efforts. "Lord Byron" had won 11 straight tournaments coming into Spring Lake and captured a record shattering 18 tournaments over the course of the year. The PGA never recognized the Invitational as an official event but Nelson, privately, always considered his year's numbers to have been "12" and "19."
With World War II now in the past, the 1946 Invitational produced perhaps the best field yet. Thirty of the best PGA professionals combined with 17 of New Jersey's top club pros and 47 club members. The pros, competing for a top prize of $1,500, continued to play a two-day event while joining with the amateurs on Sunday. Topping the field was U. S. Open champion Lloyd Mangrum, former Open champions Gene Sarazen, Craig Wood, Tony Manero and Johnny Farrell and PGA champions Vic Ghezzi, Chick Harbert and Henry Picard. The Calcutta pool for this star-studded field once again set a record of $85,000. Local charities received more the $15,000 from the total proceeds of the tournament. There was a general assault on par over the weekend with the pros posting 34 sub-par rounds. Clarence Doser took first place with rounds of 68-67-135. The most impressive round of the tournament, however, was posted by Spring Lake member John Meehan, a 4-handicapper, who carded a gross 71 and helped his partner, Tony Manero, on eight holes to post a team score of 62.
By 1947 the Invitational had reverted to its more parochial beginnings. Although most of the national stars were missing, first place prize money remained at $1,500. Vic Ghezzi captured his second individual title. Club member Jack Mara also became a repeat winner of the pro-member division when he and his professional partner bested 101 other teams. The ninth, and final, Spring Lake Invitational was held in 1948, the club's fiftieth anniversary, and proved to be the most competitive yet. After the opening round on Saturday, six pros were tied at 69...none of whom would win the tournament. Craig Wood and Jack Grout returned identical cards of 137 to finish in the only tie the tournament had seen. The team of Fleming and Moyer, playing a two-day tournament for the first time, won the pro-member aqnd the flag was lowered on the Invitationals.
Fast forward to 1981 and the Spring Lake Golf Club had once again returned to golf's national stage. The venerable course was tapped by the USGA for the first time to host the U. S. Senior Women's Amateur Championship. Dorothy Germain Porter, of Cinnaminson, New Jersey, won the event with a 54-hole total of 238, four strokes better than Alice Dye, of Delray Beach, Florida, but it was a dramatic finish. Carrying a one shot lead through the 14th hole, Mrs. Dye faltered on the final four holes, with bogeys on the 15th, 17th and 18th holes and double bogey on the 16th hole. Mrs. Porter went on to win the Senior Championship once again in 1983 and her four titles place her in a tie with Ann Sander and Carol Semple Thompson, one victory behind Carolyn Cudone, who holds the record, winning in five consecutive years between 1968 and 1972.
The club had the honor of hosting the 66th New Jersey State Golf Association Open Championship in July of 1986. The Open, the first hosted by Spring Lake, was the richest to date with a total purse of $30,000, with $5,000 to the low professional. The slick greens and tight driving areas held the players at bay over the 72-hole competition and three players deadlocked at 285, just three under par. In the first sudden-death playoff in New Jersey Open history, Bill Burgess of Arcola, Steve Sieg of Essex Fells and David Glenz of Morris County teed off in quest of the title. Glenz' second shot found the right bunker on the number one hole but he deftly stroked his third shot to five feet below the hole and sank the putt while his competitors each scored bogey. It was David Glenz' second Open title.
As a part of Spring Lake's Centennial celebration, the club hosted the 78th Open Championship of the New Jersey State Golf Association in July of 1998. The championship was played as a 72-hole stroke play event over four days for the first time. The total purse was $60,000 and the low professional received $12,000. Dueling match-play style in front of a large gallery, Brian Gaffney of Manasquan River had the momentum and a four-shot lead as he entered the final nine holes. Ken Macdonald of Upper Montclair cut the lead to three at the 12th hole. Gaffney then took three to get down at the par three 16th hole for another bogey. The 17th hole was again costly to Gaffney when Macdonald dropped a 20-foot birdie putt and Gaffney bogeyed. Both players made par on the 18th and the match went to sudden death.
Gaffney's unfortunate attack of the bogies continued on the 1st hole where his approach shot rolled to the back of the green and he took three putts to get down. Macdonald, meanwhile, two-putted for par from several feet short of the green to become only the fifth…and youngest… amateur to be crowned New Jersey Open champion. While Macdonald clutched the Badenhausen Trophy, Brian Gaffney pocketed the winner's check of $12,000.
In addition to the two NJSGA Opens, Spring Lake has also had the pleasure of hosting five other NJSGA events over the years…the Mixed Pinehurst Championship in 1983 and four Senior Championships in 1964, 1966, 1969 and, again, in 1994.