Glorious Shinnecock Part 2

willie dunn
Willie Dunn
Dunn Arrives
The exact date on which Willie Dunn first set foot in Southampton isn’t known, but there are enough accounts to say with some certainty it happened in the spring of 1893, by which time members of the club formed in August 1891 (but not incorporated until September 1894) had been playing over Willie Davis’s layouts for over 18 months. Davis is thought to have remained at Shinnecock for a few weeks before returning to Montreal then laying out the first nine holes at Newport CC in November 1892 for Theodore Havemeyer and his wealthy friends – John Jacob Astor, Perry Belmont, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Newport Country Club, along with Shinnecock Hills, Saint Andrew’s in New York, Chicago, and the Country Club in suburban Boston, formed the Amateur Golf Association in December 1894 (becoming the United States Golf Association shortly afterwards).

It is thought Dunn was hired primarily as a greenkeeper and instructor, but he also developed Davis’s layout, adding three holes to form the 12-hole course many still believe was Shinnecock’s first. Don’t think for a second the story suddenly becomes clear and uncontestable, however, because reports exist stating that, in the summer of 1892, it was Davis that added three holes to his original nine, forming the club’s first 12-hole course.

Moriarty, however, says Dunn built the first 12-hole course which was called the ‘White Course’ (the Ladies Course was called ‘The Red’). “Dunn’s course apparently kept holes approximating four of the previous holes,” he adds.

bastion bunker 1900 4th hole
Dunn's remarkable Bastion Bunker on the 4th hole, circa 1900.
It is only now that historians seem to agree, collectively acknowledging it was Dunn that turned the 12 holes into 18 during the spring of 1895 when he also replaced the Red Course with another ladies course well to the north - across the railroad tracks - of its original location.

In the summer of 1895, Dunn had become so busy with course commitments, teaching, and money matches, he sent for Andrew Kirkaldy though there is no record of the Scotsman crossing the Atlantic to take up the post.

A New York Post report summarizes what courses were in play at Shinnecock Hills in June 1895.

“The Shinnecock Hills Club has two courses,” the article said, “a nine-hole links near the clubhouse on which the play is chiefly in the open and which is used by the women, and the ‘White Course’ - a playful allusion to the outcropping sand bunkers, which is for the men.”

This course had 18 holes, it continued, six having been added in the spring, so as to bring ‘Ben Nevis’ into play (current 9th hole). This point was the highest of the Shinnecock Hills and named after Scotland’s highest mountain. “The hole is on the very top of Ben Nevis,” the report said, “and as a reward for the uphill struggle to reach it, and make the two preceding holes, the player has a glorious panorama of the dark and deep blue ocean and, on the land side, the silvery waters of the bay backed by the green clad hills.”

An Awkward Hire?
Shinnecock Hills GC now enjoyed a decade of relative peace and prosperity, but it felt forced to update the course in 1916. Concerns remained over part of the layout still located on the south side of the Long Island Railroad; a look at the 1895 map of Dunn’s 18-hole course shows the routing really wasn’t terribly exciting; and, most motivating of all, perhaps, was the arrival of another golf club immediately to the north.

cb macdonald
CB Macdonald
National Golf Links of America (NGLA) opened in 1910 and was designed by Charles Blair Macdonald who grew up in Chicago, attended St. Andrews University where he took to golf with a passion taking lessons from Old Tom Morris, and became a stockbroker on his return to the US. In Chicago, he formed the Chicago GC in 1892, building its first nine holes at Downers Grove, expanding the course to 18 in 1893, and then building another 18 when the club moved to Wheaton in 1895. In 1900, he relocated to New York where he worked on Wall St. and played golf whenever possible, making annual trips to Britain to play more of the great courses and study what made them so good.

Macdonald was determined to find suitable land on which to build his own masterpiece that featured all the best characteristics of courses he’d played in Britain. He wanted sandy soil and enough movement in the ground to ensure interesting play, and scoured Long Island for his dream patch. In 1906, he finally settled on property just to the north of Shinnecock Hills, and had 70 friends each put in $1,000 to become founding members.

Shinnecock members had considered that parcel of land for future development for several years, but had had very little success following the 1907 Bankers’ Panic (aka the Knickerbocker Panic) in which the New York Stock Exchange plummeted by almost 50% from its peak the previous year. Consequently, there was a general feeling among Shinnecock members that Macdonald’s plan was ill-fated.

Interestingly, Macdonald himself was a member at Shinnecock Hills, and must have been privy to his fellow members’ pessimism regarding his project next door. In his comprehensive biography of Macdonald - The Evangelist of Golf, author George Bahto mentions a lunch at Shinnecock Hills hosted by Macdonald at which a few of his friends were present. Apparently, as Macdonald was exclaiming the virtues of the land and design at NGLA, one of his guests had to leave the table as he was close to tears, believing his friend’s grand plan was doomed to failure.

NGLA was actually a roaring success. In a 1999 interview with, Bahto said the course was vastly superior to Shinnecock Hills. "After NGLA opened, Shinnecock paled by comparison - in routing, design, and length,” he said. “It had no weak links, and was a major move away from penal architecture with a wonderful mix of strategic and heroic golf.”

You might think that when Shinnecock Hills decided to update its Dunn-designed course, it would have been disinclined to approach Macdonald, and that such an exchange would have been excruciating for the club. Bahto saw it differently. “Charlie (Macdonald) was a member at Shinnecock, and it was only natural that he was asked to redesign the course,” he said.

Macdonald worked closely with his protégé Seth Raynor who, it is believed, did much of the actual designing. Raynor used new land to the northwest of the existing course and built a par 70 of 6,108 yards. Included were the template holes Macdonald modeled on great holes he’d played in Britain and Europe and which he deemed to have architectural merit.

He and Raynor had built many of them at NGLA. At Shinnecock, where five of Dunn’s holes were retained, there was a version of the Old Course’s Road Hole, and the four par 3s were all adaptations of Macdonald’s favored short holes – ‘Short’ (inspired by the then 5th at Brancaster in Norfolk), ‘Eden’ (11th on the Old Course), ‘Biarritz’ (a feature at Biarritz le Phare in France on a hole that was lost decades ago), and Redan (15th at North Berwick).

The redesign was well received and, somewhat unexpectedly perhaps, the two clubs actually enjoyed a fairly cordial relationship with Shinnecock opening its facilities to NGLA members before the new course had its own clubhouse, and the two sharing a professional/greenkeeper during WWI.

Click here for Part 3

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