Glorious Shinnecock Part 3

Get the remodelers in again
Macdonald and Raynor’s course lasted a dozen years before Suffolk County, which covers the east half of Long Island, decided in 1928 to lay a new highway – New York State Route 27 (dubbed Sunrise Highway, and which extends from Brooklyn in the west to Montauk in the east) that bisected the course’s southern holes. The President of the club at the time was Lucien Tyng, a financier and public utilities executive, who purchased a substantial chunk of land to the east of the clubhouse on which to build new holes that he chose William Flynn to design.

William Flynn

Flynn was a very highly-regarded architect who played a part in the design of George Crump’s Pine Valley, and aided Hugh Wilson with construction and maintenance of Merion GC’s famous East Course in suburban Philadelphia. Actually, much of Flynn’s best work happened in and around Philadelphia (Manufacturers GCC, Huntingdon Valley CC, Philadelphia CC), but he is perhaps best known for his design of Cherry Hills in Colorado, the Country Club (Primrose Nine) in Massachusetts, the Homestead Resort in Virginia, and Atlantic City CC in New Jersey and, of course, his redesign of Shinnecock Hills which was to be 27 holes originally (Red, Yellow, and Orange Nines) to ensure members always had at least 18 holes in play – an idea that was short-lived.

Tyng most probably knew of Flynn through finance and utilities connections, and had heard that not only was he a talented designer but that he also knew more about agronomy and turfgrass than any other architect around at the time. When looking into his work at Shinnecock, or anywhere else for that matter, it’s a good idea to talk with Wayne Morrison, a largely unchallenged Flynn expert who, since 2000, has been gathering a trove of maps, essays, diagrams, photographs, and manuscripts and putting them all into one document that now extends to more than 2,500 pages – a work he has titled The Nature Faker.

Morrison says Flynn’s routing of Shinnecock Hills was far more sophisticated than Macdonald’s, taking into account summer and winter’s opposite prevailing winds, and utilizing a routing concept he called ‘triangulation’. “Flynn used triangulation on ten holes in three separate sets at Shinnecock – 4, 5, 6; 10, 11, 12, 13; and 14, 15, 16,” he says (the holes were numbered differently at the time, as the nines were later reversed), and he made much more interesting use of doglegs. Flynn was master at routing courses.”

Tyng, seeking a second opinion, asked Charles Alison, HS Colt’s design partner who was based in the US at the time, to visit Shinnecock and comment on Flynn’s proposed changes. Sometime before this, Alison had invited Flynn to form a company, but Flynn turned him down believing his career to be well set. Despite the snub, Alison’s remarks about the new course were almost entirely positive, and he concluded his May 1929 report in glowing terms - “We are entirely satisfied that Mr. Flynn’s plans are as good as can be made on this site and that the proposed course will prove to be of the first order.”

While Flynn designed the new course (on which he retained only three of Macdonald’s holes – 3rd, 7th - the famous Redan, and 9th), his business partner Howard Toomey built it, along with their company’s young associates Dick Wilson, Robert ‘Red’ Lawrence, and William Gordon.

Shinnecock Hills Today
The quality of Flynn’s design has allowed Shinnecock Hills to remain largely unaltered since the early 1930s. Of course, minor changes have occurred and a restoration, led by Morrison and his colleague Tom Paul, has been ongoing since 2005 since when much of Flynn’s strategy has been bought back and his greens expanded to their original sizes. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw made a significant contribution to that restoration, supervised in recent years by the course’s current superintendent, Jon Jennings.

jon jennings
Jon Jennings

A major part of preparation for this year’s US Open happened last September when seven acres of turf from the edges of the fairways were rolled up and trucked away before being substituted by fescue from the club’s tiny par 3 course. The old turf is currently being incubated in a facility in New Jersey and will be replaced later this year unless the members decide they’d rather keep the fescue. “The new fescue rough will play very differently to the much thicker-bladed ryegrass there originally,” says Jennings. “The USGA wanted to have tighter landing areas during the Championship, but the Club didn't want to lose any” architectural integrity. Working together, the fairway margins were adapted to accommodate both parties.” Basically, the club wants the course to play much like it did in 1930 – wider than it has been in recent years and more strategic. “We did narrow some of the fairways and put in the fescue rough to put a greater emphasis on accuracy,” says Jennings, “but they’ll still be some of the widest fairways – 35-40 yards – ever at a US Open.”

Wayne Morrison is optimistic Willian Flynn’s magnificent design which has survived largely intact for nearly 90 years, will get the recognition it deserves. “We want everyone that visits the US Open, or watches on TV, to appreciate the club’s efforts to restore the work of one of the game’s best architects on one of the world’s great courses.”

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