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30

  Golf Course Architecture

Architect to many of America’s leading elite private

clubs, Seth Raynor left almost nothing for golf

historians – other than his astounding portfolio of

course designs. Anthony Pioppi considers his legacy

From

to

engineer

artist

PIONEER

I

n 1907 Charles Blair Macdonald hired

Seth Raynor to assist with the con-

struction of the audacious National

Golf Links of America, Macdonald’s

effort to build the best golf course in the

United States. No one, not even the two men

themselves, could have predicted the conse-

quences of this seemingly innocuous hire.

Macdonald the mentor and Raynor, the 19

years younger student would go on to have

profound effect on golf architecture in the

United States, their influence felt to this day

– more than a hundred years after they met.

Raynor, a civil engineer, was well-known

and popular in the town of Southampton,

NY, on the southern fork of eastern Long

Island near the National. He came from an

upper middle class family, earned a degree in

engineering from Princeton University and

knew nothing of golf.

Macdonald, a successful New York

stockbroker, was moneyed and hobnobbed

with some of the most powerful American

families. From Chicago, he fell in love with

golf while attending St Andrews University.

One of America’s best golfers, he was a

bombastic tyrant who, as the story goes,

wrote his nephew out of his will after he

won a bet against him by driving the first

green at National.

The reserved Raynor was Macdonald’s

complete opposite. The writer who

conducted the only known interview with

Raynor described him as “a man so reserved

that like a person with a passion for shut-

in life he seemed deliberately concealing

the best part of himself lest I might get

something out of him.”

Raynor knew nothing of golf when he came

to work for Macdonald. Born and raised in

Southampton, he was a street commissioner

and served on the draft board during the

First World War. He married a local woman,

Mary Hallock, in 1903 when he was 28.

They had no children. His biography from a

Princeton publication commemorating the

25th anniversary of his class reads: “For a

number of years he engaged in Engineering

Work in Connection with roads, sewers,

drainage, water works, etc. He then became

interested in Golf Course Designing and

Building of Golf Courses.”

It is a monumental understatement to

say that Raynor ‘became interested’ in golf

course architecture. It would have been more

accurate to write that beginning with his

work at the National, golf design came to

dominate the rest of his life. As partner to

Macdonald, he oversaw the construction of

some of America’s greatest courses before

going out on his own to craft layouts that

rivalled his mentor’s work. What makes his

success all the more amazing is that Raynor

did not pick up a golf club until he was in

his early forties and had worked on at least

four Macdonald designs before doing so. His

creations, such as the Golf Course at Yale,

Fishers Island Club and Camargo are some of

the most acclaimed in the US.

Raynor’s design career lasted only 19 years;

he died of pneumonia in 1926 at the age of

51, succumbing in a West Palm Beach hotel

Photo: L.C. Lambrecht