A.W. Tillinghast’s Letters to the PGA

In my fifth year as a member of North Hills Country Club in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, I am always on the lookout for additional information on the club’s history and heritage.

Everyone knows there’s a lot of it, but very little has been kept around and what’s left of old newspapers is waiting patiently in microfiche for history enthusiasts to convert it to a form that’s findable.

A friend of mine, Andy Staples of Staples Golf Design, recently turned me on to the letters written by legendary golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast to the then president of the PGA, George Jacobus.

Tillinghast designed some of the greatest golf courses in the history of golf – 265 total –  including:

  • Winged Foot, West (Golf Digest’s #10 course in the US, #14 in the world)
  • San Francisco (#37 US, #81 world)
  • Bethpage State Park, Black Course (#38 US)
  • Baltusrol, Lower (#39 US)
  • Baltusrol, Upper (#61 US)
  • Winged Foot, East (#62 US)
  • Somerset Hills (#64 US)
  • Quaker Ridge (#76 US)

In 1935, Tilly was called to my home course of North Hills by PGA member John Bird to take a look at the then-“troublesome” par three then-sixteenth (shown in the header photo).

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Tillinghast’s letter to the President of the PGA concerning North Hills Country Club from November 16, 1935

Tilly’s difficult-to-read follow-up letter from 1936

The sixteenth, now the seventh since the front and back nine were flipped, was at that time a 127-yard uphill shot to a putting surface 20 yards short of where it is now above the Menomonee River. Redesigning this par three to have a ribbon green on top of the hill both stretched out the yardage and made the green more susceptible to holding tee shots.

Many competitive matches swing on the seventh hole at North Hills, which is my favorite par three on my home course.

I have my only ever hole-out from the tee on the seventh, and it’s literally a couple thousand feet from our backyard.

Other great “new” material about North Hills Country Club

As luck would have it, when I tried searching Google for the same Tillinghast letters on my laptop I found some great material that always evaded me: Proof that Ben Hogan and Sam Snead competed at North Hills.

The 1940 Milwaukee Open

I’ve heard this story before, and have told it to several guests. If I had to guess, this article points at the same occasion: On the 16th hole of the final round of a PGA tournament, Ben Hogan was tied for the lead on the uphill [now seventh, since the nines have since been reversed] par three. Hogan was on in two and three-putted. At the clubhouse following the event, Ben guaranteed everyone that the first putt he hit would never break that way again. They all walked in the dark (a walk I am awfully familiar with) from the clubhouse with their drinks and lanterns to the now seventh green; Hogan hit putt after putt, and the crowd watched them all fall the same way they did that led to his double-bogey that took him out of contention.

The seventh is my favorite par three on my home course, and is the site of my only ever sort-of-hole-in-one a few months ago. It’s a fantastic par three that, as Hogan proved, can make or break a match with ease.

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Chicago Tribune – August 5, 1940

Ralph Guldahl of Chicago won the 1940 Milwaukee Open at -16, followed by Ed Oliver (-14) and the great Sam Snead just three strokes back at -13. Hogan would finish fourth with a final score of 272 (-12).

References of the 1940 Milwaukee Open, as found on revolvy.com:

  1. Bartlett, Charles (August 4, 1940). “Bulla cards 131 to take lead in Milwaukee Open”. Chicago Sunday Tribune. p. 6, sec. 2.
  2. “Ralph Guldahl wins Milwaukee Open golf”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). United Press. August 5, 1940. p. 2.
  3. Bartlett, Charles (August 5, 1940). “Guldahl wins in Milwaukee Open with 268”. Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 19.
  4. “Guldahl makes blazing finish”. Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. August 5, 1940. p. 9.
  5. “Johnny Bulla leads Milwaukee Open”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. August 4, 1940. p. 10.

The 1951 Pabst Blue Ribbon Open

Joe Kirkwood, Jr., more commonly known as Hollywood movie star Joe Palooka in those days, won the 1951 Pabst Blue Ribbon Open at North Hills. Joe “beat out Sam Snead by two strokes in a fighting duel for the third biggest prize of the year” ($2,750 for first place).

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Eugene Register Guard – July 23, 1951

Probably my favorite part of this article is Kirkwood’s celebratory remarks: “‘I’m glad to win for all my friends,’ and left for northern Wisconsin to go fishing.”

There is a photo taken on the 3rd hole (now 12th) at this event situated on the desk in Captain Frederick Pabst’s office at what is now “The Best Place” – a top spot for downtown weddings in Milwaukee.

References to the 1951 Pabst Blue Ribbon Open, as found on revolvy.com:

  1. “Joe Kirkwood cards final round 64 to win Blue Ribbon golf tourney”. St. Petersburg Times. (Florida). Associated Press. July 23, 1951. p. 11.
  2. “Ferrier leads in Milwaukee Open”. Chicago Sunday Tribune. Associated Press. July 22, 1951. p. 6, sec. 2.
  3. “Kirkwood’s 271 wins golf meet at Milwaukee”. Chicago Daily Tribune. Associated Press. July 23, 1951. p. 2, sec. 3.
  4. “Kirkwood edges Snead for first”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). United Press. July 23, 1961. p. 10.

The 1961 Milwaukee Open

Australian Bruce Crampton won the 1961 Milwaukee Open, winning his $4,300 share of the $30,000 purse.

Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus tied for sixth place, which was great for Player but forfeited by Nicklaus as this would prove to be his final golf event as an amateur before turning pro the following week in the Quad Cities.

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Daytona Beach Morning Journal – July 24, 1961

References to the 1961 Milwaukee Open, as found on revolvy.com:

  1. “Massengale, Hawkins knotted”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. July 21, 1961. p. 2B.
  2. “Aussie wins Milwaukee with 272”. Daytona Beach Morning Journal. (Florida). Associated Press. July 24, 1961. p. 9.
  3. “Palmer bypasses Milwaukee event”. Daytona Beach Morning Journal. (Florida). Associated Press. July 19, 1961. p. 7.

 

Prior research on North Hills Country Club

North Hills Country Club, Feherty Interview with Golf Legend Ken Venturi (2015)

Hole-by-Hole Review of North Hills Country Club (2013)

North Hills “Cross-Country Club”

This weekend’s been surprisingly warm in Wisconsin, and the near future looks like it will heat up even more with sun and 50’s next weekend.

Could this be the start of the 2017 golf season? For my friend John and me, yes. I saw several guys walking the course with clubs yesterday, and today a few out for leisurely walks. North Hills sets up “winter greens” before the first snow, which involves converting one of the least used tee boxes on each hole to a temporary putting surface to keep players off the greens in case the course becomes golf-able during the off-season.

The wind was howling today! While my weather app told me it was 27 mph from the west, I’m sure the gusts were much stronger. John and I met up at my house, walked to the sixth tee and mapped out potential cross-country holes. When greens are off the menu, it’s all about finding hole layouts that will be as interesting as possible, and I think we did a great job with that.

According to the Wisconsin State Golf Association’s BlueGolf website, the longest a single consecutive hole can be at North Hills is 1,458 yards if starting from the fifth tee and going to the ninth green. We started on the sixth, though, and played to the right-side sand trap of the second hole.

We chose the second hole as our first destination for several strategic reasons:

  • There are four possible routes over the Menomonee River, making strategy for how to cross key
  • The cluster of trees behind and along the second tee that requires you to hit your approach up three or down 16

While our first hole was only 1,063 yards as the crow flies, it played more like 1,085 if going up the third fairway, or 1,107 if going up the sixteenth fairway and then over the trees behind the second tee boxes to the bunker right of the second green.

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Our 1,063-yard par 8-ish first at North Hills “Cross-Country Club”

We both teed off hoping to hit huge, high cuts over the tree line right of the sixth fairway, but the wind got the better of us and pushed our drives down six. We both then played great fairway woods over the tree lines toward the fifteenth tees, and played up that hole. We were both hitting great cross-wind shots and each played up the sixteenth fairway before heading straight right toward the second green.

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John’s third shot from in front of the 15th hole tee boxes

John got me by a stroke or two, so he got to call the next hole. For the second hole of the day, we played from just off the second green to the blue/white tee box on eleven. The shot here is over trees no matter which route is taken, and I hit a gem over several tree lines with a long, high cut. John hit the dreaded straight ball, setting up an interesting angle in to a tight temporary green. We both took fives on this 346-yard par four.

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The par four 2nd hole at our North Hills “Cross-Country Club” – 346 yards with all kinds of tree trouble

My favorite cross-country hole at North Hills has always been this one: The black tee box on eleven over the tree line that separates the tenth and 18th holes up the 18th fairway. This sets up an awesome “Road hole,” goading players to bite off as much of the tree line as they can with the risk of hitting the woods if it’s not carried.

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The North Hills “Cross-Country Club” Road Hole

With the eighteenth green off-limits, we chose the tiny alternative tee box to the side of the first hole tees. If the greens at Old Macdonald average 14,600 square feet, this one is closer to 150. I hit a solid approach shot and won the hole 4 to 5.

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The minuscule green on our par four 3rd

Our next hole was our first par three from just left of that temporary green to the temporary green that is usually the women’s tee box on ten. John lasered it at 131 yards, with one really big, really tall tree to carry – and, again, a green that was less than 200 square feet.

The wind was at our back, and John hit a beautiful high fade that sailed over the green in to the ninth fairway. I took note and hit a gap wedge that hit the up-slope of the tee box/temporary green and bounced all the way over the green! It was an easy, short next shot, though, and both John and I hit our approaches close and took threes.

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Par 3 from the alternative tee on one to the ladies’ tee on 10


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Our 131-yard par three fourth

Here’s where the round got interesting…

The course’s distance almost maxes out if going from this temporary green to the women’s tees (small and elevated temporary green) on five, measuring around 1,341 yards.

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The par 10-ish fifth at North Hills “Cross-Country Club” – only 1,341 yards

The distance is nothing compared to the challenge of finding a route to that green! The fourth hole at North Hills, a short, picturesque and narrow 490-yard par five, is only made tighter by having to find a way in between the tree lines that doesn’t begin at the fifth hole tee box.

John’s tee shot from the tenth went toward the first hole, while mine had a sharp cut and stayed in the tenth fairway. It would have been a remarkable tee shot if we were playing the tenth, but we weren’t.

John and I were taking completely different routes for a few minutes – he was playing toward the third hole tee boxes and down that fairway, and I was playing down the tenth, across the seventeenth toward the sixteenth, then across that tree line to the third where we finally met back up.

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My options for crossing the Menomonee River (completely blind) from just right of the 3rd hole fairway. See a shot you like? I don’t!

In case you want an idea of how difficult a shot it is crossing the Menomonee River from the third fairway over the fourth tee box:

shot-from-3-4

I hit a low punch just left of the fourth tees, leaving as clean of a shot as can be hoped for over the river, up the hill and toward the fourth hole green area that leads to the fifth hole tees.

I hit my first bad fairway wood shot of the day, topping it in to the river from position 1-point-something. Ouch.

John kept hitting big three-woods and then a great chip shot under the trees and on the green. Meanwhile, I hit two trees dead-center before hitting a lower punch shot to the fringe. Here was my path:

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My shots from the ladies tee box on ten to the ladies tee on five – great start, poor finish!

Our final hole of the day was from just left of the ladies’ tee box on five to the women’s tee/temporary green on six. The wind was perfectly at our backs, so the plan was to aim toward the half-way house behind the thirteenth green, hopefully leaving a clean wedge between the trees.

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Our sixth hole at North Hills “Cross-Country Club” – 300-yard par four


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The par four 6th hole cross-country tee shot

John got a little snappy, then hit a ridiculous shot over several tree lines that wound up just past the temporary green. I hit an amazing drive, then hit a crappy wedge that wound up just left of John’s nearly perfect shot. A +2 handicap, he somehow found a way to beat me on our last hole even with my dramatically better tee shot! Some day I’ll beat him…

All good times to come to an end. John forgot to take the baby seat out of his car, and my wife had Johnsonville bratwursts in the slow cooker. It was time for us both to go home.

John, a graphic designer, put together this diagram of our hole layouts for the day, including each of our [circuitous] routes from tee to green:

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Our 3,593-yard six-hole layout at the inaugural North Hills “Cross-Country Club”

One of the best things about playing at a private golf club is the pace of play, and today was fantastic – “we practically had the course to ourselves.” We did, although we saw a handful of folks out hiking the cart paths.

I came in to the day with the tee shot from the eleventh tee heading toward the 18th green being my favorite cross-country hole, but I think now my new favorite is from ten to five. There are so many demanding shots that I can’t wait to try it again.

Cross-country golf is great, but I’ll admit I’m most excited for the regular season to get here.

The Vince Lombardi Golf Classic: June 5-6 at North Hills CC

The name Vince Lombardi is synonymous with a winning tradition, and a steadfast dedication to excellence and integrity. When the greatest head coach in the history of the National Football League was diagnosed with cancer 45 years ago, the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation was founded to create awareness and help raise money for leading edge cancer research and compassionate care at the Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinics located throughout Eastern Wisconsin.

In addition to being a fantastic cause, the Lombardi Golf Outing is one heck of a great time! Every year celebrities flock to my home club of North Hills Country Club in Menomonee Falls to show their support and raise funds for the cause, and this year will be no exception. Joining for the 45th annual event on June 5-6 will be:

  • Jared Abbrederis
  • Morten Andersen
  • Jim Bakken
  • Zeke Bratkowski
  • Willie Buchanon
  • Mark Chmura
  • Paul Coffman
  • Mason Crosby (Event Co-Chair)
  • Lynn Dickey
  • Gary Ellerson
  • Garth Gerhart
  • Scott Henry
  • Brett Hundley
  • Micah Hyde
  • Chris Jacke
  • Dan Jansen
  • Wayne Larrivee
  • Ryan Longwell
  • Cody Mandell
  • Chester Marcol
  • Tim Masthay
  • Greg Matzek
  • Karen Palacios-Jansen
  • Dan Pastorini
  • Pat Richter
  • Dave Robinson
  • Ken Ruettgers
  • Len Sanders
  • Lynn Swann
  • Gorman Thomas
  • Scott Tolzien
  • JC Tretter
  • Bob Uecker
  • Greg Vaughn
  • Jeremy Vujnovich
  • Josh Walker
  • Frank Winters

While Friday is a closed event, the course is open for spectators on Saturday for a $10 donation. Entrance includes a celebrity souvenir program and all proceeds benefit the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation.

The Lombardi Golf Outing is one of the longest running two-day charity golf events in the country, and always draws a great crowd to a beautiful golf course:

WiscoGolfAddict hole-by-hole review of North Hills Country Club

A few pictures from last year’s Friday practice round:

Green Bay Packers kicker and Vince Lombardi Golf Classic co-chair Mason Crosby teeing off on 7 at North Hills Country Club

Green Bay Packers kicker and Vince Lombardi Golf Classic Co-Chair Mason Crosby teeing off on the par 3 12th at North Hills Country Club

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