C.B. Macdonald is considered in some circles the Godfather of golf architecture in the United States. He was from the Midwest and in his late teens he headed abroad to study. In Scotland, he learned the game of golf and played many matches with Old Tom Morris. He helped bring the game and the ideas behind course design from Scotland. Many of his courses have been used as models that have served to inspire generations of architecture whom currently influence the game.
Prior to his career in design, Macdonald was actually a seasoned and solid competitor. An interesting story of the origin of the USGA involves Macdonald and a feisty attitude for which he was known. Theodore Havemeyer and members of Newport CC came up with an idea for a national championship in 1894. The story is detailed in George Bahto’s The Evangelist of Golf. Macdonald had an opportunity to win this event, however he ended up losing by one stroke to W.G. Lawrence. The story details that an irate Macdonald demanded a match play championship at another course be used to determine the national champion. Several months later, at St Andrews’s Golf Club (in New York), Macdonald again lost the match play championship. Once again, he was very upset. It was after these two outbursts that the leaders of some prominent golf clubs from across the country determined that a strong national governing body was necessary for golf. Enter the USGA.
Macdonald would win the first USGA Amateur Championship in 1895.
In 1908 Macdonald began work on National Golf Links with Seth Raynor. It would take three years to complete but would eventually become a golf architecture icon. Seth Raynor would become a well known course designer in his own right. It is said that MacDonald and Raynor collaborated on only eleven total projects including NGLA.
Macdonald brought many of his design concepts from some of the most iconic and difficult courses in Scotland. He would often travel back to Europe studying some of the most well known holes and their designs. These concepts would be applied to projects throughout the United States and the hole templates are common to many courses throughout the country. Some of the courses Macdonald is best known for are: Chicago Golf Club, Greenbrier (Old White), National Golf Links of America, Sleepy Hollow and Yale Golf Course.
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