For the most part, the great classic golf course architects were limited in their spheres of influence to one side of the Atlantic Ocean or the other. While select examples of their work appear in the United States, Harry Colt, James Braid and Herbert Fowler forged reputations as the greatest practitioners of their art in the United Kingdom and on the European continent. Donald Ross, C.B. Macdonald, Walter Travis and others achieved similar acclaim while working almost entirely in North America.
Willie Park, Jr., however, was a Transatlantic sensation. Having designed or renovated some 170 courses over the first quarter of the 20th century, his ultimate portfolio is distributed roughly evenly between Europe and North America.
A man who can putt is a match for anyone.
Willie Park, Jr.
Like many architects of his day, Park parlayed his skill at playing golf courses into a career designing them. He won the 1887 and 1889 Open Championships at Prestwick and Musselburgh Links, respectively, helping cement a family legacy of on-course exploits. Willie Park, Sr. had won the inaugural Open Championship in 1860 and further titles in 1863, 1866 and 1875. Willie Jr.’s uncle Mungo Park won the 1874 Open.
As professional golf at the time was not a lucrative pursuit, Park also manufactured golf clubs and balls, a business his father had started. He was also a writer, despite relatively little formal schooling. In 1896, he published The Game of Golf, known as the first book ever written by a golf professional.
Park hailed from Musselburgh, just east of Edinburgh, Scotland, and left a mark on the golf courses of his home country as well. Kilspindie Golf Club, a short but celebrated links in East Lothian, is an original design of his, and Park also worked on the No. 2 and No. 3 Courses at nearby Gullane Golf Club. Park’s lone Northern Ireland course, Portstewart’s Strand Course, is one of the greatest links in the British Isles.
Spending much of the latter half of his life in North America, Park was prolific. The greatest concentration of his work can be found in the Northeast, but he designed courses as far afield as Arkansas (Hot Springs Country Club) and Alberta (Calgary Golf & Country Club). The Maidstone Club in East Hampton, N.Y. is a crowning achievement of Park’s and a course he tinkered with for more than 25 years. Park also designed the North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club in suburban Chicago, which hosted the 2003 U.S. Open among several other prestigious championships. It is a no-nonsense, classic parkland test of golf.
Park had a knack for holing putts at the right time in his playing career, and famously said, “A man who can putt is a match for anyone.” Unsurprisingly, his golf courses’ challenging greens encourage great putters to separate themselves from the pack. Huntercombe’s short par-4 4th hole has a wild, multi-tiered putting surface and Park’s stateside courses tend to be known less for brutal length than pitched, rolling greens. The 18th green at Shuttle Meadow Country Club, a Park design south of Hartford, Conn., is a marvel, with three tiers that rise six feet from front to back.
It is said that Park worked himself to death at the relatively young age of 61 in 1925. He had been brought home to Scotland by family in his last months and was laid to rest at Inveresk Churchyard in his home town of Musselburgh. More than any of his contemporaries, he bridged a gap between the United Kingdom and the United States by designing notable golf courses on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
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