Top 10 A.W. Tillinghast golf course designs you can play

Winged Foot, host of the 2020 U.S. Open, is considered his finest work. But where are Tilly's best public courses?
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Shackelford: The life and legacy of A.W. Tillinghast

A.W. Tillinghast was one of the most prominent golf course architects of the United States' Golden Age of golf course design. "Tilly" is credited for having worked on at least 265 golf courses. Some were his original, while he consulted on or upgraded many others.

Today, many of his designs are part of elite private facilities, particularly on the east coast. The 36 holes at Winged Foot near New York City, a popular U.S. Open host, are regarded by many as his finest work. But he designed plenty of other exclusive private clubs across the U.S. as well.

July 10, 2018
Tillinghast was one of the most prolific course designers in the game's history. Learn more about the Golden Age architect and browse his total portfolio of courses.

There are some notable Tillinghast golf courses open to the public, none better known than Bethpage Black, one of five 18-hole courses at the Long Island state park. Bethpage was built for the public golfer from the start, but many of his accessible designs are formerly private and have since gone public or semi-private. Many are actually now quite affordable, often a result of their walkability and smaller footprint (many just 6,200 yards or so). Some are located at resorts as well.

One of the latest Tillinghast courses to begin offering public access can be found in Ohio: Avalon Field Club, formerly Newcastle Country Club. Public green fees are $100 walking. It has received just one review in 2020 and it is very positive:

Terrific AW Tillinghast course that is no longer completely private and allows some public play. Course has a tremendous layout that takes full advantage of the rolling terrain and creek that runs through the property. The fifth hole has to be seen to believe. Course is well worth your time and effort to play.
- hornedwoodchuck

In our database of more than 1 million reviews, we have over 1,800 reviews of Tillinghast-designed golf courses. These include designs he co-designed or have since been renovated or redesigned. Most reviews are of his public, semi-private and resort courses, though a fortunate few have reviewed such prestigious courses as Winged Foot and Philadelphia Cricket Club.

With the 2020 U.S. Open returning to Winged Foot West we thought we'd revisit which of his designs have fared best according to your reviews. If your favorite Tillinghast work isn't listed below, be sure to write a review here.

Editor's Note. One of the courses that was in this Top 10 when it was originally posted in 2016 has since closed, Grossingers Country Club. Virginia's Belmont Golf Course is also undergoing an extensive reconfiguration via recent investment by The First Tee.

Top 10 A.W. Tillinghast designs you can play (minimum 10 reviews), according our Golf Advisor community

  1. Farmingdale, N.Y.

    Bethpage Black was our Golfers' Choice No. 1 course in 2018 and, despite its infamously difficult setup with thick rough, it typically delights every golfer whose game is beaten down by it.

    Local Golf Advisor Toothsaw2 wrote:

    Expect super tight fairways, crazy thick rough, and bunkers... so many bunkers. Fortunately, if you ever make it to the green, they are mostly pretty flat and roll very true. Almost every hole is marvelous to look at.

  2. Bedford, Pa.

    The course dates back to 1895 and has design credit from both Tillinghast and Donald Ross, in addition to Spencer Oldham. It was also significantly updated in 2007. It was our second-highest-rated U.S. course based on our 2019 reviews.

    The course conditions were amazing and it was one of the nicest courses we have ever played. The layout is very interesting and with the number of tees available, challenging for all levels of player.
    - skee93

  3. Tallahassee, Fla.

    In Florida's capital, this course from the 1930s was private for most of its history but now offers affordable online tee times to the public, making it one of the better public courses in this college city that is also home to Florida State University.

    Hard to believe this is Florida golf. A lot of elevation change on this Tillinghast track. Old school designed holes. Narrow in spots. Not long. Back tees measure only 6,500 yards.
    - BrandonWebb, Local Golf Advisor

  4. Manchester, Conn.

    A.W. Tillinghast updated parts of the course in 1935 after an original layout from Tom Bendelow and Devereux Emmet in 1917.

    What a gem! The greens have a lot of shape and contour to them and the layout was very interesting.
    - Jason4515368, 2020 review

  5. San Antonio, Texas

    Tillinghast designed a handful of golf courses in San Antonio, including Oak Hills Country Club and Fort Sam Houston. Brackenridge Park, however, is the most played, as the centerpiece of the city's six-course muni system, the Alamo City Golf Trail. It was extensively updated in 2008. Reviewer pdicosm wrote:

    Brack is great course for every type of golfer. All 18 holes are contained with OB around the external perimeter on the course. This allows for players to get a little forgiveness on some misses. It isn't uncommon to find a player playing the 9th hole playing from the first fairway or vice versa. I like playing the 14th hole down the 13th fairway (so watch out!). The course is always in great shape and the greens roll true. The front 9 features some tighter fairways and smaller greens than the very scorable back 9 with the two short par 5s 12 & 13. It's pretty neat to play Tillinghast's classic square cut greens on holes 2, 4, 6, 7, 11, 14, 15 and 18. Also, when the rounds done take a peak in the locker room where you see old lockers featuring the names of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, and Sam Snead.

  6. Shawnee-on-Delaware, Pa.

    The 27-hole course in the Poconos and on an island in the Delaware River stakes a claim as Tillinghast's first course design, having opened in 1910. Tillinghast built a par-3 course on the property as well.

    Always nice to come out to this nostalgic golf resort ... It's fun for all levels of play. It's his first design course which opened in 1911 so don't expect it to be as challenging as Winged Foot, Baltusrol, or Bethpage black.
    LuckyShank, New York Local Golf Advisor.

  7. Farmingdale, N.Y.

    Many regular visitors of the 90-hole Bethpage State Park think the Red Course is as good as the Black and a little less severe. It's also a better bargain for non-residents.

    The course conditions on Red parallel that of the Black & it is a much more golfer friendly track. The layout is very good, as no two holes are alike. Mostly flat with a few uphill approach shots to the green, no two holes are the same. Greens are usually on the quicker side, compared to the other courses here (excluding Black). This is my go to track at Bethpage. Expect about a 4 1/2 hour round here on average.
    - Reviewer u6532684 (2019)

  8. Wernersville, Pa.

    Top 50 Golf Advisor reviewer bradco rated the course five stars and said it's worth the drive from metro Philadelphia. On the design:

    The course is tight and has huge elevation changes. You need to play here a few times to understand where you can miss shots otherwise you can make plenty of errors in judgment...The bunkering on this course is really good and the fairway traps have fescue around them like you'd see at Merion. The greens have slope to them and you have to be underneath the hole to score well. All in all, the course is a hidden gem and I highly recommend a day trip to come here for tremendous value and a challenging course."

  9. Port Jervis, N.Y.

    The scenic course dates back to 1915 and was fully private for much of its history. It recently went semi-private.

    These guys have put a lot of time and money into what I think is a great layout and I am excited to see the end result of all that work.
    - Golfguyswf, 2018 review

  10. Fort Sam Houston

    San Antonio, Texas

    Joint Base Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio is responsible for one of the state's earliest golf courses when coffee cans were installed in 1900. Years later Tillinghast, who also designed Oak Hill and Brackenridge Park in San Antonio, laid out holes on the base. Today there are 36 holes and the Tillinghast holes are spread out on each, with the Salado Del Rio having more.

    Civilians can play golf at Fort Sam. Learn more about the Ft. Sam Houston experience in this recent article by Mike Bailey.

    I had avoided the 'base' golf course for years, but was pleasantly surprised at how nice it is. Salado played well with only a few quirky holes ... Great mix of doglegs and straight holes. Nice elevation changes. Plays wider than it would suggest.
    - joshsmith12, Top 250 Reviewer

Updated 9/14/20, 01:24 PM: This article originally appeared July 21, 2016. It has been thoroughly updated with latest review data and information about courses.
Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.

Love Shawnee, played their many times and love staying at the Inn. Galen Hall is near my home and played their many times. I prefer Shawnee.

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Growing up in northeast Jersey on the golf team in HS I played numerous Tilly’s including our team Home course Forest Hill Field Club. Got to play Montclair CC and Upper Montclair and the stunning Alpine CC among others. Of course at 17 years old I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have the privilege. It wasn’t until a few years ago I got to play a rather unknown Tilly the Hempstead Country Club that it dawned on me how all Tillinghast courses have common features. The “false front”, and also the sucker front bunker that are really 10 yards in front of the greens but optically designed to fool your eyes to believe they are set against the green and not 10 yards away. The greens are always fair but force you to play strategic approaches. If you play Ross tracks and Tilly’s or are truly lucky enough to find a McKenzie or a MacDonald consider yourself one fortunate soul. Today’s modern tracks are beautiful but to be honest they are designed in ways to aid speed of play or other owner demands. Pretty cool isn’t it that only a few guys got under par at WF?

It's a good thing amateur golfers don't have to play the Black Course in front of spectators. When I saw the PGA Championship there last May with my son, a couple of New York fans (99.9 percent were very well behaved) yelled vile things about Dustin Johnson's wife, and also about Francesco Molinari's heritage. Uh, not really necessary. You don't hear this stuff on TV, and frankly it should be embarrassing for the tournament. I didn't see these guys getting thrown out.

I've never played the Black (don't want to sleep in my car) but I enjoyed the Red greatly back in 1999. I saw it as quite tough, but fair and always engaging. Holes one and eighteen, I remember distinctly, were fantastically challenging. Long four-pars abounded. It was first-rate golf and showed Tillinghast's mastery.

I've played Manchester Country Club, near me, many times. It's not the test that the Red or Black at Bethpage are, but again it demonstrates Tillinghast's philosophy, bunkering style and design virtues quite well. Well worth a visit for any serious golfer.

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Belmont golf course? You must be kidding me. Poor shape most of the time, layout on the front is cramped to say the least. By far Tilly's WORST design - there are a number of public tracks in Richmond that are better, much better.

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Belmont was the site of Hermitage CC before they moved out to Goochland. The PGA Championship was played at Belmont in 1949 with Snead defeating Palmer in what was then a match play championship. Good to hear that Belmont is getting a major make over through the First Tee program - - - thanks Tiger.

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Add Rock Hill Country Club in South Carolina to his worst designs. It may have been good in 1934, but greens have settled into bizarre mounds and course lacks personality and conditioning. There are 5 better PUBLIC courses within 25 minutes.

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Thanks for the information re the Tillinghast courses you can play. Was disheartened to read about the fairway and bunker revisions at the Black. By the way I am a Tillinghast.

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Top 10 A.W. Tillinghast golf course designs you can play