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Architects of Distinction Prior to ASGCA
Featuring distinguished pre-ASGCA members and their work
(ASGCA members are featured in the ASGCA Architect's Gallery)

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Thomas Bendelow's Golfing Philosophy

It is worth noting that Tom Bendelow’s first job in golf was that of a teacher or instructor. His interest and enthusiasm were infectious. His eager students soon needed places to play and sought his services again to design a few private holes or a complete course. These early designs were for new golfers – part-time players, women and families – and they were simple designs to promote play and practice, not so difficult as to discourage but challenging enough to reward good play. And they were not so intricately designed to be overly costly for those responsible for maintaining the course. This was especially true of the courses Bendelow designed prior to 1900. When Bendelow joined A.G. Spalding & Bros. his (and A.G.’s) objective was to promote the game of golf (and equipment sales) by increasing the number of golf courses. They were not seeking to design and build championship courses or courses to test the honed skills of the best players, but rather courses that new players could enjoy, courses that would improve player proficiency, courses that would promote participation, and courses that could be maintained at a reasonable expense. Ideally, he felt that municipal or public golf courses should be like public ball fields, open to all players at little or no cost. The methods of golf course construction changed radically over the course of Bendelow’s career, making it virtually impossible to compare what he did (or could do) in 1895 with what was possible in the 1920s. Nevertheless, he always strove to give his client, public or private, the best facility their resources would permit. There is no record of his ever arguing for more financial support than the client was willing to expend. And in the case of public facility ventures, he was ever-mindful of the continued costs of course maintenance and facility upkeep, factors that would affect the playability of the course and the enjoyment of the players. It would be fair to call Bendelow’s approach to course design a ‘naturalist’s approach,’ in that he strove to utilize the natural features of the chosen site to maximum advantage. If a site had an especially unique feature – rock outcrop, stream, grove of trees, scenic view – he would work his hole placements in such a way as to take full advantage of the features even if that meant working his layout from the middle out. Bendelow’s designs changed as the game of golf changed. When given good sites and adequate resources with which to work, he could produce a very challenging lay out, equal to the best work of the day. His personal goal however, was to build good, solid, enjoyable golf courses – ‘sporty’ was his favorite term – for use by the vast majority of American golfers. While Medinah’s No. 3 Course may continue to be listed as Bendelow’s best work, others may argue otherwise. There are dozens of Tom Bendelow-designed golf courses that continue to provide a challenging and pleasurable experience to the present day golfer.

--Abridged and reprinted from the book Thomas "Tom" Bendelow: The Johnny Appleseed of American Golf by Stuart Bendelow. Williams & Company, Publishers. Savannah, Georgia, 2006. 843-705-2818.

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Last updated: March 29, 2007
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