The Lord made golf courses; Architects simply discover them. – Donald Ross
The 14 Founding Members of the Society were either brilliant visionaries…or crafty price-fixers!
The “brilliant visionaries” camp points out that the original members recognized that there would be a boom in golf because people were looking for recreational opportunities after five long years of war that followed a decade of depression when course architecture almost became a lost art.
On the other hand, the more cynical believe that the “names” in the business wanted to establish higher fees, keep newcomers out of the business and retain the majority of work in their hands.
There is evidence to support both positions.
There’s no doubt that established golf course architects sensed real opportunity after World War II and wanted to be in position to reap the benefits after pretty much starving during the war years when everyone’s emphasis was on working as much as necessary to turn the tide of battle. Phone calls were made across country to determine the level of interest in forming an organization of golf course architects. Larry Packard remembers his boss at the time, Robert Bruce Harris, coming back from a lunch with Herb and Joe Graffis of Golfdom, at which they had urged him to start an association for golf course architects that would be similar to the American Society of Landscape Architects. Harris immediately picked up the phone and asked Robert Trent Jones to help him form the group.
Harris and Jones followed through and the first official meeting of the architects was held Feb. 13, 1947, at the Hotel New Yorker to consider the organization of “golf course architects.” By that time there were golf course architects around the country, so it was not simply an East Coast movement. The attendees decided on the 14 Charter Members of the organization:
William P. Bell, Pasadena, Calif., #1
Jack Daray, Chicago, Ill., #2
William H. Diddel, Carmel, Ind., #3
William F. Gordon, Doyleston, Pa., #4
Robert Bruce Harris, Chicago, Ill., #5
Robert Trent Jones, Montclair, N.J., #6
William B. Langford, Chicago, Ill., #7
Robert F. Lawrence, Boca Raton, Fla., #8
Perry Maxwell, Tulsa, Okla., #9
J. B. McGovern, Wynnewood, Pa., #10
Donald J. Ross, Pinehurst, N.C., #ll
Wayne B. Stiles, Boston, Mass., #12
Stanley Thompson, Toronto, Canada, #13
Robert White, Myrtle Beach, S.C., #14
Although it’s difficult to classify the background of the Founding Members, since many were involved in several aspects of golf, it’s interesting that the majority had training in landscape architecture, agronomy and subjects related to golf course design (Harris, Jones, Langford, Stiles and Thompson). Four (Bell, Gordon, Lawrence and McGovern) moved from construction to architecture. Three (Daray, Ross and White) were golf professionals. Two (Diddel and Maxwell) were businessmen who got interested in golf architecture because of work being done at their golf clubs.
It’s interesting to note that there were three Chicago-based practitioners (Daray, Harris and Langford), and one in Indiana (Diddel), which gave the organization a strong Midwestern base.
Langford made the motion to call the organization the “American Society of Golf Course Architects,” and it was unanimously accepted. Nice that the founding fathers got the name right on the first go-around!
Since Stanley Thompson lived and worked in Canada, there was no doubt from the start that Canada was an integral part of the organization. When Percy Clifford of Mexico City joined the organization in 1969, the Society affirmed that its membership was open to all those practicing in North America.
Although its initial membership was limited, the founding group must have anticipated some growth because it was immediately decided to create an eight-person Board of Governors that would include the President, Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer and five other members.
When it came to electing officers, the attendees obviously recognized those who had done the heavy lifting in organizing the group and preparing initial documents. Thompson made a motion that Harris be elected President by acclamation. Thompson, who was a larger-then-life figure in the business, then was elected Vice President, a far less demanding job. Jones, who was the “kid” in the group, having just turned 40, was the go-to guy for detail work and was elected Secretary-Treasurer. So, both Harris and Jones had been rewarded for their initial work, and both put in a great deal of time to get the organization off the ground in the next few years.
His colleagues implored Ross to be the first president, but the legendary architect didn’t believe that he was physically up to taking on any additional responsibilities. So, Ross, whose health was deteriorating, was elected Honorary President by acclamation. He was to die the following year.
The free-spending group set annual dues at $10. It’s not clear how they handled meeting expenses in the early years, but each man probably paid his share at the end of the meeting. Since the group was quite small for years, cocktail receptions were held in the room of one of the officers and special rooms were not required for meals. Finally, the group decided that annual meetings should be held between Nov. 15-Dec. 15, probably to provide a nice pre-holiday vacation in the sun, at a place selected by the president.
Thompson, who had made all the official motions at the meeting, probably was ready to head to the bar. Knowing his liking for Canadian whiskey, he might have concluded the meeting by saying, “Gentlemen, we have done good work today. Let’s now adjourn to the bar and drink to our new organization!”