based on "Talamore at Oak Terrace" by Dr. James Hilty. Edited for the web site. The complete paper with references is available in our archives
Talamore at Oak Terrace | Early History | Pine Run farm | McKean Manor House | Horace Trumbauer | McKean Divorce Scandal | Pine Run Country Club | Banker's Country Club | Oak Terrace Country Club ~ Wingels | The Old Oak | Slamming Sam Snead | Archdiocese of Phila | Bud Hansen | Realen | Making of a Golf Course | Rebuild 1993-1995
Talamore at Oak Terrace: The making of a golf course
Bud Hansen was called by a “genius” and a “visionary" by the new Talamore group for putting together the basic plan, which Realen and they brought to fruition. Greatly appreciative of the land planning skills that went into the Hansen proposal, they retained the routing plan laid out by Kavanaugh for Cornish and Silva and moved ahead with its implementation. Having been thoroughly involved with the development, design, and construction phases of Talamore at Pinehurst, the Talamore group did not see the need to bring in an architect to develop the final plans for Talamore at Oak Terrace and decided instead to manage the course architecture in-house., Chandler Masters, superintendent of Talamore at Pinehurst, was brought in to assist in supervising construction of Talamore at Oak Terrace.
Talamore at Oak Terrace was constructed at the height of the second major wave of golf course construction over the last century. Looking back, clearly the two premier eras of golf course design were the 1920s and the 1990s. In those two eras, as the renowned architect Tom Fazio observed, the strength of the American economy provided the capital, the market, and the incentives for new experimentation in golf course design. In the late 1980s golf’s popularity combined with a substantial increase in disposable income to spark a demand for new courses that was mostly answered in the 1990s.
Some architects responded to the increased demand by providing grander, more dramatic and obstreperous course designs compared to the older, more traditional, plain vanilla courses, many of which dated to the 1920s. At the same time, another more conservative point of view emerged. As the noted architect and golf historian Geoffrey S. Cornish insists, at bottom, there are only two schools of golf course design. One school adapts the course to existing conditions; the other creates spectacular layouts regardless of existing contours
The Talamore at Oak Terrace design team opted for the former, adopting a minimalist approach, taking greater advantage of existing conditions, rather than moving massive amounts of earth to create dramatic or exotic conditions artificially. The result is a course that naturally fits the land.
Those of us who merely play the game or who blithely enjoy the visual impact of living near a golf course may be inclined to take for granted all that must be considered and undertaken in designing and building a golf course that retains and enhances its natural surroundings. Experts in the field tell us that the first order of business for the design and construction of a golf course is the site analysis, which includes topography (gently sloping land is easier to develop), vistas (views of the course from within and outside the site), water resources (golf courses cannot rely on public water supplies), suitability of soils (depth of topsoil, fertility, pH), vegetation, wildlife, climatic conditions (prevailing winds, sun and shade patterns), historic and cultural resources (perhaps necessitating an archeological survey), sensitive environments (wetlands), protected environments (requiring an environmental impact study), circulation and access, utilities and services (electric, gas, water, sewer, telephone), site context (surrounding community), and the site character, beginning with drainage and hydrology.
“Good drainage,” according to Desmond Muirhead and Guy Rando, “is critical for golf courses.” Course designers must know where to store water, how it flows, and where it goes. Drainage may be managed in three ways: through surface drainage (grading the land to shed water, installing open ditches or swales), subsurface draining (tile drains, pipes, French drains), and air drainage (sunlit sites exposed to wind and hillocks that obstruct air flow). The design team readily conceded that the greatest challenges in constructing Talamore lay in solving several drainage and water retention issues.
The most difficult and complex part of Talamore’s construction cannot be seen by the casual observer, for it lies beneath the surface. We are referring of course to the proper placement of the subsurface drainage tiles to direct storm run-off from sloping terrain into collection basins and retention ponds. Problems were compounded by the many wetlands and springs on the property and by a labyrinth of caverns under the fifth fairway. Some drain tiles already existed on the property, thanks to the foresight of Henry Pratt McKean. The design team found it necessary, however, to remove and modernize most of the existing tiles, install a complex array of new drainage systems, and create several lakes and ponds to retain run-off. Eight lakes and ponds were created within the Talamore golf course itself, plus two retaining ponds behind the homes along Talamore Drive to the left of the main entrance, one pond in front of the McKean manor house, and one pond just inside the main entrance to the right of Talamore Drive.
Talamore’s back nine posed its own set of construction problems, since portions (the entire thirteenth hole) were cut through a hardwood forest planted by H. P. McKean. Wetlands, marsh, a high water table, and the meanderings of Park Creek further complicated matters. The terrain was contoured where necessary, but he left large portions of the land undisturbed. Rather than disturb conditions, his design often carries golfers over or around sensitive terrain. For example, he constructed bridges across Park Creek at the thirteenth and sixteenth holes and over wetlands on the second, third, and eighth holes. All together, wetlands were a factor in the design and construction of twelve of Talamore’s eighteen holes.
High priority was given to the preservation of the natural beauty of Talamore’s landscape, its many native trees and shrubs, its streams and wetlands, its reeds and grasses. Wetlands, as Tom Fazio and other golf course architects have learned, add both visual and strategic variety, improve aesthetic surroundings, and provide pleasing contrasts in the color and texture of the course vegetation.
They replanted more than five hundred trees while the course was under construction and in the succeeding ten years probably tripled that number. The fascination with trees extends to the selection of the club logo, a silhouette of a tree, perhaps the copper beech tree directly behind the sixteenth green. The routing of three holes of the golf course was crafted to prominently position this once-splendid specimen. The copper beech crowns the hill behind the sixteenth green. Early estimates of the tree’s age placed it at over a hundred years old. However, John van Steenwyk recalls the day in 1950 when he and his father and a visitor from Holland planted the tree in what was then the van Steenwyks’ side yard. Its age will be confirmed when it is cut down, which, unfortunately, may be soon, as the tree has been invaded by pests and, despite exceptional care, is slowly dying. A second rare Copper Beech was transplanted behind the sixth green. Unfortunately, its life is also threatened by creeping disease.
The use of woodlands, wetlands, marshes, and ponds gives Talamore the look and feel of a Carolina course. It is a completely different look from the old Oak Terrace. Gone are the old Oak Terrace’s baked-out fairways, replaced by plush well-irrigated soft landing areas. Target golf has replaced bump-and-run golf. Placing a premium on accuracy from tee to green, they designed a course that cannot be overpowered. Golfers must think their way around the course, approach each shot with care, and be prepared to play a variety of shots requiring every club in the bag. "One of the goals," they told golf writer Joe Logan of the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1996, "was that you have to hit every kind of shot."
They determined to make Talamore at Oak Terrace both a demanding course, suitable for championship caliber golf, and also an accommodating course, accessible to players of all skill levels. Whether intentionally or not, the design followed several precepts put forward decades earlier by Donald Ross, the master of golf course design. "The modern golf course,” declared Ross, "should either have tees fifty yards long or three or four separate tees at every hole. Tees that point from various angles to the green also give a chance to take care of conditions." Indeed, the multiple-tee design for Talamore at Oak Terrace certainly “takes care of conditions.” Among Talamore's most memorable features are its imaginatively placed, multiple teeing grounds. Multiple tees vary the golfer's perspective of the course, angles to the green, and conditions in play, effectively altering the overall difficulty of the course.
Players at Talamore at Oak Terrace could originally select from five sets of tees, and the course was rated and sloped for difficulty from each set of tees. In 2002 a sixth set of tees were added to provide even more variety. More than adding length, the multiple teeing grounds contribute subtlety and depth to each hole, sometimes bringing additional hazards into play and generally reorienting approach angles to the greens. In some instances the multiple tees effectively convert a straight hole from the forward tees into a treacherous dogleg from the back tees or in other cases bring new hazards into play or extend forced carries over wetlands or water. The sixteenth hole, for example, may play as a slight dogleg left from the rear tees, a straightaway hole from the middle tees, and a slight dogleg right from the forward tees. Depending on the chosen tees, the length of carry over wetlands to the fairway on the sixteenth hole varies from 210 to 40 yards. Similar variations of different orders of magnitude occur on at least ten of Talamore’s eighteen holes.
Talamore at Oak Terrace can be punitive. Hitting a shot off line or misjudging distances very often yields a penalty shot. The tight, links-style design means players must keep the ball in play, as sixteen holes have out of bounds both left and right of the tees. In addition, the course contains twelve holes demanding forced carries from tees over streams, wetlands, or ponds. Six greens are positioned directly alongside or in front of ponds and marshes. Large, multi-level greens with fast undulating surfaces can test the stroke of even the most confident putters. Fred Behringer, writing for Philadelphia Golfer, accurately described the course as having “large rolling greens surrounded by danger.”
Even the most benign appearing holes can leave an indelible impression on a golfer’s psyche. The sixth hole, for example, is a deceptively difficult par four reminiscent of holes found at Pinehurst No. 2. Playing to about 415 yards from the middle tees, Talamore’s sixth contains one strategically placed fairway bunker and ends with a seemingly innocent redan-style green lacking protective bunkers. Players playing approach shots to Talamore's sixth quickly discover that only the best-struck shot will hold the crested surface and that a poorly struck shot will lead to further frustration when they attempt to roll or pitch the ball up the steep, tightly mown banks to the proximity of the pin. As one golf writer summed up the course in an early review, it "gives the player plenty to think about.”
Talamore’s signature hole is the distinctive and memorable eighteenth, a panoramic view of which adorns Talamore’s scorecards. The eighteenth is a tight par five of moderate length with out of bounds down the entire right side. The left side is guarded by lateral hazards formed by heavy overgrowth, a ditch, and two lakes, one to the left of the fairway and another at the head of the pinched fairway that ends at a peninsular green. The eighteenth green, with its large, multi-level steeply tiered surface, is archetypical of Talamore’s greens.
Dr. James Hilty
Dr. James W. Hilty, retired Professor of History and Dean of Temple's Ambler campus, has written extensively about American politics, including Robert Kennedy: Brother Protector (Temple). He has provided political commentaries for various publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and served as historical consultant to various news media, including C-SPAN, NBC News, NPR, and others. A Temple faculty member since 1970, Hilty also wrote the introduction to Marvin Wachman's The Education of a University President (Temple).