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
Building the new Talamore at Oak Terrace Course
More than a large line of credit was required to bring the ambitious and costly plan for Talamore at Oak Terrace to completion. Even before it is built, a golf club needs members. Unlike the Hollywood fantasy, “Field of Dreams,” nobody heard a voice that said, “Build it, and they will come.” Indeed, their experience and marketing knowledge told them that they could not build a new golf club without guaranteeing an adequate number of advance memberships and without an adequate revenue stream to carry the project through the crucial switchover period between the demolition of the old course and the building of the new. He also knew that he could not rely on the new Talamore residents to subscribe to enough memberships to sustain the new club either through its switchover phase or even after the new course was constructed.
Instead, they sought to solicit enough new members and to retain enough of the old Oak Terrace members to carry the club through construction and to provide a critical core to place the club on a firm foundation by its projected opening date of July 1995.
Beginning in December 1992, Talamore Development Corporation offered several types of club memberships with various categories of privileges, each requiring a refundable membership deposit, or initiative fee. With the new course still at least two years away and with only the old Oak Terrace to show prospective golf members, recruitment of new members went slowly.
The saving grace turned out to be the number of members from the old Oak Terrace who decided to remain. Oak Terrace members were offered memberships in Talamore, if they continued to pay dues and remain with the club through the progressive demolition of the old course and construction of the new. Members of the old Oak Terrace were offered Founding Memberships in Talamore with no initiation fees, dues locked at 1992 levels until January 1, 1997, and complimentary bag storage, locker rental, and handicap fee through the 1994 season. In return, they were promised a new course of the highest quality, an enhanced country club environment, and restoration of full membership and accreditation with the Golf Association of Philadelphia.
225 members remained on from the old Oak Terrace through the demolition and construction - their dues guaranteed a cash flow during construction and helped keep the project afloat.
By the summer of 1994 demolition of the old course left only nine holes of the old Oak Terrace available for play. Members steered around bulldozers, choked on the omnipresent dust, marveled at the changes taking place before their eyes, sometimes wondering aloud if the new course could possibly deliver all that was expected.
On July 1, 1995 Talamore at Oak Terrace opened with style. A Scottish bag-piper in full regalia marched up the ninth fairway through the morning mist, his whaling announcing the opening of a new era and reminding all gathered of our spiritual connection to the ancient and noble heritage of the game. Few who participated will soon forget the opening ceremony, their first shots struck on the grand new course, or their playing partners that memorable day.
The promise was kept and beginning with the 1996 season, Talamore at Oak Terrace received full membership into the Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP), competing in interclub matches, gradually moving up the ladder in both the men’s (GAP) and women’s (WGAP) divisions. In 1997 Talamore hosted GAP’s Mid-Amateur championship and since then several of Talamore’s members have competed regularly in GAP competitions. In March 1997 the Philadelphia Golfer carried a review of Talamore that simply announced, “Talamore at Oak Terrace has joined the ranks of excellent golf courses in the Philadelphia region.”
Special recognition and awards quickly accrued. In 1997 Talamore was nominated as a “Best New Course in USA.” The next year Golf for Women magazine named Talamore as one of the Top 100 Courses for Women. In 1999 Golf Digest ranked Talamore at Oak Terrace among the top 25 golf courses in Pennsylvania (no. 24). The United States Golf Association selected Talamore to host regional qualifying for the 2000 U.S. Amateur Championship and as a local qualifying site for the 2004 U.S. Open Championship (played at Shinnecock Hills).
Talamore’s Head professional when the new course opened in 1995 was the capable and personable Curt Fuhrmannek, who soon after left Talamore to accept a position with PGA National headquarters in West Palm Beach. Eileen Kraemer who remained for only a year succeeded him.
A quantum leap in professional standards and the quality of golf operations occurred with the arrival of Jim Smith, Jr. who assumed responsibilities as Head Golf Professional in November 1996 and a year later was named General Manager. Under Jim Smith the pro shop was named Regional Ping Club fitter of the Year (2001) and in 2002 Talamore was recognized as one of the Top 100 golf shops in America by Golf World/Golf World Business magazine.
Jim Smith has done much more for Talamore than move merchandise in the pro shop. Under Smith’s direction Talamore has developed tutorials for new golfers, begun a markedly successful junior golf program, launched a Golf Academy, and commenced highly successful teaching programs, featuring a distinguished instructional staff headed by John Spina ("2004 Philadelphia PGA Teacher of the Year") and drawing on the talents of Bill Sautter and Tony Deroba. Talamore’s junior program has produced such standouts as Dayna Burleigh, John Smaha, Kristen White, and Victoria Arena. Hatboro-Horsham High School plays its matches at Talamore, and under Coach Don Neill, a Talamore member and many times Talamore Senior Club Champion, the team has enjoyed considerable success, earning Don “2004 Coach of the Year” honors for Southeast Pennsylvania. Under Jim Smith’s guidance Talamore has awakened interest in the game for countless new golfers, taught the basics of the game to many more, and enhanced members’ appreciation for the game immeasurably. A recent Philadelphia Golfer feature article on Talamore was very appropriately titled, “Talamore at Oak Terrace Country Club: Where golfers learn to play, appreciate and respect the game.”
When Talamore opened in July 1995 it played to just over 6900 yards. With the extension of the teeing grounds on several holes, the course now plays to just over 7000 yards from the tips. Few players dare challenge the course from the back tees. The USGA, GAP, and Philadelphia district PGA competitions held at the club have so far prudently avoided the back tees.
In its relatively short history Talamore has undergone a number of significant cosmetic changes to improve play and change the way in which the course is played. Over the years the brush and overgrown areas just beyond the fairways has gradually been cut back and tamed, thus widening the rough and allowing a little more room for errant shots on a few holes. The addition of two strategically placed fairway traps on the eighteenth hole now force many players to reconsider going for the par 5 green in two. Under the excellent direction of grounds superintendent John Roedell, who has been at Talamore since 1998, a tee expansion and tee-leveling project commenced several years ago, adding new teeing angles on several holes, plus reducing the wear and tear and extending the seasonal lives of several tee surfaces.
To support teaching programs and to improve play for all members, Talamore’s practice facilities have been expanded and improved several times since 1995, highlighted by the addition of two practice putting greens in 1996 and the construction in 2002 of a state-of-the-art short-game practice facility at the top of Talamore drive behind the fourth green. The practice range was completely re-graded and re-contoured in late 2004, bringing it up to a new standard of excellence.
Other amenities added since 1995 include a swimming pool and fitness center that came online in 1998, along with two Tennis courts added the year before. Renovations to the clubhouse have included construction of a Members Grill available only to full golf members, new covered verandahs and expanded and renovated dining and entertainment spaces for weddings, meetings, and special events. Interior renovations to the dining areas and coverings over the patios next to the Members’ Grill and the Governor’s Room opened to Members at the beginning of the 2005 season.
Talamore at Oak Terrace is a private club, with management and exclusive control of the club facilities in the hands of the Talamore Group, which pays all operating deficits and retains all operating profits. Members are not permitted to vote on matters related to club management or financial expenditures, but neither are they subject to operating or capital assessments. Soon after opening the new course, members were invited to elect an advisory Golf Committee broadly representative of the club's various constituents to serve as liaison between club members and the ownership. The Golf Committee is a self-perpetuating group that oversees handicaps and tournament play, advises ownership and management on selected aspects of golf operations, and recommends dispensing of annual activity fees.
Another of the benefits of a Talamore at Oak Terrace membership is accessibility to Talamore at Pinehurst, also owned by the Talamore Group. Over the years many of Talamore at Oak Terrace members have enjoyed the privilege of playing the four-star Talamore at Pinehurst resort course and lodging in its guest villas, some of which have been purchased by Talamore at Oak Terrace members. The connection between Ambler and Pinehurst was broadened and dramatically enhanced in April 2004 when it was announced the purchase of the Mid South Club (formerly known as Pinehurst Plantation) across the street from Talamore at Pinehurst. The Mid South Club features a 4.5 star Arnold Palmer designed golf course, recognized by many to be one of Arnie’s best. The Talamore Group immediately began construction of a new clubhouse and surrounding residential community.
The End of the Beginning
Finally, history also allows us to sort out the important questions and isolate the important actors. “Some people,” as Robert Kennedy was fond of saying, “see things as they are and ask, why? Others see things as they ought to be and ask, Why not?” Throughout this history we have vicariously experienced the challenges facing those who dared to ask, “Why not?” Talamore today is a striking example of the power of entrepreneurial imagination and the challenge of bringing ideas to life and sustaining them over time.
A second purpose for this history is that it affords us a brief appreciation of the rich historical confluences dwelling within Talamore’s past and still evident in its present state. The property, as we have seen, has many lives, many incarnations. We glimpsed its Indian, Welsh, and English influences during Pennsylvania’s earliest years. We walked for a moment with the ghosts of pre-income tax Philadelphia wealth and the awesome financial power of Henry Pratt McKean, visual remnants of whom remain, whether inconsequential artifacts, such as isolated pieces of the iron fencing that once surrounded his entire estate, or the dominating presence of the brick and limestone trimmed manor house and carriage house. We sampled Talamore’s Scottish linkages, through the game of golf and Alexander Findlay’s personal impact on Pine Run and Oak Terrace. We have traversed the terrain of major transformations in the game of golf as manifested through comparative golf course designs, ranging from Alexander Findlay’s conceptions of a game played close to the ground to the modern notions of a game with precise targets and controlled ball flight.
The tenth anniversary of the opening of Talamore at Oak Terrace has afforded us this opportunity to pause and take stock, to assess the past and reflect on a promising future.
This history was compiled for several purposes. One very practical purpose for such a history is that no satisfactory version existed and no systematic collection of sources and materials had yet been attempted. We knew beforehand that the game of golf has been played continuously on Talamore land since 1923, but little else beyond the barest of facts. As time passes, our memories of the past are numbed and manipulated by collective amnesia, deliberate distortions, or honest errors. This history, therefore, marks a modest beginning of a historical process that will include the collection and retention of important documents and an effort to build a sense of collective ownership in our shared past.
Talamore at Oak Terrace remains an ever-evolving work in progress positioned within an extraordinary past and framed against a buoyant future.
James W. Hilty
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).