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
The Old Oak
Alex Findlay incorporated many of the design elements characteristic of Donald Ross courses, including parsimonious use of the available topography, small greens with subtle undulations, low ground-level teeing areas, raised faces on greenside bunkers (but no pot bunkers), and Ross's ideal length for a course of that era, between 6,000 and 6,400 yards. An apt test, Oak Terrace held up surprisingly well over the years. Today its former members, ever mindful of Oak Terrace’s mischievous and tormenting subtleties, refer to it sometimes reverently, sometimes caustically as the “Old Oak.”
From the late 1920s onward the Oak Terrace golf course remained basically unchanged. The renovated Pine Run golf course, with few further modifications, had become Bankers and then Oak Terrace. Alexander Findlay’s 1923 design principles for Pine Run’s first nine were carried over into a second nine constructed with little fanfare in 1925. Bankers renovated the course between 1928 and 1932, but left most of Findlay’s design in place. Few changes occurred thereafter. In 1968 several holes were renumbered and the nines reversed for the final time. Alex Findlay’s basic routing plan remained intact from 1928 until 1993, or just before the course was demolished.
Oak Terrace featured a tightly configured, park-like routing with extraordinarily small well-bunkered greens, accessible from the front but almost unapproachable from the sides or rear. "Modern golf," according to Donald J. Ross, writing at about the time Oak Terrace was built, "calls for smaller greens. In fact, the art of the mashie niblick
Out of pure necessity, members whose shots regularly missed Oak Terrace’s greens soon learned the mastery of the "Oak Terrace flop shot," a vigorously struck lob wedge played with an extremely open face, a la Phil Mickelson, that imparted maximum spin and minimum release to hold the greens when playing from only a few yards left, right or behind the putting surfaces. Open fronts on most greens, combined with the lack of a fairway watering system, meant members were required to play long run-up or pitch-and-run shots of the type so often required on links courses in Ireland and Scotland.
The current Talamore layout built atop the old Oak Terrace features numerous wetlands and small ponds, but surprisingly the old Oak Terrace revealed virtually none of those underlying characteristics. Although the property contained several underground streams, the owners of Oak Terrace relied exclusively on a manual watering system for tees and greens, leaving the fairways unwatered. Oak Terrace baked out during hot, dry summers. The fairways and rough routinely assumed a brownish, yellowish hue, provoking long, unpredictable bounces on tee shots and approaches to the greens.
As was common with the Scottish-style architecture, Oak Terrace's eighteen holes were closely spaced, with the teeing ground for the next hole only a few steps from the last green, making the course easy to walk and inspiring an intimacy and camaraderie among members as they frequently encountered one another on the course. Parts of ten holes could be seen from the highest vantage point of the old Oak near the old sixth green and seventh tee, which today corresponds to a spot about forty yards above and to the right of the rest rooms located alongside Talamore’s fifth fairway near the top of Talamore Drive.
Fourteen of the Oak Terrace holes were contained within the area now occupied by the first five holes at Talamore. Oak Terrace’s four remaining holes filled the corner of the property that members called “the meadows,” a square section of approximately forty acres starting at the main entrance on Welsh Road, running up the oak-lined driveway about 300 yards to a point opposite the front of the Manor House, then turning left and running about 350 yards towards McKean Road, to about the mid-point of the current sixth hole, then turning left and following along McKean Road, turning left and running about 300 yards along Welsh Road to the old main entrance, completing the square. Late in the day, when not enough light remained to play nine holes, Oak Terrace members sometimes grabbed a few clubs and played the meadows’ four challenging holes, which after 1968 were numbered ten through thirteen.
The old tenth, a short par four played from a tee near the current intersection of Talamore Drive and Ashbridge Court straight uphill towards a treacherous two-level green set close to McKean Road. Members playing the tenth hole sometimes paused by the large Linden tree at the corner of Jim Baker’s property, just to the right of the green (now a few steps to the right of the cart path adjacent to the red tee on the sixth hole). There, in the crouch of the seven-trunked tree, still standing today, they would find a brandy flask anonymously replenished for members' aid and comfort during chilly weather.
Oak Terrace’s eleventh hole, considered by most players the most difficult on the course at 440 yards, par 4, played from a tee beside McKean Road situated in what is now the right-hand rough about 200 yards from the current sixth green. The fairway doglegged sharply left around a stand of trees (most of which are now gone) and then followed generally along the line of the current seventh hole. The old twelfth hole was a short par four, dogleg left that played from a tee located just to the left of the main entrance. Next, the only water hole on the course, the short par three thirteenth, required a tee shot over a pond. The pond still exists, stocked and maintained by residents on Ashbridge Court.
Only two of Talamore’s current holes (numbers three and four) are routed over the same ground as holes from the old Oak Terrace. The back tee box for Talamore's third hole is situated precisely on the spot of old Oak Terrace’s fourth tee. The old fourth, like the current third, was a par four, running straight along McKean Road ending at a small green tucked in the corner of the property. Except for sharing the same routing path, the resemblance is slight. Oak Terrace’s old fourth hole neither required a forced carry over wetlands nor was there out of bounds on the left. Moreover, the benign contouring of the old Oak’s fourth hole hardly compares to the nuanced terrain, strategically placed fairway bunkers, and the difficult bi-level green of Talamore's third.
Talamore's current fourth hole is routed in the same direction and along the same ground as Oak Terrace's old fifth, each a par three and each framed on the right side by the same large, sprawling poplar tree. Old Oak Terrace's fifth featured a large bunker (added by Hansen) stretching across the entrance to a flat green. Talamore's fourth, by comparison, requires a tee shot over a sea of sand to a peninsular green surrounded on three sides by sand whose crowned surface rejects all but the well-struck and well-judged tee shot.
Here ends the few similarities between the “old Oak” and the new Talamore.
Just before it was plowed under, old Oak Terrace played to par 71 (36-35) at 6,413 yards from the back tees (course rating of 70.7), 6,184 from the middle tees (69.7 rating), and 5,632 from the forward or "Ladies" tees (72.2 rating), making it one of the longer, more difficult area courses for lady golfers. Several fairways on the old Oak Terrace were partly or wholly framed by rows of pines, stands of oaks or tall hedges, most of which were presumably planted as part of Alex Findlay's original 1923 design and have been selectively retained around Realen homes and incorporated in the new Talamore design. Old Oak Terrace’s fairways were fairly tight, with very few fairway bunkers. The course boasted one water hole and three doglegs, but the small, difficult to hit-and-hold greens, the danger of out of bounds on eight holes, and the perpetually firm fairways made the course deceptively difficult.
Cramped conditions at the old Oak Terrace did not permit room enough for either a decent practice putting green or a practice range. During the latter 1980s a makeshift practice range was set up below the manor house on the old polo grounds, to the right of the main entrance, where today there is now a lake and the eighth tee. Until the late 1980s, members had to be satisfied with a small putting green, with a tree growing in its middle, located behind the clubhouse in the small courtyard now boxed in by arbor vitae.
Oak Terrace Country Club lacked many amenities afforded members at other area clubs, but its members appreciated the friendly, cordial atmosphere. An annual club directory featuring photographs of members and spouses highlighted the club’s convivial ambience. Until the 1980s the club professional and several members lived in the cottages and apartments behind the carriage house (where Talamore’s men’s and women’s locker rooms are located today).
Most members were involved in club activities. Bernie Waddell, who joined Oak Terrace in 1955 (and is today a Talamore member), recalled the club’s pleasant family atmosphere and its lack of pretension. Dues were only $198 a year for a full membership. Motorized carts were available, but many members preferred to walk and pull a cart around the course, rather than ride.
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).